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Ranking of liturgical days in the Roman Rite

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Title: Ranking of liturgical days in the Roman Rite  
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Subject: Solemnity, Camillus de Lellis, General Roman Calendar, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Feast of Our Lady of Ransom, St. Peter ad Vincula
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Ranking of liturgical days in the Roman Rite

Ranking of liturgical days in the Roman Rite serves two purposes. The rank indicates some particular points about the manner of celebrating the day: for instance, the Mass of a Solemnity will include recitation of Gloria in Excelsis and Creed, that of what is now called in a specific technical sense a Feast will have Gloria but not Creed. and a Memorial will have neither. The other purpose is to determine which Mass is to be said when two feasts coincide (or "occur") on the one day, as well as when a feast falls on a Sunday or certain other privileged days.

Each day in the Catholic liturgical calendar has a rank. The five basic ranks are as follows:

  • Solemnity—the highest ranking feast day. It commemorates an event in the life of Jesus or Mary or celebrates a saint important for the Church as a whole or for the local community. The Mass of a solemnity has proper readings, and the Gloria and Creed are recited. Outside of Advent, Lent and Eastertide, if a solemnity falls on a Sunday, it is celebrated in place of the Sunday.
  • Feast—the rank of secondary liturgical days including lesser events in the life of Jesus, Mary or an Apostle (theologically speaking) or for major saints.
  • Memorial—the commemoration of a saint of lesser importance. Many memorials are optional or only observed in specific dioceses, regions or nations.
  • Seasonal Weekday—a weekday in a "strong" liturgical season (Advent, Christmas Season, Lent, Easter Season) on which no solemnity, feast, or memorial is observed.
  • Feria or Ferial Weekday—a weekday in ordinary time on which no solemnity, feast or memorial is observed.

Feast days

The ranking of feast days of saints and of Christian mysteries such as the Ascension of the Lord, which had grown from an original division between doubles and simples[1] developed into a more complicated hierarchy of Simple, Semidouble, and Double, with feast days of the Double Rite further divided into Double of the I Class, Double of the II Class, Greater Double or Major Double, and Double, in order of descending rank.

What the original meaning of the term "double" may have been is not entirely certain. Some think that the greater festivals were thus styled because the antiphons before and after the psalms were "doubled", i.e. twice repeated entire on these days. Others, with more probability, point to the fact that before the ninth century in certain places, for example at Rome, it was customary on the greater feast days to recite two sets of Matins, the one of the feria or week-day, the other of the festival. Hence such days were known as "doubles".[1]

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907 shows the incremental crowding of the calendar with the following table based on the official revisions of the Roman Breviary in 1568,[2] 1602, 1631 and 1882, and on the situation in 1907.

Pope Date Doubles, I Class Doubles, II Class Greater Doubles Doubles Semidoubles Total
Pius V 1568 19 17 0 53 60 149
Clement VIII 1602 19 18 16 43 68 164
Urban VIII 1631 19 18 16 45 78 176
Leo XIII 1882 21 18 24 128 74 275
- 1907 23 27 25 133 72 280

In 1907, when, in accordance with the rules in force since the time of Pope Pius V, feast days of any form of double, if impeded by "occurrence" (falling on the same day)[3] with a feast day of higher class, were transferred to another day, this classification of feast days was of great practical importance for deciding which feast day to celebrate on any particular day. Pope Pius X simplified matters considerably in his 1911 reform of the Roman Breviary. In the case of occurrence the lower-ranking feast day could become a commemoration within the celebration of the higher-ranking one. Further retouches were made by Pope Pius XII in 1955,[4] Pope John XXIII in 1962,[5] and Pope Paul VI in 1969.[6]

On ferias and many feast days of simple rank, the celebrant was permitted to substitute a Mass of his own choice such as a votive Mass, or a Mass for the dead.

Before the reform of Pope St Pius X in 1911, ordinary Doubles took precedence over most of the semidouble Sundays, resulting in many of the Sunday Masses rarely being said. While retaining the semidouble rite for Sundays, the reform permitted only the most important feast days to be celebrated on Sunday, although commemorations were still made until the reform of 1960.

The division into doubles (of various kinds) semidoubles and simples continued until 1955, when Pope Pius XII abolished the rank of semidouble, making all the previous semidoubles simples, and reducing the previous simples to a mere commemoration in the Mass of another feast day or of the feria on which they fell.

