Holiness Multiplied: Celebrating Saintly Men and Women Who Share the Same Feast Day

On some dates the Church honors multiple holy lives.

The Church celebrates St. Bede the Venerable, priest and doctor of the Church; St. Gregory VII, pope; and St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, virgin, on May 25.
The Church celebrates St. Bede the Venerable, priest and doctor of the Church; St. Gregory VII, pope; and St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, virgin, on May 25. (photo: Public domain; CNA)

How many times have you been at a weekday Mass and noticed more than one saint listed as the saint of the day?

Maybe it was on April 28, this year an Easter weekday, with St. Peter Chanel and St. Louis Grignion de Montfort listed for the day (and St. Gianna Molla, too). And what about Oct. 5, where the choice can be St. Faustina Kowalska or Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos?

How does a priest deal with these double or triple choices that are possible on several dates during the liturgical year? Or instead of commemorating either one of the saints, maybe he celebrates what’s also known as the Mass of the day for Ordinary Time.


Saintly Insights

Father Edward Looney, a priest in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, shares some insights on how he decides. “Part of it comes from my own devotions. There might be a saint to whom I am more devoted,” he explained to the Register. He offers April 28 as a perfect personal example. “Because I’m a Marian devotee, I’m going to celebrate Louis de Montfort” because he was a great Marian saint who wrote such books as True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

At the same time, Father Looney won’t totally ignore the other possibility. “At the intercessions at Mass, I’ll use the other saint’s Collect (opening prayer) to end the universal prayers. That way they aren’t forgotten and included in a small way.”

In Ansonia, Connecticut, Father Jeffrey Gubbiotti, pastor of both Holy Rosary Church and Assumption Church, shares an example. June 22 presents the choices of St. Paulinus of Nola and Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More.  “I chose the English martyrs this year in order to highlight a truly Catholic understanding of patriotism — especially in light of the Week of Prayer for Religious Liberty and all the contemporary issues facing Catholics in America today,” Father Gubbiotti said.

Where do these “choice” days fit into the liturgical calendar? In a word, last.


Four Kinds of Celebration

There are four categories for the Mass celebrations — solemnity, feast, memorial and optional memorial, explained Father Wayne Jenkins of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, which for more than 65 years has printed the America Ordo, the liturgical calendar used by priests listing feasts, Masses, liturgical colors and readings for each day.

Solemnities are the highest celebrations, such as for St. Joseph on March 19 and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Dec. 8. They must be celebrated. The “feasts” are also must do’s, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 and St. Stephen, the first martyr, on Dec. 26.

Next are memorials. “On June 11 there is St. Barnabas, the apostle. It’s a memorial,” Father Jenkins said. Priests “had to take St. Barnabas the memorial over the 10th Week in Ordinary Time for (this year’s) Thursday. There isn’t any choice there. Or St. Boniface, bishop and martyr, is a memorial — you can’t take the Ninth Week for Friday. You have to take the memorial.” Same for “June 1, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, a memorial.” And June 13 is the memorial of the popular St. Anthony of Padua.

These first three categories “allow for no choice,” explained Father Jenkins. That’s not the case with the fourth category — optional memorials. That’s where choice comes in.

The priest’s choices come during weekdays Masses that list an “optional memorial.” Sometimes it’s a single saint; other times two or more saints are listed as optional memorials on the same day — and, sometimes, there are three possibilities, as on May 25.

“That’s a tough call,” said Father Looney, “because you have three great saints to choose from” — St. Bede the Venerable, priest and doctor of the Church; St. Gregory VII, pope; and St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, virgin.

Father Looney noted one solution is for the priest to choose St. Gregory one year, St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi the next, and St. Bede the next. Or the names of the two or three saints can be inserted into the Eucharistic Prayer, such as for the optional memorials on Oct. 16 — “Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, her spouse, with the blessed apostles, with St. Hedwig, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and all the saints who have pleased you throughout the ages …”


So Many Choices

Masses honoring the Blessed Mother range from solemnities and feasts to optional memorials like Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima. Father Jenkins said that while certain titles of our Blessed Mother rate as “memorial” as opposed to an “optional memorial,” if the latter “comes on the particular date where you can choose the Mass of the day or the optional memorial — priests usually chose the optional memorial.”

With optional memorials, priests have many ways of deciding what and why to choose. As Father Gubbiotti explained, “I actually bring it to prayer on Sunday night, looking at the week ahead and loosely asking the Holy Spirit to guide me in exactly which Mass to celebrate when there are options. Certainly, if a particular saint has special significance in the community I’m serving or in my own spirituality, I will go with the optional memorial. There are times, too, when something a certain saint was facing, or virtue they particularly exemplified, is timely — and I like to bring that point out.”

For example, Sept. 28 is the optional memorial of St. Wenceslaus and St. Lawrence Ruiz and Companions, “all great martyrs for the faith,” Father Gubbiotti emphasized. “I will choose the prayers for St. Lawrence Ruiz in light of the fact that we have a number of Filipino families in the parish and, even if they aren’t at that daily Mass, I want to particularly ask St. Lawrence’s intercession for them to remain strong in faith. But, in the homily, I would likely briefly tell the story of St. Wenceslaus, too, and tie it all together with the fact that these men, as all martyrs, understood that their eternal life in Christ was the pearl of great price, worth sacrificing everything else for, even if it meant bodily death in this world.”


Further Options

On these optional memorial celebrations, Father Gubbiotti also at times exercises two other choices a priest can take for these particular days. First, if he’s especially trying to build a simple homily series on the daily Masses’ continuous readings, he might “forego an optional memorial, but still mention the saint in the homily or Eucharistic Prayer.”

Second, on weekdays of Ordinary Time when the day allows for the option, he might choose yet another possibility allowed — the votive Masses (Masses for special purpose or occasion) and Masses for special needs in the Roman Missal. As he explained, “From time to time I feel called to celebrate one of those.” For example, during the recent week of ordinations in his Archdiocese of Hartford, he “celebrated the Mass for vocations to the priesthood.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lists votive Masses that “highlight 19 central aspects of the faith and are intended to foster the devotion of the faithful toward these central mysteries.”

Father Jenkins pointed out the example of celebrating a votive Mass for the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on a First Friday if there is no solemnity, feast or memorial required that day. “You couldn’t do it on June 5 because that was St. Boniface,” which is a memorial, not optional, he explained.           

“If you want to celebrate a votive Mass, it would be an option for the weekday without any memorial or optional memorial,” he clarified, giving another example. “On Saturday if there isn’t any feast day [that must be celebrated] you have the option of doing a votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” There are also votive Masses for the Holy Eucharist.


Daily Tradition

“There is a value in keeping with the Church’s tradition,” said Father Looney, who is a Marian theologian and author.

“I do favor the votive Masses and the various Masses of various needs and occasions,” he continued. For example, he “might choose a votive Mass for St. Joseph” on Wednesdays. Then other traditional days would include Tuesdays for the Holy Angels, Thursdays for the priesthood, Fridays for the Sacred Heart, and Saturdays for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

When it comes to these optional memorial days, Father Jenkins shared another important consideration. During weekday Masses in Ordinary Time, usually the introductory prayer and the prayer over the gifts are drawn from the Sunday Mass. “They’re repeated over those six days, but then you have memorials and optional memorials and votive Masses that help to give the richness of the liturgy of the various saints being honored, or periods in the life of Jesus Christ, or in regard to the apostles.”

Father Jenkins condensed the choices: “That’s the richness of the liturgical year, having the various saints incorporated.”

Joseph Pronechen is a

Register staff writer.