Sculptures of saints

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Proper Readings on a Saint's Day

What are the criteria in choosing the most adequate reading?

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: What is the method for choosing the Mass readings for weekdays and weekends? Is it OK to use readings in the back of a lectionary that are set for a saint’s day, or are only the typical readings for the day meant to be used? That is, would readings in the back of a lectionary set for St. Maria Goretti (July 5) be used, say, in lieu of Monday of the 14th week of ordinary time if the Ordo does not list the saint’s proper readings? I heard from a seminarian that only the readings “authorized” in the Ordo may be used at Mass on a particular day, and that because they follow in order each day or because of a particular theme they cannot be changed out for the readings with a saint’s day and that, in fact, a newer lectionary would no longer have the special readings for a saint’s day. — T.G., Hartford, Connecticut

A: For weekday readings during the year there is a general principle of continuous reading of Sacred Scripture which allows for some exceptions. The overall purpose of this arrangement is explained in the introduction to the lectionary:

“60. The present Order of Readings for Mass, then, is an arrangement of biblical readings that provides the faithful with a knowledge of the whole of God’s word, in a pattern suited to the purpose. Throughout the liturgical year, but above all during the seasons of Easter, Lent, and Advent, the choice and sequence of readings are aimed at giving Christ’s faithful an ever-deepening perception of the faith they profess and of the history of salvation. Accordingly, the Order of Readings corresponds to the requirements and interests of the Christian people.”

With respect to the arrangement of the readings on weekdays and saints days this document continues:

“69. The weekday readings have been arranged in the following way.

“1. Each Mass has two readings: the first is from the Old Testament or from an Apostle (that is, either from a Letter or from the Book of Revelation), and during the Easter season from the Acts of the Apostles; the second, from the Gospels.

“2. The yearly cycle for Lent has its own principles of arrangement, which take into account the baptismal and penitential character of this season.

“3. The cycle for the weekdays of Advent, the Christmas season, and the Easter season is also yearly and the readings thus remain the same each year.

“4. For the thirty-four weeks of Ordinary Time, the weekday Gospel readings are arranged in a single cycle, repeated each year. But the first reading is arranged in a two-year cycle and is thus read every other year. Year I is used during odd-numbered years; Year II, during even-numbered years.

“Like the Order for Sundays and festive days, then, the weekday Order of Readings is governed by similar application of the principles of harmony and of semi-continuous reading, especially in the case of seasons with their own distinctive character.

“70. Two series of readings are provided for celebrations of the Saints.

“1. The Proper of Saints provides the first series, for solemnities, feasts, or memorials and particularly when there are proper texts for one or other such celebration. Sometimes in the Proper, however, there is a reference to the most appropriate among the texts in the Commons as the one to be given preference.

“2. The Commons of Saints provide the second, more extensive group of readings. There are, first, appropriate texts for the different classes of Saints (martyrs, pastors, virgins, etc.), then numerous texts that deal with holiness in general. These may be freely chosen whenever the Commons are indicated as the source for the choice of readings.

“71. As to their sequence, all the texts in this part of the Order of Readings appear in the order in which they are to be read at Mass. Thus the Old Testament texts are first, then the texts from the Apostles, followed by the psalms and verses between the readings, and finally the texts from the Gospels. The rationale of this arrangement is that, unless otherwise noted, the celebrant may choose at will from such texts, in view of the pastoral needs of the congregation taking part in the celebration.”

Regarding the criteria to use in choosing the most adequate reading, the introduction to the lectionary notes:

“82. The arrangement of weekday readings provides texts for every day of the week throughout the year. In most cases, therefore, these readings are to be used on their assigned days, unless a solemnity, a feast, or else a memorial with proper readings occurs.

“In using the Order of Readings for weekdays attention must be paid to whether one reading or another from the same biblical book will have to be omitted because of some celebration occurring during the week. With the arrangement of readings for the entire week in mind, the priest in that case arranges to omit the less significant passages or combines them in the most appropriate manner with other readings, if they contribute to an integral view of a particular theme.

“5) The Celebrations of the Saints

“83. When they exist, proper readings are given for celebrations of the Saints, that is, biblical passages about the Saint or the mystery that the Mass is celebrating. Even in the case of a memorial these readings must take the place of the weekday readings for the same day. This Order of Readings makes explicit note of every case of proper readings on a memorial.

“In some cases there are accommodated readings, those, namely, that bring out some particular aspect of a Saint’s spiritual life or work. Use of such readings does not seem binding, except for compelling pastoral reasons. For the most part references are given to readings in the Commons in order to facilitate choice. But these are merely suggestions: in place of an accommodated reading or the particular reading proposed from a Common, any other reading from the Commons referred to may be selected.

“The first concern of a priest celebrating with a congregation is the spiritual benefit of the faithful and he will be careful not to impose his personal preference on them. Above all he will make sure not to omit too often or without sufficient cause the readings assigned for each day in the weekday Lectionary: the Church’s desire is that a more lavish table of the word of God be spread before the faithful.

“There are also common readings, that is, those placed in the Commons either for some determined class of Saints (martyrs, virgins, pastors) or for the Saints in general. Because in these cases several texts are listed for the same reading, it will be up to the priest to choose the one best suited to those listening.

“In all celebrations of Saints the readings may be taken not only from the Commons to which the references are given in each case, but also from the Common of Men and Women Saints, whenever there is special reason for doing so.”

Therefore, summarizing the above, we can say that the Church prefers not to interrupt too often the continuous reading of the Scripture given in daily Mass. However, this continuous reading will be interrupted whenever there are proper readings for a certain day, such as on solemnities, feasts and certain memorials of saints with proper readings (such as the saints mentioned in the readings themselves, for example, St. Mary Magdalene).

On other memorials which do not have obligatory proper readings the priest may take the readings from the proper of the saint or from the common of saints if for a good pastoral reason he decides that it is important to highlight a certain saint. For example, if a parish in the United States, Aus
tralia or Italy has a significant number of faithful from the Philippines who attend daily Mass, the priest could decide to celebrate St. Lawrence Ruiz , the country’s protomartyr (September 28), in a special way by taking the readings from the Common of Martyrs.

To answer the specific questions of our reader: The proper readings for Maria Goretti may be used if there is a good pastoral reason for doing so. The decision falls on the celebrant. The Church simply recommends that this not be done for every saint so as not to interrupt the normal cycle too frequently. The information provided by this seminarian is inexact and does not correspond to the norms stated above.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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