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Liturgies for Christmas, New Year’s clarified
archived from: 2010-11-22
by: Chuck Moody, Associate Editor

Worship director addresses confusion about weekend solemnities

After receiving many phone calls asking about the celebration of an evening Mass, or a vigil Mass, for Sundays, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, Father James Gretz, director of the diocesan Department for Worship, has sent a letter to all parishes in the diocese outlining the celebration of Masses Dec. 25 and 26 and Jan. 1 and 2.

Father Gretz based his letter on information he received from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, and he included emphasis from his own department, especially regarding the “Table of Liturgical Days.”

“This year, the solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) falls on a Saturday,” Father Gretz said regarding Christmas and the feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 25-26). “Because Christmas is a solemnity, ranked at No. 2 on the Table of Liturgical Days, Mass on Saturday evening, Dec. 25, is that of the Nativity, and Evening Prayer II of the Nativity is prayed. The feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph follows on Sunday, Dec. 26; Evening Prayer I of the Holy Family is not prayed, and any Mass celebrated on the evening of Dec. 25 is the Mass of Christmas, not the Holy Family.

“As a practical matter, the (diocesan) secretariat (for Parish Life and Lay Leadership) observes that pastors and other priests should not feel obliged to schedule a Mass with the people on Christmas evening, even if a Saturday evening Mass is usually on the parish schedule. On a night when families (and many priests themselves) gather at homes for Christmas dinner, a Christmas Mass on Saturday evening would likely not be attended by many people. Moreover, it would be difficult to find sufficient liturgical ministers (altar servers, musicians, lectors, etc.).”

Saturday, Jan. 1, marks the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, which in 2011 is not a holy day of obligation because it falls on a Saturday, Father Gretz said.

“The solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord follows on Sunday, Jan. 2,” he said. “Although both are ranked at No. 3 in the Table of Liturgical Days, as a solemnity of the Lord, the Epiphany outranks the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (a solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Just as the Mother of God points the way and leads us to her Son, her solemnity gives way to the Epiphany. Therefore, Mass on the evening of Jan. 1 is the vigil of the Epiphany, and Evening Prayer I of the Epiphany is prayed.”

The Table of Liturgical Days is quite complex, Father Gretz said.

“I am trying to remind people that we have solemnities, feasts, memorials, optional memorials, commemorations, as well as regular weekdays,” he said. “Each has prayers and prescriptions (like the use of the Gloria and the Nicene Creed) for celebration. Each celebration in particular has a ‘rank’ on the list. The table reminds us of the importance of days when multiple celebrations occur together, like Christmas/Holy Family and Mary, Mother of God/Epiphany this year.

“Literally, Christmas is second on the list (after the combination of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter into one) and the feast of the Holy Family is 20th on the list.

Therefore, Christmas is more overarching, if you will, so that the 25th of December remains Christmas all day long. With no disrespect to our Blessed Mother, her solemnity is 13th on the list, and Epiphany is third. So, in this case, the solemnity of the Epiphany can begin with a vigil celebration. It can be confusing.”

Hopefully not complicating the matter are the “days of obligation,” those days when Catholics are required to attend Mass, Father Gretz said.

“Of course, every Sunday is a day of obligation,” he said. “Canon law would then tell us that other days of obligation, modified in the United States, include Christmas (Dec. 25), Ascension (40 days after Easter), Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1), her Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), her Assumption (Aug. 15) and All Saints (Nov. 1). Also included on the list in the universal church are Epiphany and the Body and Blood of Christ (traditionally known as “Corpus Christi”). However, in the United States, these have been moved perpetually to Sundays. In some parts of the United States, Ascension is also transferred to Sunday.

“What became confusing is that beginning Jan. 1, 1993, three of our days of obligation, if they fell on Saturday or Monday, lost their obligation to attend Mass. I tease people that I came up with the ‘Father Jim Gretz Rule’ for remembering those days — they are days that perpetually have a “1” in them, hence Jan. 1, Aug. 1-5 and Nov. 1. We recently experienced that rule with the solemnity of All Saints. I think with some wisdom the USCCB created this rule.”

Western Pennsylvania is blessed to still have many parishes and many priests, but other parts of the country are not so lucky, Father Gretz said.

“I remember once meeting a priest from Nebraska who was pastor of five parishes and drove some 500 miles each weekend to celebrate Mass,” he said. “Thinking not only of his difficulty, but that of his people as well, the bishops enacted the rule. It’s a good reminder that we are a ‘catholic’ — meaning ‘universal’ — church and that we need to pray for vocations, especially to the priesthood.”




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