Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I have a question about the new obligatory memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church. According to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, “Because Pentecost is a movable feast, tied to the celebration of Easter, it is possible that the new Memorial could coincide with another Memorial of a Saint or Blessed; and when this happens, the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, will take precedence.” My question is: What if it coincides with a feast, not a memorial, which will take precedence? – P.C., Awka, Nigeria
A: The decree explaining and promulgating the new memorial was issued on February 11, 2018. Explaining the origin of the new celebration, it stated:
“Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal. She thus became the tender Mother of the Church which Christ begot on the cross handing on the Spirit. Christ, in turn, in the beloved disciple, chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.
“As a caring guide to the emerging Church, Mary had already begun her mission in the Upper Room, praying with the Apostles while awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14). In this sense, in the course of the centuries, Christian piety has honored Mary with various titles, in many ways equivalent, such as Mother of Disciples, of the Faithful, of Believers, of all those who are reborn in Christ; and also as ‘Mother of the Church’ as is used in the texts of spiritual authors as well as in the Magisterium of Popes Benedict xiv and Leo XIII.
“Thus the foundation is clearly established by which Blessed Paul VI, on 21 November 1964, at the conclusion of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Council, declared the Blessed Virgin Mary as ‘Mother of the Church, that is to say of all Christian people, the faithful as well as the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother’ and established that ‘the Mother of God should be further honored and invoked by the entire Christian people by this tenderest of titles.’
“Therefore the Apostolic See on the occasion of the Holy Year of Reconciliation (1975), proposed a votive Mass in honor of Beata Maria Ecclesiæ Matre, which was subsequently inserted into the Roman Missal. The Holy See also granted the faculty to add the invocation of this title in the Litany of Loreto (1980) and published other formularies in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1986). Some countries, dioceses and religious families who petitioned the Holy See were allowed to add this celebration to their particular calendars.
“Having attentively considered how greatly the promotion of this devotion might encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety, Pope Francis has decreed that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, should be inscribed in the Roman Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost and be now celebrated every year.
“This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.
“The Memorial, therefore, is to appear in all Calendars and liturgical books for the celebration of Mass and of the Liturgy of the Hours. The relative liturgical texts are attached to this decree and their translations, prepared and approved by the Episcopal Conferences, will be published after confirmation by this Dicastery.
“Where the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, is already celebrated on a day with a higher liturgical rank, approved according to the norm of particular law, in the future it may continue to be celebrated in the same way.”
Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, in presenting the decree further deepened its spiritual sense:
“The new celebration is briefly described in the Decree itself which recalls the eventual maturation of liturgical veneration given to Mary following a better understanding of her presence ‘in the mystery of Christ and of the Church,’ as explained in Chapter 7 of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium. Indeed, with good reason, in promulgating this Conciliar Constitution on 21 November 1964, Blessed Paul VI wished to solemnly bestow the title ‘Mother of the Church’ upon Mary. The feeling of Christian people through two millennia of history has cultivated the filial bond which inseparably binds the disciples of Christ to his Blessed Mother in various ways. John the Evangelist gives explicit witness to such a bond when he reports the testament of Jesus dying on the Cross (cf. Jn 19:26-27). Having given his Mother to the disciples and the disciples to his Mother, ‘knowing that all was now finished,’ the dying Jesus ‘gave up his spirit’ for the life of the Church, his Mystical Body: indeed it was ‘from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the Cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.5).
“The water and blood which flowed from the heart of Christ on the Cross as a sign of the totality of his redemptive offering, continue to give life to the Church sacramentally through Baptism and the Eucharist. In this wonderful communion between the Redeemer and the redeemed, which always needs to be nourished, Blessed Mary has her maternal mission to carry out. This is recalled in the gospel passage of John 19:25-31 which is recommended for the Mass of the new Memorial, which had already been indicated, together with readings from Genesis 3 and Acts 1, in the Votive Mass ‘de Sancta Maria Ecclesiæ Matre,’ approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1973 in view of the upcoming Holy Year of Reconciliation of 1975 (cf. Notitiæ 1973, pp. 382-383).
