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Patronal Feast During Christmas Season

Still a Solemnity With Precedence

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: A staffer in the parish, in discussions with the director of liturgy in our diocese, suggested to me that our patronal feast, St. Thomas of Canterbury, be celebrated this year as a solemnity in lieu of the day on which it falls, the Sunday of the feast of the Holy Family. The parish is now combined, under a new name, representing both churches, though both retain the names in which they were consecrated. I can’t really see not celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family for the sake of marking the celebration on Sunday of the patron of one of our churches. – R.D., Cornwall on Hudson, New York

A: There are several things to consider here.

First of all, the feast day of St. Thomas of Canterbury (December 29) is a proper solemnity in the church, according to the general rules of the liturgical calendar.

In this way, it would have precedence over the feast of the Holy Family any year in which December 29 falls on a Sunday and should be celebrated in that church.

Even though the parish is now joined to another under a new name, the solemnity still applies to the church of St. Thomas and not to the other.

I believe this interpretation is clear under current canon law (Canon 1218), the Rite of Dedication of a Church (4) and the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 865:

“Every church to be dedicated must have a titular which cannot be changed after the church has been dedicated.” The title is given to the church building at the time of dedication through decree of the bishop.

To further clarify these norms and address some new pastoral situations, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued a notification, “Omnis Ecclesia Titulum,” on February 10, 1999, “Concerning the Constitution of Patrons of Dioceses and Parishes.” Regarding the above point this brief document states:

“5. Once established in the dedication of a church, the title cannot be changed (can. 1218), unless, for grave reasons, it is expressly allowed by indult of the Apostolic See.

“6. However, if a title has been assigned as a part of the blessing of a church, according to the Ordo Benedictionis Ecclesiae, it may be changed by the diocesan bishop (cf. Can. 381, 1) for a grave reason and with all factors duly considered.”

In some cases, norms of the general calendar foresee the possibility of transferring the feast of a church to the following Sunday. To wit:

“58. For the pastoral advantage of the people, it is permissible to observe on the Sundays in Ordinary Time those celebrations that fall during the week and have special appeal to the devotion of the faithful, provided the celebrations take precedence over these Sundays in the Table of Liturgical Days. The Mass for such celebrations may be used at all the Masses at which a congregation is present.”

Note, however, that it speaks of “Sundays in Ordinary Time,” and therefore this faculty does not exist during the octave of Christmas.

From a technical point of view, the feast is not transferred to the Sunday (as happens in some countries for the Epiphany, Corpus Christi, etc.) but is observed. Thus the Divine Office is celebrated on the proper day of the saint and is that of the corresponding Sunday on the day the feast is observed.

With respect to the case of the erection of a new parish there are several possibilities foreseen in «Omnis Ecclesiae Titulum»:

“11. When a new parish has been erected in place of several suppressed parishes, the new parish may have its own church, which, unless it is a new building, retains its existing title. Further, churches of suppressed parishes, whenever such parishes are considered as ‘co-parishes,’ retain their own proper titles.

“12. If several parishes are joined together so that a new parish is established thereby, it is permitted, for pastoral reasons, to establish a new name differing from the title of the parish church.”

This latter option is the choice that has been made in this concrete case. Since the solemnity is tied to the Church building, it does not seem that the title of the new parish constitutes a solemnity with no attached church.

Indeed, although it is traditional that the name of the parish coincides with the name of the church, canon law has no specific provision that requires or regulates a parish name. Thus, in some cases of amalgamation, the parish has received a civil name based on the locality (for example, Thisvilles parish) and not the name of a saint or of the patron of any of the churches that belong to it.

When the parish and the church have different titles, there are many good reasons to be precise, even at the cost of some awkwardness, using expressions such as “St. Therese of Lisieux Parish at St. Teresa of Avila Church” and “St. Teresa of Lisieux Parish at St John of the Cross Church.”

In such a case St. Teresa of Avila (October 15) and St. John of the Cross (14 December) would be solemnities in their respective churches.

St. Teresa could be observed on a nearby Sunday; St. John could not, as his feast falls during Advent. Indeed it would not be celebrated even if the day fell on a Sunday as Sundays of Advent are higher in the table of precedence than proper solemnities.

The memorial of St. Therese of Lisieux (October 1), not being connected to any church, would not be a solemnity or feast in the parish. However, the parish could use the general liturgical rules that permit adding some elements of solemnity to a celebration for pastoral reasons, for example, singing the Gloria on this day.

Finally, our reader should be grateful that the Lord has provided him with faithful who are enthusiastic about the faith and the liturgy.

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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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