Consider, for example, the celebration of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed this past November 2, 2019, which occurred on a Saturday. Should Mass on that Saturday evening have celebrated All Souls or the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time? Or, similarly, the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica on November 9, 2019, which also occurred on a Saturday: should Vespers that evening have observed Saturday’s Feast or Sunday’s Ordinary Time? When it comes to calendar questions like these, it can seem more like adjudicating tax law than appropriating the mysteries of salvation. Nevertheless, there is a Christological calculus in the computations.
In what is called the “Table of Liturgical Days” from the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Roman Calendar (UNLYRC), a table that lays out a ranking system for all the days that occur on the Roman Calendar. As one might surmise, the days of the Sacred Triduum come first, followed by Christmas, Epiphany, the Ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost. All liturgical days are ranked according to their relationship to the mystery of Jesus. And as the UNLYRC make clear, if “several celebrations fall on the same day, the one that holds the highest rank according to the Table of Liturgical Days is observed” (UNLYRC 60). Yet, things are not always so clear…. Back to our examples:
In the Table of Liturgical Days, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (November 2) ranks higher (no. 3) than a Sunday in Ordinary Time (no. 6). That being the case, the norm given in the UNLYRC would seem to be easily applied: “the one that holds the highest rank according to the Table of Liturgical Days is observed” (UNLYRC 60). Nevertheless, when the Congregation for Divine Worship was asked about such consecutive feasts it replied that, in questions concerning the celebration of Mass, “precedence is always given for a celebration which is observed as a day of obligation [de praecepto], independently of the degree of the two liturgical celebrations occurring” (see “De Calendario Liturgico Exarando pro Anno 1984–1985,” Notitiæ 20 , 603–605).
So, for a Saturday evening Mass, the consideration of rankings is superseded by the fact that Sunday is a day of obligation [de precepto], while the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed on Saturday is not. Therefore, the Mass formulary and Lectionary readings of the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time took precedence on the evening of Saturday, November 2, 2019.
For the Liturgy of the Hours, by contrast, a strict application of the Table of Liturgical Days would seem to hold that vespers on Saturday evening would use the texts of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed due to its higher rank (see “On the Mass of a Sunday or holyday anticipated on the preceding evening,” Notitiæ 10 (1974): 222–223). However, as the rubric in the Liturgy of the Hours makes clear, even though the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed ranks higher, “the office is taken from the current Sunday in Ordinary Time,” unless Evening Prayer is “celebrated with the people,” in which case Evening Prayer “may be taken from the Office for the Dead” (LH, IV, 1537).
A similar scenario holds for Saturday and Sunday, November 9–10, 2019, since the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (November 9) ranks higher (no. 4) than a Sunday in Ordinary Time (no. 6). Again, since Sunday, November 10, 2019, was a day of obligation, the Saturday evening Mass should have been that of the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Evening Prayer, though, should have been that of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (LH, IV, 1614–1619), as the UNLYRC state: “Should on the other hand, Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the current day’s Office and First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) of the following day be assigned for celebration on the same day, then Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the celebration with the higher rank in the Table of Liturgical Days takes precedence…” (UNLYRC 61).
Looking ahead, on Sunday evening, June 28th, 2020, any evening Masses should be of the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time—because it is the day of obligation—while vespers that Sunday evening should be taken from Evening Prayer I of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29th)—because the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul outranks the Sunday of Ordinary Time.
With calendar questions like these it is sometimes necessary to go deep into not only the rankings of the particular days, but also into the pastoral application of these classifications. The ethos at work in adjudicating the calendar is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, which establishes the rationale for celebrating the liturgical year in such a way that the fullness of the Mystery of Christ is reflected in all its facets. Indeed, even the norms that the Congregation for Divine Worship proposed are not held out as the last word on every question, but rather a sure norm of proceeding. That said, the Congregation makes clear that a Conference of Bishops or a diocesan bishop, attending to the pastoral circumstances in play, can determine the practice to be followed (see “De Calendario Liturgico Exarando pro Anno 1984–1985,” Notitiæ 20 , 605). Nonetheless, in every specific case, the aim of the Church’s liturgical year is to unfold “the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102).