5 Things about Votive Masses to bring up under AOB at the Parish Council Meeting

Votive Masses need to be better known and more often celebrated. So if your Parish Council Meeting needs a little groundswell of devotional zip, here are some Things about Votive Masses to know and share. Thing 3 is especially important.

Thing 1. They are not a medieval invention

The earliest liturgical books that we have, such as the Leonine Sacramentary contain Masses for special intentions. By the time of the Gregorian Sacramentary, these were called Missae Votivae. These were Masses that did not correspond to the office of the day, which would be sung according to the season. Votive Masses probably go back right to the beginning of our liturgical history. What happened during the middle ages is that votive Masses became more common. It was a sensible reform to limit them to a certain degree so that they were restricted in the main, to days on which there was not a major celebration in the Church’s calendar.

Thing 2. They are allowed more often than people think

It may be that you have never, or only rarely heard of votive Masses. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) which governs the modern rite of Mass did impose some minor restrictions in addition to those which had been in force, and added the “pastoral need” criterion which we will look at in Thing 3. This was an excuse to deprecate them as a medieval invention (see Thing 1) or an un-pastoral imposition of the selfish priest (see Thing 3) and never celebrate them again.

It is entirely within the provisions of the modern rite to celebrate a votive Mass on any weekday in Ordinary Time, even if there is an optional memorial on that day. On the weekdays of Advent up to 16 December, the weekdays of Christmas after 2 January, and the weekdays of Easter after the Octave votive Masses may be celebrated “If […] required by some real need or pastoral advantage, according to the judgment of the rector of the church or the priest celebrant himself.” (GIRM 376) Also, on the same restricted weekdays it is legitimate to celebrate the Mass of any saint that occurs in the martyrology for that day. (GIRM n.355)

If you celebrate according to the Classical form of the Roman Rite, your Ordo will give you an indication on each day when it is permitted to celebrate a votive Mass.

Thing 3. They do actually fulfil a pastoral need

In days gone by, it was possible to take seriously the idea that the priest’s private devotion was at odds with the pastoral care of the people. It is interesting to watch how social media gives the lie to this nonsense. If ever a priest mentions that he has celebrated a votive mass of the Sacred Heart or of St Joseph, or the Holy Angels, he will get feedback in no uncertain terms. Heavens! If a priest says that he has so much as prayed a Hail Mary, the likes come in thick and fast; people fervently desire their priests to be prayerful. The sort of people who come to daily Mass are exactly the sort of people who love votive Masses and we should celebrate them more often.

The truth is that much of the reforming zeal of the 1960s was Jansenist at heart and had little room for devotion to the Sacred Heart, to Our Lady, or to the saints. It was not in the least bit pastoral, but served the needs only of the higher class of gnostic or “expert.”

The devotion of the people is a much better guide to pastoral need, together with a pastoral priest’s kindly and sympathetic direction of that devotion, complemented by his own devotion which nourishes the people with greater effectiveness the more genuine it is.

Thing 4. You can celebrate saints that are not generally known

In England and Wales, we have 43 canonised martyrs of the Reformation, many of whom who are reasonably well-known, but also 242 beatified martyrs who are less known, but whose lives are fascinating. Locally, or through the enthusiasm of a lay group of younger people, there could be a particular pastoral reason to celebrate a Mass in honour of any one of them. The point I would like to emphasise is that there is no particular reason not to.

Of course there are local saints in many other countries worldwide. In China, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and elsewhere, there are feasts of Saint X and his companions. Any of the companions could be celebrated individually in a votive Mass.

Aside from martyrs, there are local saints that have not made the general calendar or even the local calendar for a country or diocese. If there is a devotion, the priest could celebrate their Mass. If there is not a devotion, it would be crazy to consider it an un-pastoral thing for the priest to build up such a devotion.

Remember: it is legitimate to celebrate a votive Mass in honour of any saint who is listed in the Roman Martyrology. All of the martyrs that I have mentioned above are so listed.

Thing 5. You can celebrate saints that are by no means obscure but got downgraded

The 1969 document Calendarium Romanum tells us that St Christopher was omitted from the modern calendar because “the cult of this saint does not pertain to the Roman tradition.” St Valentine was omitted because, although his feast is ancient, “apart from his name, all that we know of him is that that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on 14 February.” You can almost see the knowing smirk, can’t you? Calendarium Romanum is a document that would be hard to surpass in terms of sheer pastoral insensitivity. For post-conciliar yuckiness, it is a rival to De Benedictionibus.

Those two saints, Christopher and Valentine, were well known and, at least to a degree, celebrated even in the secular world. The post-conciliar liturgical experts dropped them from our general calendar.

But you can celebrate them in Votive Masses.

Bonus Thing: the old Missal had suggestions for every day of the week

The old rite Missal starts the section of Votive Masses with Masses suggested for each day of the week from Monday to Friday (Saturday of course being reserved for Our Blessed Lady.) There is nothing in the GIRM that would in any way stop you from observing this tradition when using the modern rite (unless you wear your alb back to front.) Here is the list:

Holy Trinity
Holy Angels
St Joseph
SS Peter and Paul
Holy Apostles
Holy Spirit
Holy Eucharist
Jesus Christ the High Priest
The Holy Cross
The Passion of Christ

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