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Readings for Votive Masses and Those for Various Needs

Date: March 28, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Q: I like to celebrate Masses for various needs and occasions and also votive Masses. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM): "370. In all the Masses for Various Needs and Occasions, unless expressly indicated otherwise, it is permissible to use the weekday readings and also the chants between them, if they are suited to the celebration. 371. Among Masses of this kind are included Ritual Masses, Masses for Various Needs and Occasions, and Votive Masses.” Where can I find a prohibition to use weekday readings for a particular Mass? In the Roman Missal, the color of the vestments is clearly stated for some days (for example, votive Mass of the Most Holy Eucharist). However, I do not find any indication about the readings. In the lectionary for Masses for various needs and occasions and votive Masses, I find several options for readings for each Mass but no prohibition to use weekday readings.

A: In all probability, one will not find an express prohibition regarding the use of the daily readings. This is in part due to a small change in GIRM 2003 with respect to the earlier 1975 edition. The earlier edition used the term “otherwise” rather than “expressly.” Since most of the rubrics of the lectionaries reflect the earlier version, they would not contain such prohibitions.

The new GIRM also indicates that the use of the daily readings depends on their suitability to the celebration, albeit offering no guidance as to how to judge such suitability. In this it defers to the pastoral judgment of the celebrant and others who might be preparing such a Mass.

The introduction to the lectionary, while not containing express prohibitions to use the daily readings, does offer guidance as to when it is best to use other readings and when not to. To wit:

“78. The Order of Readings sometimes leaves it to the celebrant to choose between alternative texts or to choose one from the several listed together for the same reading. The option seldom exists on Sundays, solemnities, or feasts, in order not to obscure the character proper to the particular liturgical season or needlessly interrupt the semicontinuous reading of some biblical book. On the other hand, the option is given readily in celebrations of the Saints, in ritual Masses, Masses for various needs and occasions, votive Masses, and Masses for the dead.

“These options, together with those indicated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Ordo cantus Missae, 103 have a pastoral purpose. In arranging the liturgy of the word, then, the priest should ‘consider the general spiritual good of the congregation rather than his personal outlook. He should be mindful that the choice of texts is to be made in harmony with the ministers and others who have a role in the celebration and should listen to the opinions of the faithful in what concerns them more directly ....’

“82. The arrangement of weekday readings provides texts for every day of the week throughout the year. In most cases, therefore, these readings are to be used on their assigned days, unless a solemnity, a feast, or else a memorial with proper readings occurs.

“In using the Order of Readings for weekdays attention must be paid to whether one reading or another from the same biblical book will have to be omitted because of some celebration occurring during the week. With the arrangement of readings for the entire week in mind, the priest in that case arranges to omit the less significant passages or combines them in the most appropriate manner with other readings, if they contribute to an integral view of a particular theme.

“5) The Celebrations of the Saints

“83. When they exist, proper readings are given for celebrations of the Saints, that is, biblical passages about the Saint or the mystery that the Mass is celebrating. Even in the case of a memorial, these readings must take the place of the weekday readings for the same day. This Order of Readings makes explicit note of every case of proper readings on a memorial.

“In some cases, there are accommodated readings, those, namely, that bring out some particular aspect of a Saint's spiritual life or work. Use of such readings does not seem binding, except for compelling pastoral reasons. For the most part references are given to readings in the Commons in order to facilitate choice. But these are merely suggestions: in place of an accommodated reading or the particular reading proposed from a Common, any other reading from the Commons referred to may be selected.

“The first concern of a priest celebrating with a congregation is the spiritual benefit of the faithful and he will be careful not to impose his personal preference on them. Above all he will make sure not to omit too often or without sufficient cause the readings assigned for each day in the weekday Lectionary: the Church's desire is that a more lavish table of the word of God be spread before the faithful.

“There are also common readings, that is, those placed in the Commons either for some determined class of Saints (martyrs, virgins, pastors) or for the Saints in general. Because in these cases several texts are listed for the same reading, it will be up to the priest to choose the one best suited to those listening. In all celebrations of Saints, the readings may be taken not only from the Commons to which the references are given in each case but also from the Common of Men and Women Saints, whenever there is special reason for doing so ....

“6) Other Parts of the Order of Readings

“85. In the Order of Readings for ritual Masses the references given are to the texts already published for the individual rites. This obviously does not include the texts belonging to celebrations that must not be integrated with Mass.

“86. The Order of Readings for Masses for various needs and occasions, votive Masses, and Masses for the dead provides many texts that can be of assistance in adapting such celebrations to the situation, circumstances and concerns of the particular groups taking part.

“87. In ritual Masses, Masses for various needs and occasions, votive Masses, and Masses for the dead, since many texts are given for the same reading, the choice of readings follows the criteria already indicated for the choice of readings from the Common of Saints.

“88. On a day when some ritual Mass is not permitted and when the norms in the individual rite allow the choice of one reading from those provided for ritual Masses, the general spiritual welfare of the participants must be considered.”

From the above, we can note some criteria. One is that all things being equal, there is a preference to maintaining the assigned readings of the day unless there is a compelling pastoral reason for using the readings proper to the votive Mass or Mass for various occasions.

I think there are two areas where there could be, not so much a prohibition to use the daily readings, as a mandate to use certain prescribed readings. This would not be in the missal or lectionary but in another document. For example, if the bishops’ conference, or the local bishop, mandates the celebration of a specific Mass for an urgent pastoral need, the decree will often assign the readings for that Mass which should generally be followed.

Likewise, when ritual Masses such as ordinations, weddings, and funerals are celebrated, the indications regarding the Liturgy of the Word, while not expressly forbidding the use of the weekday readings, presume that the readings will be taken from the ritual itself. To include an express prohibition in such contexts would probably not even have occurred to those preparing the ritual books.

An exception is when these rituals are celebrated on liturgical days that exclude using the ritual Mass such as solemnities and Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter. On such occasions, the proper readings of the day must be followed although one reading from the ritual is allowed.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. 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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