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Options With Mass and Liturgy of the Hours

Date: April 11, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Q1: When celebrated by a single community (for instance, of religious), should the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass use the same “option” on days when options are permitted? I know that the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar say that “if several Optional Memorials are inscribed in the Calendar on the same day, only one may be celebrated, the others being omitted” (14); however, it’s not clear to me whether this is meant to suggest the hours and Mass should all correspond, or whether this is just aimed at ruling out combining multiple memorials into a single Mass or hour, which is clearly prohibited. We, of course, don’t usually intermix different options throughout the day, but here are some situations when this question has arisen: On national holidays (such as July Fourth or Thanksgiving in the U.S.) which have an optional Mass but no corresponding office, we have used the saint of the day’s office and the national holiday’s Mass. Is this permissible? Another upcoming instance: We are planning to use a Votive Mass of St. Joseph on (available) Wednesdays of Ordinary Time during this year in his honor. Can we use the office of another saint assigned to that day, or should we just use the weekday office – or can/should we use a votive Office of St. Joseph? (See question 2.)

Q2: The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (245) states the possibility of a votive office on some days. How does such an office work, in practice? For instance, for St. Joseph, does one use the psalms of the weekday, and take from the saint’s office (for March 19) those elements which would normally be proper for a memorial (the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons, the prayer, and optionally the reading and intercessions)?

Q3: Are the days allowed for a votive office in GILH 245 the same days on which the Office of the Dead may be celebrated, on the occasion of someone’s death?

A: The term votive (Mass or office) covers a wide range of possibilities. In general terms it refers to a Mass that does not conform to the office of the day and that the celebrant chooses to fulfill a personal devotion or to respond to a request made by some of the faithful. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) they are included in the broader category of “Masses for Various Circumstances”:

“370. In all the Masses for various circumstances, unless otherwise expressly indicated, 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, Masses for Various Circumstances, and Votive Masses.

“Masses for Various Needs or Masses for Various Circumstances are used in certain situations either as matters arise or at fixed times. It is from these that the competent authority may choose Masses for special days of prayer that are established in the course of the year by the Conference of Bishops.” […]

“375. Votive Masses of the mysteries of the Lord or in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of the Angels or of any given Saint or of all the Saints may be said for the sake of the faithful’s devotion on weekdays in Ordinary Time, even if an optional memorial occurs. It is not, however, allowed to celebrate as Votive Masses, those that refer to mysteries related to events in the life of the Lord or of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the exception of the Mass of the Immaculate Conception, since their celebration is an integral part of the unfolding of the liturgical year ….

“378. It is especially recommended to celebrate the commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday, because it is to the Mother of the Redeemer in the Liturgy of the Church that in the first place and before all the Saints veneration is given.”

The above-mentioned instruction to the Divine Office says:

“245. For a public cause or out of devotion, except on solemnities, the Sundays of the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, the octave of Easter, and 2 November, a votive office may be celebrated, in whole or in part: for example, on the occasion of a pilgrimage, a local feast, or the external solemnity of a saint.”

For several historical reasons there few votive offices in the Divine Office. Indeed, it could be said that there are no specific votive offices, apart perhaps from the Saturday celebration of Mary and the office of the dead. To these may be added the possibility of votive offices for a particular saint.

There are no specific offices in the breviary that correspond to the missal's Masses for various needs and occasions. However, a 2015 document from the U.S. bishops’ conference offered some pointers on adapting the Liturgy of the Hours to particular circumstances. It states:

“The Liturgy of the Hours does not have texts specifically created to be votive Offices, but it provides for the various Offices to be used in that way ‘for a public cause or out of devotion’ (see General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours [GILH], nos. 245, 252; Liturgy of the Hours, appendix III). It is also possible to use the existing Office of the day, but supplemented with an alternate reading drawn from appropriate selections in volume IV of the Lectionary for Mass (see GILH, no. 46), and perhaps adding particular intentions for the specific occasion (see GILH, no. 188). To conclude a votive Office, a prayer from appendix III of the Liturgy of the Hours could be used; note that those prayers have new translations in the Roman Missal which are found among the Prayers for Various Needs. Other options for ‘customizing’ an Office in particular circumstances are found in the GILH, nos. 246-252.”

Although No. 245 allows for a fair amount of flexibility -- in fact permitting for a votive office on a Sunday of ordinary time, something excluded for a votive Mass, as well as allowing to take the office only in part -- it must be seen in the light of the norms that follow it in 246-252 which both open up and limit this range of choices. In many ways No. 252 expresses the overarching principle:

"252. Everyone should be concerned to respect the complete cycle of the four-week psalter. Still, for spiritual or pastoral advantage, the psalms appointed for a particular day may be replaced with others from the same hour of a different day. There are also circumstances occasionally arising when it is permissible to choose suitable psalms and other texts in the way done for a votive office."

Therefore, while these norms allow for wide latitude in adapting the office to special circumstances, their application requires a certain familiarity with the intricacies of the book and a certain level of theological and liturgical formation. The above norms would also suggest that votive offices be used above all for pastoral reasons and less so for motives of personal devotion.

With this in mind I would suggest the following answers to our reader’s three questions:

1. As we saw above, the possibility of votive Masses is much broader than that of votive offices. Therefore, there is no obligation, and frequently not even the possibility, of celebrating the same Mass and office. This would also apply to optional memorials of saints who could be celebrated at Mass but not in the office or vice versa.

One point should be remembered, however: An office, such as morning prayer, may be united to Mass but only if they celebrate the same office. On such occasions it is not possible to celebrate a votive Mass if there is no corresponding office. This is one reason why the Liturgy of the Hours, although it foresees the possibility of uniting an office with Mass, considers it as an occasional and not a habitual practice.

If celebrating a votive Mass of St. Joseph on (available) Wednesdays of ordinary time, it would be possible, although perhaps not totally coherent, to celebrate an optional memorial of the saint of the day. No. 242 would allow for a votive office of St. Joseph, but, following the overall principle of respecting as far as possible the general cycle of psalms and readings, the votive elements could be limited to a hymn, intercessions and the concluding collect. They could also be limited to just one or two hours maintaining the daily office for the rest.

For special occasions one may follow the guidelines in the document of the U.S. bishops’ conference mentioned above.

2. As mentioned in No. 245, the office may be taken in whole or in part. For a special occasion which celebrates a particular saint, especially if not found in the general calendar, one could take all from the corresponding common and even use the psalms of the first Sunday at lauds. For a frequently celebrated saint, such as the example of St. Joseph above, it would be more in the spirit of the office to do the minimum. The choice falls on the community respecting the letter and spirit of the office.

3. Insofar as the Office of the Dead is celebrated as a votive office, it follows the same general rules. However, I would be of the opinion that for particular reasons, such as in the presence of the remains of deceased, the office could be celebrated in a community on days when a funeral Mass is permitted. When November 2 falls on a Sunday, the office, unlike the Mass, is that of the corresponding Sunday. However, the Office of the Dead may be celebrated on this day with the presence of the faithful.

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