Understanding the Liturgical Calendar – how do we know what to celebrate when?

The Church’s Liturgical Calendars help everyone in the faith community know what we are celebrating when, especially those involved in preparing for Masses and liturgies.

St Agnes’ Catholic Parish’s Leader of Lay Formation, Tony Worner, explains a bit about these calendars and the three categories of liturgical days (Solemnities, Feasts, and Memorials):

Overview of the Church’s Liturgical Calendar
Within the ‘Liturgical calendar’ the Church celebrates particular days according to their ‘rank’ or hierarchy.
The Ordo (Latin for order, rank, class) is the Church’s official publication put out each year that informs the priest, liturgy committee, sacristan, musicians etc, what is being celebrated, the readings to be used, the liturgical colour to be displayed and/or worn, and whether it is obligatory (or not) to actually celebrate that day.

As we begin our ‘formation’ (or growth in understanding) on the Liturgical Calendar, there are three points of note:
A. There are two calendars that the Church uses – the Universal Calendar which lists all celebrations that are to be observed in all Roman Catholic Churches throughout the world, and the Particular Calendar which lists additional celebrations that are observed in a particular country or diocese or by a particular religious order within the Catholic Church.

B. The Calendar includes not only historical people (saints), but also some commemorations of biblical events, e.g. Jesus’ Birth, Baptism and Transfiguration, and Mary’s Annunciation and Visitation etc., and historical events, e.g. the Dedication of important churches such as the Lateran Basilica (Nov 9) and some theological (doctrinal) truths, e.g. Trinity, Corpus Christi, Sacred Heart, Assumption, Our Lady of … etc.

C. These celebrations fall into three categories – Solemnities, Feasts, and Memorials (including both obligatory and optional memorials).

What is are Solemnities?
The ‘rankings’ of liturgical days fall into three categories – Solemnities, Feasts, and Memorials (including both obligatory and optional memorials). Across the three categories the celebrations are ordered from 1 to 13.

I. Solemnities

  1. The highest celebration, the ‘mother of all celebrations’, is the Paschal Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord.
  2. The Nativity of the Lord, the Epiphany, the Ascension, and Pentecost.
    Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter.
    Ash Wednesday.
    Weekdays of Holy Week from Monday up to and including Thursday.
    Days within the Octave of Easter
  3. Solemnities: of the Lord, e.g. Christ the King, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Annunciation of the Lord; of Mary, e.g. Immaculate Conception; and of the Saints, e.g. Sts Peter and Paul, All Saints, Beheading of John the Baptist, and in Australia St Mary of the Cross.
    The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)
  4. a) Solemnity of the principal Patron of the Country, e.g. in Australia, Our Lady, Help of Christians, or Diocese, e.g. in Lismore, St Patrick
    b) Solemnity of the dedication or anniversary of the Cathedral (in the building itself or a ‘Feast’ in other churches within the Diocese)
    c) Solemnity of the Title of one’s own church,
    d) Solemnity of either the Title, or of the Founder, or the principal Patron of an Order or Congregation.

What are Feasts?
There are three ‘rankings’ in the hierarchy of liturgical days – Solemnities, Feasts, and Memorials (including both obligatory and optional memorials). A Feast follows in rank from a Solemnity.

II. Feasts

  1. Feasts of the Lord e.g. The Baptism of the Lord.
  2. Sundays of Christmas Time and Sundays in Ordinary Time.
  3. Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, e.g. The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saints, e.g. St Mary Magdalene, and usually each of the apostles, in the General Calendar.
  4. Proper (pertaining to a Diocese, Region, Country, or Religious Province/Congregation) Feasts. (There are 6 categories which get a bit technical!)
  5. Weekdays of Advent from 17 December up to and including 24 December.
    Days within the Octave of Christmas
    Weekdays of Lent.
    What are memorials?
    Memorials are either obligatory or optional. In importance, a Memorial follows a Feast, and precedes an Optional Memorial. As with Solemnities and Feasts, within Memorials there is also a hierarchy pertaining to the celebrations.

III. Memorials

  1. Obligatory Memorials
  2. Proper (pertaining to a Diocese, Region, or Religious Province) Memorial
  3. Optional Memorials
  4. Weekdays of Advent (up to and including 16 December)
    Weekdays of Christmas Time (from 2 January to and including the Saturday after the Epiphany)
    Weekdays of Easter Time (from Monday after the Octave of Easter up to and including the Saturday before Pentecost)
    Weekdays in Ordinary Time

Hopefully, you have found value in this brief overview of the Liturgical Calendar, to help you become become more familiar with why we celebrate different days and occasions in different ways.

If you are interested in purchasing an Ordo (‘the bible of the liturgical world’) it is a great resource to have at home. You can order on-line through Liturgy Brisbane ($12 Hard copy, $9 Electronic Copy).

Tony Worner
Leader of Lay Formation

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