Donate now

Invoking Old Testament Figures

And More on Orthodox Joining the Catholic Church

ROME, OCT. 30, 2007 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Why is it that we never invoke or ask intercession of any of the “holy ones” from the Old Testament in the prayers of the Mass, nor do we have feast days to honor them? I am thinking of those such as Elijah, Hannah, Samuel, Ruth, King David, or Isaiah, to name a few. Though we may refer to them, no feast day appears on the Roman calendar, nor any mention when praying in the Eucharistic prayers to be united with the saints in heaven. — J.K., Portland, Oregon

A: The reason that there are no feast days to Old Testament saints in the Church’s universal calendar is probably due to the historical process in which the calendar was formed. At first, only martyrs for Christ were remembered on their anniversaries, and shortly afterward the Blessed Virgin was also honored with feast days.

St. Martin of Tours (died 397) was probably the first non-martyr remembered with a feast. But the tradition has generally been that the saints in the calendar have been heroic examples of the life in Christ.

This does not mean that Old Testament saints were not recognized or that their intercession could not be sought.

The Roman Martyrology, a liturgical book first published in the 1600, collects all of the saints and blessed officially recognized by the Church and organized according to their feast day. Those classified as saints in this book may be celebrated on their feast days, provided that the day is free of any other obligatory celebration.

Most of these saints, who far outnumber those of the general calendar, have no specific Mass formulas. Whenever they are celebrated, the most appropriate formulas are chosen from the common of saints.

Among the great saints of the Old Testament traditionally remembered in the Martyrology are the Prophet Habakkuk, celebrated on Jan. 15; Isaiah, July 6; Daniel and Elias, July 20 and 21; the Seven Maccabees and their mother, Aug. 17; Abraham, Oct. 9; and King David, Dec. 29.

There are also other occasions when the intercession of Old Testament saints is invoked in some way or another, for example:

— Every time the litanies of the saints are prayed they are invoked in generic terms: “All holy Patriarchs and Prophets, pray for us.”

— Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek are referred to in the Roman Canon as examples of true devotion to God.

— Abel and Abraham used also to be specifically invoked in the brief litany in the rite recommending a departing soul, but this has now been replaced with a generic form.

— In the Libera (Deliver, etc.), which follows shortly after, many Old Testament names still appear, for example: “Free your servant, Lord, as you freed Daniel from the den of the lions.”

* * *

Follow-up: When an Orthodox Joins the Catholic Church

Two readers, both expert canonists, sent in some clarifications that expand on my earlier answer (Oct. 16) regarding how an Orthodox Christian may enter the Catholic Church. I am very grateful and happily share their wisdom with our readers.

I had suggested that the Orthodox Christian seek out the nearest Eastern eparchy in order to make the profession of faith. A canonist informed me that when this is not feasible, “The simplest thing to do, in the likelihood that the proper Eastern Catholic Church ‘sui iuris’ is not readily accessible, is for an Eastern Christian to make a profession of faith before the local (usually Latin) Catholic pastor.

“The Eastern Christian recites the Nicene Creed and adds: ‘I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God’ (RCIA, Appendix, 2, 15; USA, 474, 491).

“Ascription to the proper ritual Church ‘sui iuris’ is automatic but needs to be recorded. Mentioning this in your column will be helpful in reminding Latin priests (and priests of other Churches ‘sui iuris’) to note it properly in the remarks of the baptismal registry (which usually serves as the ‘special book’ referred to in RCIA, Appendix, 13; USA, 486).”

Regarding my statement that an Orthodox would need a dispensation in order to enter into marriage, another reader clarified the terminology and the ensuing legal consequences.

She wrote: “Please permit me to point out that it is incorrect to state that an Orthodox requires a dispensation in order to marry in the Catholic Church. Canon 1124 notes that marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic is ‘prohibited’ (‘prohibitum est’) without ‘permission’ (‘licentia’) of competent authority. Absent such permission, the marriage is held to be illicit, rather than invalid. This required permission is different from a dispensation, as a dispensation is required to overcome an impediment which would affect validity.

“The above pertains to all non-Catholic Christians, but current marriage law is especially lenient, if you will, toward intermarriage with Orthodox, with regard to canonical form. Ordinarily, all marriages are required to follow the form delineated in Canon 1108.1, and a dispensation is thus required if the couple wish to marry in the church of the non-Catholic. Without this dispensation, the marriage would be invalid due to lack of form. But the particular case of an Orthodox Christian marrying a Catholic is specifically addressed further in Canon 1127.1: If the two were to marry in an Orthodox wedding ceremony, i.e., without following canonical form, the Church regards the marriage as valid, although illicit.”

Once more I express my gratitude for these observations which I am sure will be as helpful to our readers as they have been to me.

* * *

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.

About ZENIT Staff

Share this Entry

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation