When I was in hospital ministry, there was a Catholic seminarian on my team, and another woman who was studying to be a Lutheran pastor. The seminarian and I were debating over whether or not a particular saint was celebrated as an optional or an obligatory memorial. Our Protestant friend looked at us, rolled her eyes, and continued to eat her cupcake.
Progressive Solemnity is a concept in which we try to celebrate certain saints and blesseds within our tradition in an ordered manner. Simply, there are people in our Church’s life that are more important than others. The Mother of God is more important than, say, Sts Perpetua and Felicity. So within our Church history, we try to honor saints accordingly, keeping in mind history, culture and context.
So here are the categories, from highest to lowest:
Solemnity – The highest of feasts. Most solemnities begin their celebration the evening before (at sundown—in honor to our Jewish roots). Two Solemnities, Easter and Christmas, are eight days long. (This, consequently, is why we have a Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening—we begin our celebration of the Rising of the Son of God at the first sundown.) In terms of the Divine Office, we celebrate a Solemnity with a first Vespers on the evening before. On the day itself, a proper antiphon for the invitatory rite, the Office of Readings have particular psalms—sometimes selected proper for the day—proper readings that commemorate the saint and his or her life, a Te Deum, the Sunday I psalms from Morning Prayer, and perhaps proper psalms and antiphons on Evening Prayer. Night prayer looks like a Sunday on both days, where are we asked to chant the psalms of Sunday.
Feast – We begin our celebration with the Office of Readings of the day. There are sometimes proper psalms and antiphons on the day that are predetermined, with Office of Reading concluding with the Te Deum. Then for Lauds, Sunday I psalms with proper antiphons and special intercessions and blessings. For Evening Prayer, there are oftentimes psalms chanted for the feast, with special antiphons, along with a proper blessing.
Obligatory Memorial – Sometimes a proper invitatory antiphon. Almost always a special reading from the saint of the day in the Office of Readings. And almost always a proper closing prayer.
Optional Memorial – Rarely a proper invitatory antiphon. Oftentimes a special reading from the saint of the day in the Office of Readings. And almost always a proper closing prayer. And this presumes that you celebrate the day in the first place.
Commemoration – You rarely see these because they occur are times of the year in which it is inappropriate to focus on anything other than the Sacred Mysteries. Like, in Lent, all memorials minus Annunciation, St Joseph and, for our Archdiocese, St Patrick, are suppressed. In other words, you don’t celebrate them. (Two of my favorite saints are never celebrated because their feast day is in early March, which is always in Lent.) So this is what happens: If there are readings provided, you read them after the closing prayer of Office of Readings. So they are, technically, not even part of the day.
After you take your Advil, please stop by and partake of the Hours. And just in case you haven’t seen the schedule, it’s right here.
Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!