Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Note on External Solemnities in the EF

Since the feast of the Ascension is coming up next week, it seems a good idea to address the following matter which was brought to my attention by a regular reader, regarding the concept of the external solemnity of this and other feasts in the Extraordinary Form.

In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, certain feasts which were traditionally celebrated on a weekday, such as the Ascension and Corpus Christi, may be permanently and entirely transferred to the following Sunday at the discretion of the local bishops’ conference; such is the case with both of these feasts in the United States. In such places, the Thursday on which the feast was historically celebrated simply becomes a ferial day, or the feast of a Saint. To give an example, this year, Thursday May 26th is in the United States the feast of St Philip Neri, an obligatory memorial, because Corpus Christi in its entirety is kept on the following Sunday.

In the Extraordinary Form, however, these feasts are not transferred; it is obligatory to celebrate both their Mass and Divine Office on the traditional days, which this year are May 5th and 26th. The “external solemnity” is a pastoral provision which may be made, but is not obligatory, in cases where a reasonable number of the faithful are unable to attend the feast on the day itself. The Mass of the feast is repeated, but the Office is not changed to match it; the rubrics of the 1962 Missal (numbers 356-361) describe it as “celebratio … festi absque Officio – the celebration of the feast without the Office.” Whereas on the feast day itself, a church may celebrate as many Masses of the feast as are possible, desired, or necessary, only two may be said of the feast on its external solemnity (number 360), and only one of them may be sung.

Further, it should be noted that according to this rubric, there are only two feasts to which an external solemnity is automatically granted, those of the Sacred Heart and the Holy Rosary; the former may be repeated on the following Sunday, the latter on the first Sunday of October, whether before or after its fixed date of October 7.

The original logic of the external solemnity, by the way, was that it applied to feasts which had octaves, and therefore corresponded to at least a part of the Office, namely, the commemoration of the feast in the Sunday within its octave.

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