An Occasion to Celebrate – Masses for the Church, Council or Synod, and Spiritual and Pastoral Gatherings
Aug 24, 2022

An Occasion to Celebrate – Masses for the Church, Council or Synod, and Spiritual and Pastoral Gatherings

The Roman Missal of 2002 groups the Masses for Various Needs and Occasions under three categories: For Holy Church, For Civil Needs, and For Various Needs. Within the first category—For Holy Church—three sets of Mass formularies relate to various aspects of the mystery of the Church in itself. There are five Mass formularies “For the Church” (no. 1: A, B, C, D, E) which refer to the Church in general. Then, there is one Mass formulary with two collects “For a Council or a Synod” (no. 5), and another Mass formulary also with two collects “For a Spiritual or Pastoral Gathering” (no. 20) which highlight the Church gathered in prayer for discernment, teaching, or governance. None of these Mass formularies are found in the Missale Romanum of 1962, although all the same prayers were found in the first edition of the Roman Missal in 1969.

Among the prayers of the five formularies “For the Church,” the Scriptural images of Christ’s headship over the Church, and the community of believers being like leaven in the world—“a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”—are common. Some phrases reappear in these orations from other portions of the missal itself, for example, “You never ceased to gather to yourself,” from Eucharistic Prayer III, or “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” from the Creed. The wording of the five formularies “For the Church” evoke a number of phrases from the conciliar constitutions Lumen Gentium or Gaudium et Spes. For example, the collects identify the Church as being either “the universal sacrament of salvation,” or “the sacrament of your [God’s] holiness and unity,” or again “the sign and instrument in the world of the presence of Christ”—each inspired by conciliar constitutions.

The direct allusions to the themes from the Second Vatican Council make it likely that these various prayers were new compositions at the time of the compilation of the Roman Missal of 1969. This is speculation, however, since no comprehensive published account exists of all the sources used by study group 13 of the Consilium in arriving at the final version of the collects and orations for the Masses for Various Needs and Occasions.

With the five formularies “For the Church,” the missal suggests using Preface VIII for the Sundays in Ordinary Time that thanks God for the action of the Persons of the Trinity in forming and sustaining the community of believers. Celebrants, therefore, are free to use this specific preface even on weekdays when these Mass formularies are used. The missal suggests using Preface II of the Holy Spirit for the Masses “For a Council or a Synod” and “For a Spiritual or Pastoral Gathering.” This preface stresses the action of the Spirit in the life of the Church in the present moment. While not used in conjunction with orations centered on the Holy Spirit in this instance, this preface corresponds perfectly well to the sentiments expressed in the collects and orations which will accompany it. For example, the celebrant prays that God pour out on these occasions “a spirit of truth, understanding and peace,” and again, that God “endow [the Church] with a spirit of wisdom.” The first collects from both Mass formularies “For a Council or a Synod” and “For a Spiritual or Pastoral Gathering” are two very close variations drawn from a single common source, differing from each other only slightly in word order but not in vocabulary or meaning. The missal also suggests using two of the four “Eucharistic Prayers for Use in Masses with Various Needs” with these seven Mass formularies. Both prayer I, “The Church on the Path of Unity,” and Prayer II, “God Guides His Church along the Way of Salvation,” are suggested for Masses “For the Church.” In addition, prayer I is also suggested for Masses “For a Council” or “For a Spiritual Gathering.”

When might these Mass formularies be used? The Masses “For the Church,” especially formula E, “For the Particular Church,” could profitably be used on the anniversary of the erection of a diocese or the installation of a new bishop. There are other diocesan events of various kinds such as a men’s retreat or women’s retreat where these prayers could be appropriate too. The collects, with the shorter ending, “Through Christ our Lord,” could also conclude the prayers of the faithful at liturgies of the word celebrated with diocesan staff or at other gatherings of ministers in a diocese. The prayers “For a Council or a Synod” are very pertinent at this moment in the Church’s life when preparations are underway for the international Synod of Bishops on synodality in 2024. These prayers could be used at listening sessions or preparatory gatherings. Finally, the collection “For a Spiritual or Pastoral Gathering” might have wide use at various kinds of retreats or days of prayer for any occasion in a parish or diocese.

The riches of expression found in the orations of the Masses for Various Needs and Occasions can touch the hearts of those participating at the Eucharist on occasions which are significant in the life of a parish or a diocese. The wise celebrant will look for ways to share the beauty of these texts with those who join him in offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.

For previous instalments of Msgr. Caron’s An Occasion to Celebrate series, see:

Msgr. Marc B. Caron, S.T.D., is the vicar general and the moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Portland, ME. He has served as a pastor, as the director of the diocesan Office for Worship, and as a chancellor of the diocese. Most recently, he was a member of the faculty of St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, MA, where he was also director of liturgy. In 2021, he received the doctoral degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, writing on the sacramental nature of the diaconate. He is the author of a number of articles which have appeared in The Jurist, Worship, Catechumenate, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

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