This past week I was chaplain for a Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreat in Quincy and at one point during the weekend the young people were asking questions of myself and Sr. Clementia Toalson, FSGM, about the liturgy, specifically differences about the liturgy throughout the history of the Church. Much, of course, could be said on this topic, but the side of things that I would like to look at today regards the placement of feast-days for saints in the liturgical calendar.
Usually a saint’s feast day is celebrated on the day that they died. This began early in the Church when they would celebrate the dies natalis [literally “day of birth [into heaven]”] of a martyr, celebrating their entrance into heaven each year on the anniversary of their death. Of course, there are now thousands and thousands of martyrs, and other canonized saints so eventually you had the problem of multiple saints’ feast-days falling on the same day. For this reason, the actual liturgical calendar (of the feast-days that we celebrate at Mass) does not contain nearly all canonized saints, but only a sub-set of the whole list. Just to indicate the extent of this “problem”, if you look up “saints for July 29th”, you will find St. Theadore, St. Antony, St. Lucilla, St. Eugene, St. Seraphina, and St. Flora (from Afghanistan), St. Simplicius, St. Rufo, St. Beatrice, St. Faustinus, St. Seraphina, St. Felix of Rome, and St. Faustinus of Spoleto (from Italy), St. Paulus Chen Changpin, St. Martha Wang, and St. Ioannes Baptista Luo Tingyin (from China), as well as St. William of Saint-Brieuc, St. Prosper of Orléans, St. Lubus of Troyes, and St. Pope Urban II (from France), St. Olaus (from Sweden), and St. John the Soldier (from Turkey). They all have their feast-day on July 29th, along with their team captains, the saints we celebrate at Mass, Sts. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus from Bethany.
You can imagine that as saints pile up on one day like that, eventually the Church has to decide who they’re actually going to celebrate on any one day. So, every few hundred years one Pope or another has to clean up the calendar and pick who gets onto the universal calendar. In addition, some particular locations celebrate saints who are important for them, but are not important enough to be celebrated throughout the whole church. Example: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who we celebrated here in the USA on July 14th, but other countries around the world would not be obligated to celebrate her at all because she would not be as important a patron for them. Now, just to add to the convolutedness of this whole thing: Kateri actually died April 13th which is the day that she is celebrated in Canada, and the Diocese of Phoenix. Why wouldn’t we all celebrate her on April 13th? Well, Pope St. Martin I already has that day throughout the universal Church, so apparently in Canada and Phoenix Kateri is considered important enough to trump Martin, whereas for the rest of us that is not the case.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin, because of the multiplicity of saints, often struggles to find one to write upon each week. However, the Holy Spirit is good (no surprise there!) and no matter which saint I choose, I always discover an amazing story, and am often drawn deeper into countless other parts of our faith as well. As we continue this series, and stay with Sts. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, I suspect we will find ourselves delighted by God’s generosity! Buckle up!