Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why was yesterday the Feast of St. Lawrence the Deacon and today is only the Memorial of St. Clare the Virgin?

You'd think that St. Clare, the founder of the wonderful Poor Clares contemplative order would have had a far greater impact on the Church than St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr who died in the year 258.

Before Mass yesterday, the server asked my advice as the day's lector if we should set up the altar with all of the icons because the day was a "feast day?" [The Mass is held in a hospital and we have to set up the altar and take it down afterwards so that protestant religious services can be held.] My immediate reaction was "huh?" I glanced in my missalette and noted that it was the feast of St. Lawrence the Deacon, but I really didn't know anything about him. I knew about St. Stephen the Deacon but that's only because my Dad's birthday was on his feast day, the day after Christmas (and I won a city-wide catechism contest in fifth grade by knowing that.) I wondered how Lawrence rated a special day as opposed to any other saint.

But I recalled vaguely the word being mentioned once before but since it had no practical impact at the time I never bothered to ask for a clarification. But we figured that Father would notice if we didn't do it, so we had better do it properly. [Father did notice that we forgot to turn on the lights behind our 'stained glass windows", by the way. He notices everything.] I resolved to investigate the definition and practices appropriate to feast days. And check into St. Lawrence.

Then, believe it or not, Father used that as the theme of his sermon (more anon) and mentioned that the Church had Solemnities, feasts and memorials for commemorate its saints and God. Apparently in the olden days, like the middle ages, there used to be 250 Holy Days of Obligation! Wow! That might have been the cause of the Protestant Revolt! Actually, the Middle Ages were long before 1517.

Solemnities! The church never seems to be satisfied with its nomenclature, as the military likes to call terminology. We used to have vestibules, pulpits, sermons and feast days. Now we've got narthexes ("nartheces?", ambos, homilies and solemnities. I really have a difficult time with all this, besides not liking change.

Anyhow, my pal Google came up with a few things on the Church's celebrations. Memorize it. You'll never know when someone like the SwissMiss will raise the point in her "Weekend Kneeler St. Alex's Jeopardy" contests.

I still haven't figured out how St. Lawrence rates a "feast day."

[Zenit, from Catholic.org] Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: We as Catholics commonly use the word "feast" to cover everything from church feasts of various saints and the Blessed Mother, to Corpus Christi, etc. We also understand that there are three kinds of feasts/celebrations: memorial, feast, solemnity. Could you kindly elaborate on these three categories? Also, why is Corpus Christi not a holy day of obligation? -- R.D., Enderamulla, Sri Lanka

A: Effectively we use the word "feast" to cover all levels of celebration, even though the word also has a precise technical meaning in the hierarchy of celebrations. There is no great difficulty in this, as the context usually clarifies whether we are speaking technically or in general.

The three basic classes are those mentioned by our reader, although memorials are often divided up into obligatory and optional. There are some other means of classifying the celebrations which give different numbers and categories. For example, if one classifies on the basis of which Masses may be celebrated on a given day, one comes up with seven groupings of celebrations.

The difference between the three basic categories resides in their importance, which in turn is reflected in the presence or absence of different liturgical elements.

Solemnities are the highest degree and are usually reserved for the most important mysteries of faith. These include Easter, Pentecost and the Immaculate Conception; the principal titles of Our Lord, such as King and Sacred Heart; and celebrations that honor some saints of particular importance in salvation history, such as Sts. Peter and Paul, and St. John the Baptist on his day of birth.

Solemnities have the same basic elements as a Sunday: three readings, prayer of the faithful, the Creed and the Gloria which is recited even when the solemnity occurs during Advent or Lent. It also has proper prayer formulas exclusive to the day: entrance antiphon, opening prayer, prayer over the gifts, Communion antiphon, and prayer after Communion. In most cases it also has a particular preface.

Some solemnities are also holy days of obligation, but these vary from country to country. A solemnity is celebrated if it falls on a Sunday of ordinary time or Christmastide. But it is usually transferred to the following Monday if it falls on a Sunday of Advent, Lent or Easter, or during Holy Week or the Easter octave.

A feast honors a mystery or title of the Lord, of Our Lady, or of saints of particular importance (such as the apostles and Evangelists) and some of historical importance such as the deacon St. Lawrence [Wow, he must be more important than I thought].

The feast usually has some proper prayers but has only two readings plus the Gloria. Feasts of the Lord, such as the Transfiguration and Exaltation of the Holy Cross, unlike other feasts, are celebrated when they fall on a Sunday. On such occasions they have three readings, the Gloria and the Creed.

A memorial is usually of saints but may also celebrate some aspect of the Lord or of Mary. Examples include the optional memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus or the obligatory memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

From the point of view of the liturgical elements there is no difference between the optional and obligatory memorial. The memorial has at least a proper opening prayer and may have proper readings suitable for the saint being celebrated. The readings of the day may be used, and the lectionary recommends against an excessive use of specific readings for the saints so as not to interrupt too much the continuous cycle of daily readings.

On the other hand, the specific readings should always be used for certain saints, above all those specifically mentioned in the readings themselves, such as Martha, Mary Magdalene and Barnabas.

During Lent and Advent from Dec. 17 to 24 memorials may be celebrated only as commemorations. That is, only the opening prayer of the saint is used and all the rest comes from the day. Nov. 2, All Souls' Day, is something of a special class that, without being a solemnity, still has precedence over a Sunday. It is also important to note that the same celebration may have a different classification in various geographical areas, as some celebrations and saints are venerated more in one place than in another. For example, St. Benedict, an obligatory memorial in the universal calendar, is a feast in Europe since he is one of its patrons. But he rates a solemnity in the diocese and abbey of Montecassino where he is buried.

Finally, the decision on whether a solemnity such as the Body and Blood of the Lord [Corpus Christi] is a holy day of obligation falls primarily upon the bishops' conference, which decides based on the pastoral reality of each country. Some have maintained the traditional Thursday celebration and kept it as a holy day; others might have maintained the day but without the obligation. Many have preferred to transfer the celebration to the following Sunday so as to ensure its celebration with the greatest number of faithful.

The Vatican, for example, continues the traditional Thursday celebration and thus the Holy Father's procession with the Blessed Sacrament is held on that day. The Diocese of Rome, however, along with the rest of Italy, celebrates it on the following Sunday.

If you want to know who and how we celebrate, check the bishop's website for your country (in the US, the USCCB) and it will bell you in the Readings section.

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