Substitution of Sunday Readings

“[62.] It is also illicit to omit or to substitute the prescribed biblical readings on one’s own initiative, and especially “to substitute other, non-biblical texts for the readings and responsorial Psalm, which contain the word of God”.” - (Redemptionis Sacramentum)

  • Can exceptions be made to this for an ordinary Sunday Mass? I ask this because my parents, who attend Mass at a different church to me, mentioned that the new curate had mentioned in his homily about picking potatoes with his grandfather when he was young! I was surprised to hear this (not that an Irishman had picked spuds in his youth:D) and asked my parents what this had to do with the readings of the day - marriage was the most obvious theme of course. They replied that they did not read today’s readings because the parish was celebrating “Harvest Sunday” and the readings had something to do with this (I don’t know which readings exactly). I don’t know if the decision to change the prescribed readings was his own decision or if it was made in consultation with the parish priest, but unfortunately I have had some previous encounters with this priest and I would consider him to be quite unorthodox at times & he belongs to a religious order whose Irish apostolate I do not think very highly of at the present time. So does Redemptionis Sacramentum have the last word on this sort of thing, or could the parish have had some authority to allow them to substitute the readings?

As far as I know you cannot substitute readings on a Sunday without some sort of permission from the Bishop. For example, last year, since it was the year of St. Paul, on his feast day, which fell on a Sunday, the bishop gave permission, in fact insisted, that we read the readings for the feast. But this was a special exception. Even if you have a wedding on a SUnday you cannot substitute the Sunday readinds, or at least the Gospel. I have no idea what “harvest Sunday” is but today the Church in the US is celebrating Respect Life Sunday, although at the two masses I went to no one mentioned it except in the intercessions (which I write). But marriage and Church teaching on divorce was the topic of both homilies.

The Catholic Church in the Roman Latin Rite uses what is called a 'Liturgical Calendar" in which it is a three year cycle titled as “Year A”,“Year B”,and “Year C” the year starts usually at the end of November or the beginning of December (First Sunday of Advent) depending on the year. Each specific year has readings and Gospel assigned for each day . Each year on the Gospel stays the same (ie: Year A is Matthew, Year B is Mark and John, Year C is Luke). In our parish these readings are consistent since the past eight years I have been there. I did notice changes such as saints feast days on weekday mass and certain Sundays if certain feast days Christmas,Easter etc., fall. Most likely an extreme case authorized by our diocesan bishop on liturgical readings. But like I said before the readings in my parish are pretty consistent. People there use the missalettes in the pews. I have my own St. Joseph Sunday Missal In Concordance With Vatican II following Sunday Masses pretty fluidly with a 99% accuracy. And what is Harvest Sunday? as on my parish calendar 10-04-2009 is titled Respect Life Sunday and we had a visiting priest from New Hampshire confirming today’s event.

According to the GIRM, that is correct. What is more, at some times of year, even the Bishop doesn’t have the authority (emphasis mine):

[quote=GIRM #374]In cases of serious need or pastoral advantage, at the direction of the diocesan Bishop or with his permission, an appropriate Mass may be celebrated on any day except solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day), Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week.

You might also check out GIRM #356-358, which says that the Sunday readings are to be followed strictly, but I’m not typing it in. :slight_smile:


Redemptionis Sacramentum does indeed “have the last word” but keep in mind that RS is a general document, pointing-to the more specific liturgical norms found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the GIRM), and the General Instruction of the Lectionary, and the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar. All 3 of these apply.

There is a certain limited “license” on Sundays in Ordinal time to move certain celebrations which occur during the week to the nearest Sunday if they are to the pastoral advantage of the parish. That might or might not be what happened here–we can only speculate since we don’t know the exact details. There is no such thing as “Harvest Sunday” in the Church’s calendar, but it might (or might not) be on the local calendar for the diocese.

The key words in RS are “on one’s own initiative” Without knowing exactly what the priest did (or what the pastor himself did), and why he did it, it’s quite impossible to say whether or not he acted on his own initiative.

There is a possibility that what happened might have been completely within the liturgical norms of the Church, and then again, it might have been entirely illicit. If you could provide more details posters here might be able to give better answers. Did your parents bring home a bulletin with any information about “Harvest Sunday”? Exact scripture references would help a lot here. If you’re willing to post the name of the diocese, there might be a diocese website with the particular calendar to reference.

Thanks for the replies so far everybody. I’m sorry I cannot give any further information about the readings - neither of my parents brought a missalette home, but virtually all Irish churches get their missalettes from the same supplier so I expect that if they were available in this particular church they would have had the prescribed readings for 27th Sunday B.

