Celebrating the Memorial of John Paul II

And More on Right-handed Gestures

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ROME, SEPT. 20, 2011 (<A HREF="http://www.zenit.org">Zenit.org</A>).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 

Q: Is it OK in the United States to celebrate liturgically in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass the memorials of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed John Paul ll? -- A.W., Sacramento, California 

A: We have already replied on another occasion regarding the celebration of the blessed. In part we repeat some of the ideas written on <A HREF="http://www.zenit.org/article-11856?l=english">Dec. 21, 2004</A>, and <A HREF="http://www.zenit.org/article-12011?l=english">Jan. 18, 2005</A>. Here we add some novelty regarding Blessed John Paul II.

The most recent norms relating to this theme are contained in a notification published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, on Sept. 20, 1997. These update and complement the norms given in the general calendar and the more-detailed norms given in the instruction "Calendaria Particularia," issued June 24, 1970.

This document touches on the subject of inserting the blessed in local calendars in several places, but above all in Nos. 25-37.

In general, the document warns against the excessive multiplication of celebrations, so as to keep the general Roman calendar's basic unity intact.

Especially in the first years after beatification or canonization, it is probably better to limit the celebration to the locales more intimately united to the saint's life before seeking permission to include a new saint or blessed in a diocesan, regional or national calendar or in a religious order's general calendar (Nos. 28, 30).

The celebration of a blessed differs from that of a saint, above all with respect to the universality of the veneration that may be offered to them.

The blessed are usually venerated with celebrations on a local level in places where they were born, where they died, and where their relics are preserved. They are also venerated in places that had a long-term association with their activities, in a church dedicated to them, or within the confines of the churches and oratories of a particular religious order which has its own liturgical calendar.

However, even in these cases, it is better to begin by inserting this celebration as an optional memorial and later expand, both territorially and in liturgical ranking, as devotion spreads (No. 31).

In some cases, especially in ancient dioceses, it might even be better to restrict this initial veneration to the church where his relics are kept or to his native town.

A priest may celebrate a saint's feast day anywhere in the universal Church as an optional memorial, even if this feast is not included in the general calendar.

However, he must respect the general liturgical norms regarding the precedence of different celebrations. This means that such a celebration may only take place on days where there is no other feast or obligatory memorial during ordinary time, in the weekdays of Advent before Dec. 17, those of Christmas after Jan. 2, and during Eastertide after the Easter octave (No. 33).

In order to include the celebration of a blessed in the national or diocesan calendar, or to dedicate a church to a blessed, either the bishops' conference or the local bishop, as the case may be, requests permission from the Holy See.

The inclusion of a new saint or blessed into a national calendar requires a two-thirds majority of the country's bishops in a secret ballot and the recognition of the Holy See.

Once the Holy See has granted permission, the blessed may be included in the national, regional, diocesan or religious order calendar according to the liturgical ranking permitted.

A blessed is usually accorded the ranking of optional memorial, occasionally an obligatory memorial, rarely a feast (and even then usually restricted to a church containing relics), but never a solemnity.

Thus, in the examples you pointed out: A priest in the United States can celebrate Blessed Junípero Serra, who has been included in the U.S. calendar. But a priest in Rome may not celebrate except, I think, within the North American College, which, like all of Rome's national colleges, is permitted to follow the home calendar.

A priest may not celebrate Blessed Mother Teresa or Blessed John Henry Newman in ordinary churches unless the Holy See has granted permission to include the celebration in the diocesan regional or national calendar. But Mother Teresa's feast may be celebrated anywhere in the world within the chapels and oratories of the Missionaries of Charity.

With respect to John Paul II, the Holy See issued a decree concerning liturgical worship in honor of the beatified Pope on the anniversary of his death April 2, 2011, in view of his upcoming beatification.

The decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship acknowledged that the great Pope was a special case: "Given the extraordinary nature of this event and the numerous requests received concerning liturgical worship in honor of the new Blessed at certain times and in certain places, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments sees fit to communicate in a timely manner what has been decided in that respect."

It then made the following dispositions:

"It has been decided that during the year following the Beatification of John Paul II, that is, until 1 May 2012, it will be possible to celebrate a Holy Mass of thanksgiving in certain places and on certain days. The responsibility of establishing the day or days as well as the place or places for gathering the People of God for this purpose belongs to the Diocesan Bishop. Similarly, in religious communities, it is the responsibility of the Superior General to establish the days and places of such celebrations for the entire religious community.