“The liturgical commemoration of the ecclesial motherhood of Mary had thus already found a place among the Votive Masses of the editio altera of the Missale Romanum of 1975. Then, during the pontificate of Saint John Paul II, the possibility was granted to Episcopal Conferences of adding the title ‘Mother of the Church’ to the Litany of Loreto (cf. Notitiae 1980, p. 159); and on the occasion of the Marian Year the Congregation for Divine Worship published other Mass formularies for Votive Masses under the title of ‘Mary, Mother, and Image of the Church’ in the Collectio missarum de Beata Maria Virgine. In the course of the years, the insertion of the celebration ‘Mother of the Church’ into the proper calendars of some countries, such as Poland and Argentina, on the Monday after Pentecost was also approved. In other cases, the celebration was inscribed in particular places such as Saint Peter’s Basilica, where Blessed Paul VI proclaimed the title, as well as in the Propers of Religious Orders and Congregations.
“Given the importance of the mystery of Mary’s spiritual motherhood, which from the awaiting of the Spirit at Pentecost has never ceased to take motherly care of the pilgrim Church on earth, Pope Francis has decreed that on the Monday after Pentecost the Memorial of Mary Mother of the Church should be obligatory for the whole Church of the Roman Rite. The connection between the vitality of the Church of Pentecost and the maternal care of Mary towards it is evident. In the texts of the Mass and Office the text of Acts 1:12-14 throws light on the liturgical celebration, as does Genesis 3:9-15,20, read in the light of the typology of the New Eve, who became the ‘Mater omnium viventium’ under the Cross of her Son, the Redeemer of the world.
“The hope is that the extension of this celebration to the whole Church will remind all Christ’s disciples that, if we want to grow and to be filled with the love of God, it is necessary to plant our life firmly on three great realities: the Cross, the Eucharist, and the Mother of God. These are three mysteries that God gave to the world in order to structure, fructify, and sanctify our interior life and lead us to Jesus. These three mysteries are to be contemplated in silence. (cf. R. Sarah, The Power of Silence, n. 57).
Finally, a notification offering further explanations was offered a month later, on March 24:
“Following the inscription of the Obligatory Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church into the Roman Calendar, which must already be celebrated by everyone this year on the Monday after Pentecost, it seemed opportune to offer the following directions.
“The rubric found in the Roman Missal after the formularies for the Mass of Pentecost, ‘Where the Monday or Tuesday after Pentecost are days on which the faithful are obliged or accustomed to attending Mass, the Mass of Pentecost Sunday may be repeated, or a Mass of the Holy Spirit, may be said’ (Missale Romanum, p. 448), is still valid because it does not derogate precedence between liturgical days whose celebration are solely regulated by the Table of Liturgical Days (cf. Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, n. 59). Likewise, precedence is regulated by the norms on Votive Masses: ‘Votive Masses are in principle forbidden on the days on which there occurs an Obligatory Memorial, on a weekday of Advent up to and including 16 December, on a weekday of Christmas Time from 2 January, or on a weekday of Easter Time after the Octave of Easter. However, for pastoral reasons, as determined by the rector of the church or the Priest Celebrant himself, an appropriately corresponding Votive Mass may be used in a celebration of Mass with the people’ (Missale Romanum, p.1156; cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n. 376).
“Nevertheless, all else being equal, the Obligatory Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church is to be preferred. The texts of the Memorial were attached to the Decree along with indications for the readings, which are to be held as proper because they illuminate the mystery of Spiritual Motherhood. In a future edition of the Ordo lectionum Missæ the rubric at n. 572 bis will expressly indicate that the readings are proper and, even though it is a Memorial, are to be adopted in place of the readings of the day, (cf. Lectionary, General Introduction, n. 83).
“In the case where this Memorial coincides with another Memorial the principles of the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar are to be followed (cf. Table of Liturgical Days, n. 60). Given that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church is linked to Pentecost, as the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary is similarly linked to the celebration of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, then, in the case where it coincides with another Memorial of a Saint or Blessed, and following the liturgical tradition of pre-eminence amongst persons, the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary is to prevail.”
The above documents do not specifically address our reader’s question regarding the coincidence of the new memorial with a feast. Since, however, it refers constantly to the order of precedence of liturgical days, then I think it is obvious that should such a coincidence occur the feast would prevail.
The earliest possible date for Monday after Pentecost is May 11 the latest June 14.
During this period the only possible coincidences with feasts of the universal calendar are: St. Matthias, May 14 and the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on May 31. The proximate occurrences of the first coincidence will be 2035, 2046 and 2103, the second in 2066, 2077 and 2088.
There may, of course, be other coincidences with feasts found only on national, regional and diocesan calendars as well as the proper calendars of religious communities and the solemnities and feasts of parish patrons.
In all these cases the general rule of the precedence of a feast over a memorial would apply.
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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. 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.