Then, in 1960, Pope John XXIII completely ended the ranking of feast days by doubles etc., replacing it by a ranking, applied not only to feast days but to all liturgical days, as I, II, III, and IV class days.

The 1969 revision by Pope Paul VI divided feast days into "solemnities", "feasts" and "memorials", corresponding approximately to Pope John XXIII's I, II and III class feast days. Commemorations were abolished both as a rank of liturgical day and as the addition of a second presidential prayers after the day's Collect,[7] Prayer over the Offerings,[8] and Prayer after Communion[9] at Mass.[10] While some of the memorials are considered obligatory, others are optional, permitting a choice on some days between two or three memorials, or between one or more memorials and the celebration of the feria. On a day to which no obligatory celebration is assigned, the Mass may be of any saint mentioned in the Roman Martyrology for that day.[11] This allows priests more flexibility in their celebration of mass, since they are now permitted to choose between the memorial masses of saints on most days of the year. Before the reforms there was always only one memorial and one text for mass per day, with lesser saints' days being merely commemorated, their own separate masses having frequently fallen into disuse and only the collect, secret and postcommunion remaining in the missal.

The developments in the ranking of feasts according to the Roman Breviary's calendar can be summarised thus:

Pope Date Ranking
- Antiquity Doubles Simples
- 13th century Doubles Semidoubles Simples
Pius V 1568 Doubles, I Class Doubles, II Class Doubles Semidoubles Simples
Clement Vlll 1602 Doubles, I Class Doubles, II Class Greater Doubles Doubles Semidoubles Simples
Pius XII 1955 Doubles, I Class Doubles, II Class Greater Doubles Doubles Simples Commemorations
John XXIII 1960 I Class II Class III Class Commemorations
Paul VI 1969 Solemnities Feasts Memorials and Optional Memorials Ferias


Pope John XXIII's Code of Rubrics divided Sundays into two classes. Sundays of the I class were the four of Advent, the four of Lent, the two of Passiontide, Easter Sunday, Low Sunday, and Pentecost.[12] No feast whatsoever could replace the celebration of these Sundays, with the sole exception of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.[13] All other Sundays were of II class,[14] and outranked feasts of II class, with the exception that feasts of the Lord, whether I or II class, replaced celebration of a II class Sunday on which they happened to fall.[15]

The 1955 reform of Pope Pius XII[16] did not have this division of Sundays into classes. Instead it laid down that the Sundays of Advent and Lent and those that follow up to Low Sunday, and also Pentecost Sunday, are celebrated as doubles of the first class, and outrank all feasts;[17] but when feasts of the first class occur on the second, third or fourth Sunday of Advent, masses of the Feast are permitted.[18] Sundays previously celebrated in the semi-double rite were raised to the double rite.[19] A feast of our Lord occurring on a Sunday per annum was to take the place of the Sunday.[20]


In addition to his division of festal days and Sundays, Pope John XXIII introduced a division of ferias into four classes:

  • First-class ferias, outranking all feasts: Ash Wednesday and all the weekdays of Holy Week.[21]
  • Second-class ferias, outranking local second-class feasts: ferias of Advent from 17 December to 23 December, and Ember Days of Advent, Lent and September.[22]
  • Third-class ferias: ferias in Lent from Thursday after Ash Wednesday to Saturday before the Second Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) except Ember Days (these outranked third-class feasts), and ferias in Advent up to 16 December except Ember Days (these were outranked by third-class feasts).[23]
  • Fourth-class ferias: all other ferias

Before that, ferias were either "major" or "minor". The major, which must have at least a commemoration, even on the highest feasts, were those of Advent and Lent, the Ember days, and the Monday of Rogation week; the others were called minor. Of the major ferias Ash Wednesday and the days of Holy Week were privileged, so that their office must be taken, no matter what feast might occur.[24]

Ember days are four separate sets of three days within the same week — specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — roughly equidistant in the circuit of the year, that were formerly set aside for fasting and prayer. These days set apart for special prayer and fasting were considered especially suitable for the ordination of clergy. The Ember Days are known in Latin as quatuor tempora (the "four seasons"), or jejunia quatuor temporum ("fasts of the four seasons"). They occur in the weeks between the third and fourth Sundays of Advent, between the first and second Sundays of Lent, between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, and beginning the first Wednesday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), which is between the liturgical third and fourth Sundays of September.[25]

Rogation Days are, in the calendar of the Western Church, four days traditionally set apart for solemn processions to invoke God's mercy. They are April 25, the Major Rogation (or Greater Litanies), coinciding with St. Mark's Day (but transferred to the following Tuesday if they fell on Easter); and the three days preceding Ascension Thursday, the Minor Rogations (or Lesser Litanies). These are indicated below in the main body of the calendar and in the Movable Feasts section.


