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Readings on a Feast of the Lord

And More on Late Arrivals to Mass

ROME, NOV. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: When a feast of the Lord, which may or normally does occur on Sunday, is celebrated on a weekday, how many readings are used at Mass in addition to the Gospel? Examples would be the Baptism of the Lord, the Transfiguration, and the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. The default taken by readers, because there are two readings in the lectionary and no indication of what to do, is to read both. I am inclined to say that since the proper number of readings on a feast is one, only one need be read. This would be in conformity with all the other changes made for these feasts when they occur on a weekday: no Creed, no first vespers, etc. Next, if I am correct, is the Old Testament or the New Testament reading to be taken? Or is it a choice of the celebrant? — A.T., Charlottesville, Virginia

A: This question is probably best answered by referring to the general principles found in the calendar.

Two things must be considered: 1) the table of precedence that determines which feasts are celebrated whenever two celebrations coincide, and 2) the elements proper to each class.

A feast is distinguished from an ordinary day or the memorial of a saint by its proper formulas and by adding the Gloria. It has the same number of readings as other weekdays (two, including the Gospel) but these are almost always specifically chosen to reflect the feast.

If a feast, for example, the Visitation of Our Lady or the feast of an apostle or the Evangelist Luke, happens to coincide with a Sunday, then it is omitted for that year because Sunday has precedence.

However, when a feast of the Lord, such as the Presentation, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and the other examples given above, coincide with a Sunday of ordinary time, it has precedence and is celebrated instead of the corresponding Sunday.

When this happens, however, all of Sunday’s specific liturgical elements, such as the two readings and the Gospel and the profession of faith, are conserved. This is why the lectionary provides two readings (rather than one) plus the Gospel for these feasts.

When the feast of the Lord falls on a weekday it reverts to the normal liturgical elements proper to a feast and has only one reading and the Gospel. The celebrant can freely choose which of the two first readings is to be read, along with the prescribed Gospel text.

This freedom of choice is not always specified in the lectionaries. But it is clearly stated in official guides and calendars published by many bishops’ conferences such as the one published by the Latium ecclesiastical province that includes Rome.

If two readings and the Gospel were to be read, then we would then have three rather than two classes of festive celebrations: solemnities, feasts, and feasts of the Lord, a distinction not contemplated in any liturgical document.

Finally, the dedication of St. John Lateran is counted as a feast of the Lord because Rome’s cathedral was first of all dedicated to “the Most Holy Savior” while the dedication to Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist were added at a later date.
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Follow-up: Arriving After the Gospel — No Communion

With respect to our piece on arriving late for Mass (Oct. 23) several readers pointed out opinions stating that one fulfilled the obligation if one arrived before the offertory.

These opinions were generally written before the Second Vatican Council and reflected the liturgical situation and canonical thought of the times. Back then, the first parts of the Mass were frequently referred to using expressions such as “pre-Mass” or “Mass of the catechumens.”

Likewise the obligation to assist at Mass was frequently couched in strictly juridical terms and under pain of mortal sin which naturally led to questions as to the legal extent of the obligation.

I believe that the opinion that the offertory is a cut-off point is no longer valid.

First of all, while the obligation remains in force, canon law no longer explicitly obliges under pain of mortal sin. This does not mean that deliberately or negligently missing Mass is no longer a mortal sin; it is, but not in virtue of a canonical stricture.

In large part this is because one of the criteria in reforming the Code of Canon Law was to remove the obligation under pain of mortal sin from ecclesiastical precepts. Any sinfulness involved would depend on the circumstances and attitude toward God’s will of the person who failed to fulfill the obligation.

Second, one of the most important aspects of the liturgical reform was to revaluate the Mass as a single act of worship, which must be attended in its entirety in order to be true to its nature.

This moving away from the juridical focus of the obligation and the stress on the wholeness of the Mass is why one is unlikely to ever find any official view suggesting arriving at the offertory, or any other moment of the Mass, as sufficient to fulfill the Sunday obligation.

Rather, each person must examine the causes of his lateness and act in good conscience out of love of God and fidelity to his will.

In this context, when I mentioned in my earlier column that a person who arrived after the consecration should not receive Communion, it was not to suggest that the consecration is a cut-off point. Rather, it simply suggested that missing the consecration is practically equivalent to missing Mass and not just arriving late.

The reason for refraining from Communion at this stage is out of respect for the Eucharist. That sacrament should be received after a proper spiritual preparation according to the mind of the Church.

Thus, I believe that a person finding himself in this situation through no fault of his own, and with no possibility of attending a later Mass, should rather prefer to wait till Mass is over and ask the priest to administer Communion outside of Mass according to the approved rites.

Of course, there might be special exceptions even to this. It is impossible to foresee all possible situations. I believe, however, that we should insist on proper reverence in administrating holy Communion according to the Church’s mind and rites, and always strive to give the Eucharistic Lord all the love and respect that he deserves.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. 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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