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Names of the Dead in Eucharistic Prayers

Date: May 16, 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: It is my understanding that the insert for the dead in the second and third Eucharistic Prayers can only be used in Masses for the Dead. However, it is very common in my diocese to insert names of deceased in the second and third Eucharistic Prayers in Masses which are not Masses for the Dead. For example, some priests modify the second Eucharistic Prayer in this way: "Remember also N. and N. and our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.” Is this correct? Can be done? Finally, it is also common in my diocese to insert the names of saints in the second Eucharistic Prayer in this way: "Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, her spouse, with the blessed Apostles, with N. and N. and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you through your Son, Jesus Christ.” Is this correct? Can be done?

A: We must first distinguish between offering a Mass for the Dead, that is, using one of the Mass formulas for the dead provided in the missal, and celebrating a Mass whose intention is the eternal repose of a particular soul or souls. While a Mass may be offered in suffrage for the deceased on almost any day, this is not true with respect to using the proper formulas for Masses for the Dead.

With respect to these Masses the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says:

"380. Among the Masses for the Dead, the Funeral Mass holds first place. It may be celebrated on any day except for Solemnities that are holy days of obligation, Holy Thursday, the Easter Triduum, and the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, with due regard also for all the other requirements of the norm of the law.

"381. A Mass for the Dead may be celebrated on receiving the news of a death, for the final burial, or the first anniversary, even on days within the Octave of Christmas, on obligatory Memorials, and on weekdays, except for Ash Wednesday or weekdays during Holy Week.

"Other Masses for the Dead, that is, 'daily' Masses, may be celebrated on weekdays in Ordinary Time on which optional memorials occur or when the Office is of the weekday, provided such Masses are actually applied for the dead."

Therefore, the Church distinguishes three classes: funeral Masses; Masses for the Dead for the specific reasons mentioned in 381, paragraph 1; and all other Masses for the deceased. These may be celebrated or not according to the rules outlined above.

The special formulas for Masses of the Dead, found above all in Eucharistic Prayer III, may be used only when a Mass for the Dead can be celebrated. They are not used when another Mass formula is used, even if the Mass intention is for a deceased person. 

In such cases, the name may be published in some way, either in the parish bulletin, mentioned at the beginning of Mass, or in the Prayer of the Faithful.

With respect to priests adding to the Eucharistic Prayer, we must remember the overall principle found in the Second Vatican Council constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium:

“22. 1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.

“2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.

“3. Therefore, no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

Thus, no priest on his own may add special formulas for the dead nor for the insertion of the names of the saints to the Eucharistic Prayer, except where specifically provided for such as in Eucharistic Prayer III.

That said, however, a bishops’ conference can propose such initiatives to the Holy See, which will usually approve.

For example, in the long-awaited new translation of the Roman Missal into Italian, the bishops have included many useful initiatives that have been approved by the Holy See. Among these are new prefaces for Doctors of the Church which are suitable for both women and men. There are also special inserts for Masses for the Dead and the possibility of mentioning the saint of the day in Eucharistic Prayer II.

Most priests have welcomed this addition, although some have mentioned that there might be some danger in further cementing the already dominant use of Eucharistic Prayer II and reducing the use of the others. Indeed, the possibility of mentioning the saint of the day was one motivation for using the slightly longer third anaphora with some regularity and not limiting it to funerals.

In those countries where the bishops have not taken such initiatives, priests may not add or change the approved texts in any way. They are free to suggest to their bishop to begin the process of making such adaptations at the level of the bishops’ conference where a two-thirds majority is required before submitting the proposal to the Holy See for approval.

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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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