The Irish bishops had also designated yesterday as the Day for Life - the Bishops Conference issued a document to mark the occasion and the focus this year was to be on suicide.

Some of you have been wondering about “Harvest Sunday”. This is not a particular Sunday in the Irish Church’s calendar - I suppose it’s a dying tradition that a parish celebrates and thanks God for what He has given them in the harvest - but it’s a link to Ireland’s ancient agricultural heritage. Interestingly, the parish which I mentioned (which is not our parish church by the way) has not been out in the countyside for several decades! I expect that in former times parishes in the countryside would have had different ways of celebrating a good harvest - I suppose with all the doom and gloom that faced Irish peasant farmers over the centuries, a good harvest would have made their year, probably a rare glimmer of light for them in troubled times. The church itself would have been decorated with the “fruits” of the harvest - harvest bows (of straw) would be hung up and vegetables would have been brought in baskets & maybe a few pieces of turf. I think the celebration of harvest is more common now in the Anglican churches - the Anglican church in my city is beautifully decorated at the moment with fruits, vegetables and harvest bows. There are a number of hymns in the Anglican tradition which mark the harvest season, such as “Come, ye thankful people, come” and “We plough the fields and scatter”.

Fr David, as you said, the priests could have had some license to use different readings if it was for the pastoral advantage of the parish. I’m sorry I can’t provide info on the readings, but given that yesterday had already been designated as the Day for Life, harvest celebrations could have been postponed - after all, there is no place on the Irish Liturgical Calendar for a harvest celebration at all. The diocese, which I don’t wish to name, does have a website but nothing about harvest celebrations…

Joanm, in the case of St. Paul, the permission actually came from the Holy Father through the CDWDS. In fact, Francis Cardinal Arinze, then-prefect, sent the letter to all of the national episcopal conferences.

The other exceptions are when major solemnities happen during Sundays in Ordinary Time, such as All Saints Day (this year), the Nativity of St. John the Bapitist, the Triumph of the Holy Cross, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Solemntiy of Sts. Peter and Paul and the Transfiguration. Another exception applies to religious communities, like the Franciscans who yesterday celebrated the Memorial of St. Francis. They could substitute the Sunday readings for those pertaining to St. Francis. Also, parish churches could substitute the Sunday readings, again, in Ordinary Time, if their patronal feast falls on a Sunday, as happened at my dad’s old parish.

But, as far as the “Harvest” incident, this should not have happened.

Harvest Sunday sounds like what we have in the US on the last Thursday of November–Thanksgiving day–in fact it sounds identical even down to the decorations. It is in the US liturgical calendar, and in fact has its own Mass.

The diocese might not mention anything about Harvest Sunday, but it might be on the diocese calendar, which itself might or might not be on the webpage–so a lack of information doesn’t necessarily mean the celebration isn’t there. I’ll take your word for the fact that there is no Harvest Sunday in the Irish liturgical calendar–so don’t misunderstand me.

Again, without knowing the details, it’s realy impossible to say whether or not what he did was licit. But what I can say is that it is not certain that it was illicit.

Keep in mind that the standard is not to change the readings on one’s own authority; the standard is not “never change the readings.”

The missallettes aren’t necessarily a reliable source, and by that I mean that the publishers choose the “standard” readings which apply to the entire country, but they don’t always mention every available option (this is infrequent on Sundays, but quite frequent on weekdays).

Sunday was also the feast of St. Francis. Any connections there?

-No connection as far as I’m aware. Not that one needs an excuse to mark the feast of St Francis, but the parish in question does not have any particular connection with the saint - the patron of the church and parish is the Holy Family. We do have Franciscans and Poor Clares in our city, so I’m sure they celebrated the feast well!

I really wish I had more information, but unfortunately my gut feeling is that the readings were changed only on the authority of the priest in question or the parish priest - though I will not act merely on a gut feeling! I suppose I find it strange that a parish which has little or no connection to harvest or the countryside these days would put such a celebration ahead of a day which was designated by our bishops as a Day for Life (with specific focus on suicide, as I said). Ireland has quite a high rate of suicide you know, and the parish in question has been touched several times recently by this tragedy. It seems to me, that it should have been of utmost importance that all parishes without exception should have observed this Day for Life. Indeed, the particular readings set aside for the 27th Sunday B were very timely indeed given the attacks that marriage - and particularly Catholic teaching on marriage - are coming under from various sides of secular society…

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