The next-to-last section of the Roman Missal is entitled Votive Masses. While that portion of the Missal often finds scarce use in many parishes, we can forget that votive Masses were frequently the go-to option for daily Mass prior to 1969. Historically, the Missale Romanum included prayers and readings for weekday Masses only during the season of Lent. Apart from Lent, if the observance of a saint’s day or feast did not intervene, the Mass prayers and readings from the previous Sunday were simply repeated each day of the subsequent week.
As an alternative to this frequent repetition of texts, a system of votive Masses became highly structured. For example, on Monday the priest could offer Mass in honor of the Trinity; on Tuesday Mass in honor of the angels; on Wednesday Mass in honor of St. Joseph or Saints Peter and Paul or all the apostles; on Thursday Mass in honor of the Holy Spirit or the Holy Eucharist or Christ the High Priest; on Friday Mass in honor of the Holy Cross or the Passion of the Lord or the Sacred Heart; and on Saturday Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Today, the first Friday Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart (no. 8) and the Saturday morning Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (nos. 10A, B, C, D, as well as the Commons of the Blessed Virgin Mary) remain perhaps the most common votive Masses still in use on a regular basis. In some locations, the first Thursday Mass in honor of Christ the High Priest (no. 3) or in honor of the Most Holy Eucharist (no. 5) is also a regular occurrence. Other parishes have become devoted to Mass in honor of the Holy Cross (no. 4), or the Most Precious Blood (no. 7) on Fridays as well. During the week after Pentecost, on days when a votive Mass is permitted, many celebrants make us of the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit (no. 9A, B, C). The Mass of the Holy Spirit is also often used to mark the opening of the judicial year with the so-called “Red Mass.” (This Mass is celebrated, most conspicuously, in Washington, D.C. with Supreme Court justices in attendance.) A Mass of the Holy Spirit often celebrates the beginning of an academic year as well.
The Missal includes votive Masses for the Holy Angels (no. 11), all the Saints (no. 19), St. John the Baptist (no. 12), St. Joseph (no. 13), all the Apostles (no. 14), Saints Peter and Paul (no. 15), St. Peter alone (no. 16), St. Paul alone (no. 17), and for a specific apostle (no. 18), especially one whose feast commemorates him with another apostle. In addition, the Missal itself indicates, “The Masses contained in [this] Proper of Saints are also used as Votive masses, with the exception of Masses of the mysteries of the life of the Lord and of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” (Roman Missal, Proper of Saints, no. 4). Thus, a parish or a school looking to honor its patron on a given occasion can draw from either the proper of saints or the collection of votive Masses. This could appropriately mark a parish anniversary, the opening day of school (unless a Mass of the Holy Spirit is chosen), or a school baccalaureate Mass. The same could be the case in celebrating Mass for a parish organization dedicated to a specific saint or for a parish festival in honor of a given saint.
Life and Faith
The use of votive Masses should be governed by the actual devotion of the faithful gathered for Mass and not only the devotion of the celebrant himself. However, a judicious use of votive Masses for specific reasons can deepen the devotion of the faithful and help them to appreciate more profoundly the intercession which the saints carry on for the Church before the throne of the Lamb.
This concludes the series of entries on the sections of the Roman Missal entitled Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions and Votive Masses. Unfortunately, these sections of the Missal are often overlooked by celebrants. And yet, they contain beautiful prayers composed for specific occasions when a graceful turn of phrase could deeply touch minds and hearts looking for consolation and meaning, inspiration and encouragement. Whenever a special occasion arises for a family, for the parish, or for a school community, it is worth the time and effort for a celebrant to look through the pages of the Missal for a collect or prayer which corresponds most closely to the human reality being sanctified by the celebration of Mass. Doing so will go a long way to overcome the division between life and faith which has become so prevalent in our secular society. May the Lord touch many hearts through these words which the Church offers for our prayer.
For previous installments of Msgr. Caron’s An Occasion to Celebrate series, see:
- Introduction: An Occasion to Celebrate: Discovering the Masses for Various Needs and Occasions and Votive Masses of the Roman Missal
- The Liturgical Calendar’s Role in Masses for Various Needs and Votive Masses
- The Lectionary Readings in Masses for Various Needs and Votive Masses
- Masses for the Church, Council or Synod, and Spiritual and Pastoral Gatherings
- Masses for Clergy and Religious
- Masses for the Mission of the Church in the World
- Masses for the Ordinary Life of the Christian
- Masses for Every Human Need
- The Church Prays in Times of Need
- The Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary
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.
Image Source: AB/Wikipedia. Sacred Heart of Jesus (picture in the Church of Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais, Paris, France)