"The annual celebration of Blessed John Paul II is to be inserted into the liturgical calendars of the Diocese of Rome and all the Dioceses of Poland as a 'memorial' to be observed on 22 October. As for the liturgical texts, the Collect and the second reading of the Office of Readings, together with its Response, are to be inserted into the 'Proper of Saints.' The other texts are to be taken from the 'Common of Pastors: For a Pope.'

"With regard to other local calendars, any request that the celebration Blessed John Paul II be observed as an Optional Memorial is to be submitted to this Congregation by a local Conference of Bishops when it involves an entire territory, a Diocesan Bishop when it involves an individual dioceses, and a Superior General when the request pertains to a religious community.

"An indult of the Apostolic See is needed to dedicate a church in honor of Blessed John Paul II (cf. <i>Ordo dedicationis ecclesiae, Praenotanda,</i> n. 4) unless a celebration in his memory has already been inserted into the local calendar; in this case the indult is not necessary and the memorial is elevated to a liturgical Feast in the church named for the Blessed (cf. <i>Congregatio de Cultu Divino Sacramentorum, Notificatio de cultu Beatorum,</i> 21 May 1999, n. 9)."

Therefore, although the same basic rules regarding the celebration of a blessed are to be observed for John Paul II, the congregation has clearly indicated that it will quickly approve requests to insert his name into the national or local calendar.

Such requests regarding the national calendar have to be voted upon by each bishops' conference. If this is done and approval has been received from the Holy See, then it will be possible to celebrate the Mass and office of the new blessed.

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Follow-up: Right-handed Gestures

In the wake of our comments on left-handedness (see <A HREF="http://www.zenit.org/article-33361?l=english">Sept. 6</A>), a reader offered some interesting information: "I have an interest in the history and language of gestures. In medieval times, you would genuflect on your left knee to someone who had authority over you but not ultimate authority. You would use your left knee before your local lord, but your right knee was reserved for the king. We've kept some of that in America. I remember the sisters telling me for my confirmation that I should use my left knee to genuflect to the bishop, because the right knee was reserved for Jesus."

Meanwhile, a reader in Nigeria reader asked about the sign of the cross: "I wish to know the appropriate position of the fingers while making the sign of the cross. It is clear that we begin the sign of the cross with the fingers on the forehead down to the chest or navel, then to the left shoulder and the right. I have a little confusion whether the fingers should be on the navel or the chest. Where should it be? Which one is correct? What is the liturgical and theological implication of each?"

According to the original Catholic Encyclopaedia, the "Sign of the Cross" is:

"A term applied to various manual acts, liturgical or devotional in character, which have this at least in common: that by the gesture of tracing two lines intersecting at right angles they indicate symbolically the figure of Christ's cross.

"Most commonly and properly the words 'sign of the cross' are used of the large cross traced from forehead to breast and from shoulder to shoulder, such as Catholics are taught to make upon themselves when they begin their prayers, and such also as the priest makes at the foot of the altar when he commences Mass with the words: '<i>In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.</i>' (At the beginning of Mass the celebrant makes the sign of the cross by placing his left hand extended under his breast; then raising his right to his forehead, which he touches with the extremities of his fingers, he says: <i>In nomine Patris</i>; then, touching his breast with the same hand, he says: <i>et Filii</i>; touching his left and right shoulders, he says: <i>et Spiritus Sancti</i>; and as he joins his hands again adds: <i>Amen.</i>) The same sign recurs frequently during Mass, e.g. at the words '<i>Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini,</i>' at the 'Indulgentiam' after the Confiteor, etc., as also in the Divine Office, for example at the invocation '<i>Deus in adjutorium nostrum intende</i>,' at the beginning of the 'Magnificat,' the 'Benedictus,' the 'Nunc Dimittis,' and on many other occasions."

Some other sources suggest the lower breast or navel area as appropriate. I do not believe that this point is legislated about with great precision, and a couple of inches here or there makes no substantial difference to the quality of the gesture.

What is important is to do the gesture with reverence and awareness of its significance as a proclamation of Trinitarian faith and remembrance of the Passion.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. 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.