ROME, 7 DEC. 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: With the coming of Advent, if I am correct, on Sundays even a funeral Mass is prohibited. Therefore, can a priest from outside come and celebrate an anniversary requiem Mass on a Sunday, say, at 11 a.m.? — F.J., Puduchcheri, India
A: Effectively, the Sundays of Advent, like those of Lent and Easter, are among the highest level celebrations in the liturgical table of precedence. For this reason, practically no other Mass may be celebrated on these days, including ritual and funeral Masses.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 380, says: "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."
Only solemnities which are also holy days of obligation are higher on the liturgical table than these Sundays. Thus, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in Spain and Italy takes precedence over the Sunday of Advent.
That the ritual Masses are forbidden does not necessarily preclude the celebration of some rites. A rite that is usually inserted into a specific part of the Mass, such as an ordination or a religious profession, may be held on a Sunday of Advent, but the prayers of the Mass and the violet or rose color of the vestments all correspond to the Sunday.
Since the funeral Mass has unique characteristics in several parts of the celebration, it cannot be so easily accommodated into a festive liturgy. If it is impossible to delay a funeral until the following Monday, then the Funeral Liturgy Outside of Mass should be used on the Sunday itself (See the Order of Christian Funerals, No. 178).
If this is the case for a funeral, then it is much more so for an anniversary Mass. Indeed, anniversary requiem Masses are much lower down the liturgical table of precedence and, apart from the cases already mentioned in GIRM 380, may not be celebrated on the following days: solemnities, All Souls' Day, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter Octave, all other Sundays and feasts.
In conclusion, it is not possible for a priest to come and celebrate this anniversary requiem Mass on a Sunday of Advent.
He may come and celebrate a Mass whose intention is the repose of the soul of a particular person. He may mention this intention in commentaries, the homily and the prayer of the faithful. The prayers and readings, however, must be of the day.
For very serious motives, exceptions can be made to these rules. For example, after the earthquake at L'Aquila, Italy, last year the Pope permitted a funeral Mass for all the victims together on Good Friday, a day in which the Church does not celebrate the Eucharist.
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Follow-up: Requiem Masses on Sundays of Advent [12-21-2010]
An Ohio reader commented: "On Dec. 7, you wrote an article about requiem Masses on Sundays of Advent. In the context of the precedence of the Sundays of Advent over other celebrations, you stated, 'Only solemnities which are also holy days of obligation are higher on the liturgical table than these Sundays. Thus, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in Spain and Italy takes precedence over the Sunday of Advent.' The Table of Liturgical Days lists Sundays of Advent above solemnities of the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, without saying anything about holy days of obligation. In the U.S., we transfer the celebration of the Immaculate Conception to Dec. 9 when Dec. 8 falls on a Sunday. Please comment."
Our correspondent is correct regarding the universal table of liturgical days. I based my comments on a table issued by the Diocese of Rome, which distributes the days in another manner according to what kinds of celebrations are possible.
In this table, holy days of obligation are rated higher than Sundays of Advent. This is probably because, in Italy, the remaining holy days of obligation, such as the Epiphany, All Saints' and the Assumption, happily coincide with national civil bank holidays. Thus the practice has developed that the feast is never transferred even when it coincides with a Sunday of Advent.
Effectively, this situation might not prevail in other countries such as the United States, and the feasts are transferred according to the principles of the universal calendar. In the United States, bishops also frequently dispense the faithful from the obligation of assisting at Mass when these feasts are celebrated on a Monday.
In other countries, exceptions are sometimes made when the date of a feast is deeply imbedded in national culture. For example, this year the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe coincided with the Third Sunday of Advent. Although it is neither a civil holiday nor a holy day of obligation in Mexico, it was celebrated on the Sunday. This is in virtue of a particular dispensation from the Holy See for the occasion. This dispensation is neither permanent nor automatic and must be requested, and granted, each time that the coincidence arises.
Finally, I pray for a blessed and holy Christmas to all our readers.