A question about the terms "memorial" "feast day" and "solemnity"


Hey everyone. I have a question for you all about the terms, “memorial”, “feast day”, and “solemnity”. Are these terms interchangeable? When talking about a day on which a specific saint is commemorated or remembered, which is the appropriate term to use? Also, is “solemnity” only used for holy days of obligation?


No, in the context of the lliturgical days, they are not interchangeable. The terms refer to the different ranks or level of solemnity of the celebrations.

Memorials are the lowest celebrations of saints and are either Optional or Obligatory. Optional Memorials may be celebrated. Obligatory Memorials must be celebrated. But the level of solemnity for the all Memorials are the same. On Memorials, the Divine Office is mostly the office of the day, with the Collect, Second Reading, and often the antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat taken from the Proper. Some special memorials have special Proper texts (e.g. St. Martin of Tours), but the level of solemnity is the same. At the Daytime Hours, the saint is not commemorated. At Mass, the Collect is of the Saint, but everything else may be of the weekday.

Feasts are higher in rank, and take on greater solemnity. All texts for the Divine Office are Proper and what is missing from the Proper, are taken from the Commons. The Te Deum is said. At Mass, the Gloria is said, but not the Credo. There is no Evening Prayer I unless it is a Feast of the Lord that falls on a Sunday (e.g. Transfiguration, August 6).

Solemnities are the highest and begin with Evening Prayer I the evening before. At the Divine Office all texts are Proper, and anything not Proper are taken from the Commons. The Te Deum is said. Night Prayer is always said using the Sunday formulary rather than the weekday. At Mass, the Gloria and Credo are said. Holydays of obligation are always solemnities. No texts are taken from the weekday. Also, on a Solemnity, if it falls on a Friday, then the obligation to perform penance does not bind.


Sometimes the term “feast day” is used to refer to these special days in general. For example, at Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium has in n. 106: “Hence the Lord’s day is the original feast day, and it should be proposed to the piety of the faithful and taught to them so that it may become in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work.”

Another document has: “Celebrations, according to the importance assigned to them, and hence distinguished one from another and termed: Solemnity, Feast, Memorial.” (From “Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar” n. 10, which is in the front of the Roman Missal. (It is also available as a PDF document at: liturgyoffice.org.uk/Calendar/Info/GNLY.pdf ).

So there are different ranks of the days of celebration. More about them from this document:

  1. Solemnities are counted among the most important days, whose celebration begins with First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) on the preceding day. Some Solemnities are also endowed with their own Vigil Mass, which is to be used on the evening of the preceding day, if an evening Mass is celebrated.

  2. Feasts are celebrated within the limits of the natural day; accordingly they have no First Vespers (Evening Prayer I), except in the case of Feasts of the Lord that fall on a Sunday in Ordinary Time or in Christmas Time and which replace the Sunday Office.

  3. Memorials are either obligatory or optional; their observance is integrated into the celebration of the occurring weekday in accordance with the norms set forth in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and of the Liturgy of the Hours.
    Obligatory Memorials which fall on weekdays of Lent may only be celebrated as Optional Memorials.
    If several optional Memorials are inscribed in the Calendar on the same day, only one may be celebrated, the others being omitted.

Canon 1246 (of the Code of Canon Law) says all Sundays and the following feast days are to be observed as holydays of obligation, (but Conferences of Bishops can modify these with the prior approval of the Holy See):

1.	Christmas
2.	Epiphany
3.	Ascension
4.	Corpus Christi
5.	Mary, the Holy Mother of God (1 January)
6.	The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
7.	The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8.	St Joseph
9.	Saints Peter and Paul
10.	All Saints

All of these are Solemnities. But there are other Solemnities that are not Holydays of Obligation, for example 24 June – The Nativity of St John the Baptist.


Thank you everyone for your information. How do I know whether a specific saints day is a Memorial, Feast Day, or Solemnity?


USCCB Liturgical Calendar 2014:



Very well and succinctly put! :thumbsup:


The official source would be the Ordo for your country/ecclesiastical province/diocese (or religious community if applicable). This is a yearly publication that indicates the celebration for the day and its rank. The liturgical books (Breviary, Missal) also indicate the rank of the celebration in the given Propers.

And of course, your location may affect the celebrations themselves. What can be a Memorial on the universal Roman calendar may be a Solemnity in a church dedicated to that saint. For example, on February 11, the rest of the world celebrates the Optional Memorial of our Lady of Lourdes. That means some will observe it, others won’t. But if your parish church is the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, it will be a Solemnity in the church itself.

Another example: the anniversary of the dedication of your Cathedral is a Solemnity in the Cathedral church itself, and a Feast elsewhere in the diocese, even if for the rest of the world, it’s just a weekday.


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