Proper Prefaces

Date: October 16, 2022
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.

Question: The prefaces for martyrs, holy pastors, holy virgins and religious all say that they “may” be used for memorials. So, on a memorial such as that of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, could the preface be I or II of Martyrs, of Holy Pastors, of Holy Virgins and Religious, or of I or II of Saints? It seems that diocesan ordos are rather haphazard in how they treat this. -- O.K., Irving, Texas

Answer: The obligatory use of a proper preface of the day is reserved for solemnities and feasts. This is usually also indicated in the proper of saints, which only indicates a preferred preface on liturgical feasts and solemnities.

On all other days, the use of the proper preface is optional. Therefore, on the day of an obligatory or optional memorial, the celebrant can choose any suitable preface pertaining to the class of saint, or use one of the common prefaces of Ordinary Time or a preface of the liturgical season.

Thus, for example, if there is an obligatory memorial during the first weeks of Advent, the celebrant might prefer to use the Advent preface than one of those dedicated to the saints since Advent is a short season that comes around just once a year while the saints come up throughout the year. There are also some weeks in which the celebration of saints fall several days in a row, and a priest might prefer to vary the use of the preface.

Something similar can usually be said about votive Masses and Masses for Various Needs and Occasions in which the use of the proper preface is not obligatory although, in some cases, the texts recommend a particular preface. Examples of this are the Masses for the Church which usually recommend Preface VIII of the Sunday in Ordinary Time or the Mass “For a Council or Synod” which recommends Preface II of the Holy Spirit.

However, even in these cases, the use of these prefaces is not strictly obligatory because the missal also allows for the use of one of the “Eucharistic Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions” with these Masses. and these Eucharistic Prayers have an obligatory inseparable preface like Eucharistic Prayer IV.

Diocesan and national ordos are pastoral and not legislative documents, although they reflect elements of the national, regional and diocesan calendars that have been duly approved by decrees from the competent authority of the universal or local Church.

The suggestions they make concerning the use of prefaces for memorials should be taken as common-sense orientations and recommendations. They do not deprive the individual celebrant of his right to make a personal pastoral decision on such points within the bounds of general liturgical law.

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