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Adjusting Texts for Number and Gender

Date: September 19, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I am aware that a priest cannot change the approved liturgical texts used in Mass. However, I have a doubt regarding the mention of saints, the living and the deceased in the liturgical texts. Can a priest change the number and gender of the prayers to adapt them to a concrete celebration? For example, if I use the first Preface of Holy Martyrs, which says: “For the blood of your blessed Martyr N.,” and I celebrate the memorial of saints John Fisher, bishop, and Thomas More, martyrs, could I say: “For the blood of your blessed Martyrs John Fisher and Thomas More”? Another example, if I use the first Eucharistic Prayer, and I want to mention just one person in the commemoration of the living, could I say: “Remember, Lord, your servant Edward and all gathered here …”? Another example, if I select the Eucharistic Prayer for use in Masses for Various Needs, which says: “Remember our brothers and sisters (N. and N.), who have fallen asleep in the peace of your Christ, and all the dead …,” and I want to mention two women, could I say: “Remember our sisters Mary and Elizabeth, who have fallen asleep in the peace of your Christ, and all the dead …”? Final example: If I want to mention just one newly confirmed girl in the insert of the second Eucharistic Prayer in Spanish, which says: “Acepta, Señor, en tu bondad, esta ofrenda de tus siervos y de toda tu familia santa, que hoy te ofrecemos especialmente por N. y N. (aquellos) que, renacidos en el bautismo, han sido confirmados hoy por el don del Espíritu Santo”; could I say: “Acepta, Señor, en tu bondad, esta ofrenda de tus siervos y de toda tu familia santa, que hoy te ofrecemos especialmente por Ana que, renacida en el bautismo, ha sido confirmada hoy por el don del Espíritu Santo”? I guess these changes can be done, but I would like to have your opinion. -- D.A., Granada, Spain

A: In general, there is no difficulty in adjusting number and gender to the specifics of a celebration. The liturgical norms generally presuppose this possibility and cannot take into account all variations.

The example above of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More is a legitimate example of such an adjustment. The double celebration of two saints whose lives are intimately related is not unknown. Other examples are Saints Cosmas and Damien, Cyril and Methodius, and Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brébeuf.

A similar process can be used when there is one principal saint along with several companions in which the latter are mentioned collectively as would be the case of the Martyrs of Uganda and others.

However, mention of other people whether living or dead within the Eucharistic Prayer should normally be circumspect, and it is usually possible only when the norms specifically grant this faculty. It is usually preferable to mention individual names in other contexts such as the Prayer of the Faithful.

Although the Roman Canon does foresee the mention of living people, in practice the external mentioning of the living had been in disuse for centuries. The priest could verbally mention the names of those he intended to pray for in a low voice or just mentally. 

The new Eucharistic Prayers do not foresee this possibility except in those cases where the ritual books specifically foresee a special insertion such as in Masses conferring baptism, confirmation, holy orders, religious profession and the like. It would not be appropriate to expand this possibility beyond the specific ritual Masses.

The specific mention of the dead during the Eucharistic Prayer is usually reserved for when one of the Masses for the Dead is celebrated, hence, at funerals or on significant anniversaries. The use of the special expanded texts mentioning the departed in the Eucharistic Prayer, and especially that of the third Anaphora, are not foreseen on a daily basis even when the Mass intention is offered for the repose of a soul but, as already mentioned, when the entire Mass liturgy is for the deceased. 

The Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs is something of a paradox. It was originally composed as an alternative Eucharistic Prayer for general use and therefore has the intercession for the dead. However, its use was later restricted and it may only be used when one of the Masses for Various Needs is celebrated.

Likewise, since it cannot be used without its proper preface it does not seem to be an appropriate Eucharistic Prayer for commemorating those who have gone before us.

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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.


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