In early times, every feast had a vigil, but the increase in the number of feasts and abuses connected with the evening and night service of which the vigils originally consisted, led to their diminishment. Nevertheless, the Roman Rite kept many more vigils than other Latin liturgical rites such as the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite, and if they fell on a Sunday transferred them to the previous Saturday.[26]

In the Tridentine Calendar, there were initially seventeen vigils (excluding The Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday morning), divided into "major vigils" and "minor" or "common vigils". Christmas, the Epiphany and Pentecost comprised the major vigils.[26] The common vigils included the Ascension of Our Lord, Saint John the Baptist, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and All Saints. Most feasts of the Apostles also had vigils, namely Saints Andrew, Thomas, James, Simon and Jude. Whilst the vigils of the Immaculate Conception, Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Lawrence, Saint Bartholomew and Saint Matthew remained, they soon came to be impeded by higher-ranking feasts added to the calendar, and they were instead commemorated as part of other masses rather than observed in their own right. The Vigil of St. Matthias was unique, in that it was normally commemorated on 23 February, the feast of St. Peter Damian, but in leap years was kept on 24 February, the leap day of the Roman calendar.

Pope Pius XII divided Vigils into only two classes: "privileged vigils" (Christmas and Pentecost) and "common vigils" (Ascension of Our Lord, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Lawrence). All other vigils, even those in local calendars, were suppressed.[27] The vigils of Saints Peter and Paul and Saint Lawrence, however, continued to be impeded by higher-ranking feasts.

In Pope John XXIII' s 1960 Code or Rubrics, Vigils were divided into three classes. The Easter Vigil was left out of the calculations, being celebrated in a different way from that of other Vigils.[28] The Vigils of Christmas and Pentecost were of the I class, and took precedence over any feast.[29] The II class Vigils were those of the Ascension of Our Lord, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, and Saints Peter and Paul; they took precedence over liturgical days of III or IV class.[29] There was only one III class Vigil, that of Saint Lawrence, which had precedence only over IV class liturgical days.


The Tridentine Calendar had many octaves, without any indication in the calendar itself of distinction of rank between them, apart from the fact that the Octave Day (the final day of the octave) was ranked higher than the days within the octave. Several octaves overlapped, so that, for instance, on 29 December the prayer of the saint of the day, Saint Thomas Becket, was followed by the prayers of Christmas Day, of Saint Stephen, of Saint John the Evangelist and of the Holy Innocents. The situation remained such until the reform of Pope Pius X.[30]

To cut down on the monotony of repeating the same prayers in Mass and Office every day for eight days, Pope Pius X classified the octaves as "privileged", "common" or "simple"

The privileged octaves were of three "ranks".[31] The first rank belonged to Easter and Pentecost (permitting no feast to be celebrated during them, or even to be commemorated until Tuesday Vespers), the second to Epiphany and Corpus Christi (the Octave Day ranked as a Greater Double, the days within the octave as semidoubles, giving way only to Doubles of the I Class, and on the Octave day itself only to a Double of the I class which was celebrated in the entire Church), the third rank to Christmas, the Ascension, and the Sacred Heart (these gave way to any feast above the level of Simple).

The common octaves were those of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and All Saints, as well as, locally, the principal patron saint of a church, cathedral, order, town, diocese, province, or nation. These too gave way to any feast above the level of Simple. the difference between them and privileged octaves of third rank concerned which Psalms were said in the Divine Office.

The simple octaves were those of Saint Stephen, Saint John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, Saint Lawrence, the Nativity of Mary and, locally, secondary patrons. These were all Doubles of the II class, their Octave day was a Simple and, in contrast to the situation before Pope Pius X, their Mass was not repeated on the days within the octave.

In Pope Pius XII's reform, only the octaves of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were kept.[32] The days within the Easter and Pentecost octaves were raised to double rite, had precedence over all feasts, and did not admit commemorations.[33]


See also

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