Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal mentions the option of celebrating, on weekdays in ordinary time, “the Mass of any saint inscribed in the Martyrology for that day” (GIRM No. 355.c). Among those listed in the martyrology are a number of Old Testament “saints” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 61), for example, Melchizedek (August 26), Abraham (October 9), Moses (September 4) and prophets such as Hosea (October 17) and Joel (October 19). Could such persons be celebrated using Mass texts from the Common of Holy Men and Women? — J.D., Wagga Wagga, Australia
A: This is quite an intriguing question, and I hope my response will do it justice.
First of all, there does not seem to be any theological objection to celebrating Old Testament saints.
However, with one exception, the celebration of Old Testament saints is not frequent in the Roman liturgical tradition. The exception, still found in the extraordinary form, is the commemoration of the only Old Testament saints in the liturgical calendar, the holy Maccabees (August 1). An unofficial translation of the Mass collect for this celebration would be: “O Lord, may the martyrdom of these brothers warm our hearts with joy, enliven our faith by an increase of virtue, and comfort us by the added number of intercessors we have in heaven. Through our Lord ….”
Unfortunately, under the current norms of the ordinary form, this celebration would be impeded by the memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori, which is present in the universal calendar.
The celebration of Old Testament saints is much more common in Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the East. The Syro-Malabar tradition celebrates the Maccabees on August 21, while the Byzantine tradition celebrates many Old Testament saints especially in December leading up to Christmas, almost as a series of prophecies preparing the coming of the Lord.
For example, in the Byzantine tradition, the Sunday that falls between December 11 and 17 is known as the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers. As one Internet site says: “These are the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh, who lived before the Law and under the Law, especially the Patriarch Abraham, to whom God said, ‘In thy seed shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed’ (Gen. 12:3, 22:18).”
With the above in mind, is it possible to use the common of holy men and women to celebrate Moses or Hosea in the present Roman liturgy?
I would be inclined to answer in the affirmative.
First of all, as our reader pointed out, GIRM No. 355.c says that “the Mass of any saint inscribed in the Martyrology for that day” may be celebrated unless impeded by a celebration inscribed in the calendar. If the legislator intended to impede the celebration of some classes of saints, the law would have to say so explicitly.
Second, although the Maccabees was the only Old Testament feast on the universal calendar, this fact does not preclude other Old Testament saints from being celebrated in votive Masses and on local and religious order calendars. For example, the prophet Elijah (July 20) is celebrated as a solemnity among the Carmelites. Moses (September 4) is celebrated liturgically at the Moses memorial church at Mount Nebo near the Holy Land.
Finally, the liturgical formulas, especially of the collects, for the Masses of holy men and women, and in particular those of one saint, are written in such a way that they can include an Old Testament saint and do not mention aspects such as evangelical perfection, the following of Christ, and other specifically Christian vocations and virtues.
This is especially true of the collect of the second formula:
“O God, who alone are holy and without whom no one is good, command, we pray, through the intercession of blessed N., that we be numbered among those who do not deserve to be deprived of your glory. Through our Lord .…”
* * *
Readers may send questions to email@example.com. 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.