By now most parishioners probably know that the prayers at Mass will change beginning the first Sunday of Advent, when parishes start using the new English translation of the Roman Missal.
What they might not realize, however, is that this edition of the Roman Missal also includes several additions to the church's universal calendar of saints' days.
The Roman Missal contains a Proper of Saints, which identifies all of the saints' days in a year and lists the specific prayers for those days. The Proper of Saints in this new edition of the Roman Missal contains 17 additions. Most of them represent saints who were canonized since publication of the last edition of the Roman Missal, such as St. (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina, but a few also dedicate new days to Mary and Jesus. Now, for example, Jan. 3 is the memorial for the Most Holy Name of Jesus, and May 13 is the memorial for Our Lady of Fatima.
The additions to the Proper of Saints do not incorporate all of the saints who have been canonized in the past few decades, according to Father Robert Kennedy, who is pastor of Rochester's Blessed Sacrament and St. Boniface parishes and chair of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. The Catholic Church is constantly canonizing new saints, and the late Pope John Paul II was well-known for naming large numbers of new saints.
Rather, the saints included in the new Roman Missal were chosen for one of two reasons, Father Kennedy said.
"It's a decision about the importance of the saint, either for the life of the church or for the sake of the universality of the calendar of saints," he explained.
When a particular saint's day is added to the universal church calendar, that means Catholics worldwide are invited to celebrate the memorial for that saint. By including saints from all corners of the world, the church calendar reflects the universal and international nature of the Catholic church, Father Kennedy added. St. Josephine Bakhita, for example, is a new addition who represents Africa. Another, St. Sharbel Makhluf, was from Lebanon.
"This brings the recognition, even in the church of Rochester, that God's holy ones are in Africa, they are in Lebanon," he said.
The saints' days newly added to the universal church calendar are classified either as memorials or optional memorials, Father Kennedy added.
"A memorial is required. We have to say the Mass in the universal church. The whole church throughout the world celebrates a saint whose feast day is a memorial," he said.
Dioceses and parishes have the opportunity to celebrate optional memorials, but they're not required to do so. When Feb. 8 rolls around, parishes in Sudan are likely to enthusiastically celebrate St. Josephine Bakhita's optional memorial, while parishes in areas not directly associated with the saint may not pay as much attention to it, he said.
Although the Rochester region is not directly associated with the African saint, Father Kennedy said he plans to celebrate her memorial anyway.
"I choose to celebrate it because I think it helps us to recognize our saints. I think her life is a wonderful example of service, plus I also celebrate it just to show the international character of the saints," he said.
Twelve new saints and blesseds -- or people on the path to canonization -- also have been added to the United States' particular Proper of Saints, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Among these are St. Katharine Drexel, whose memorial will be March 3, and St. Andre Bessette, whose memorial will be Jan. 6, said Father Kennedy.
"They've all become saints since the last missal, but they are particularly honored in North America. They're required to be celebrated in dioceses of the United States," he said.
By continually updating the calendars of saints' days celebrated in the universal and national churches, the Catholic Church reminds people that we're still called to celebrate and emulate the lives of saints, Father Kennedy noted.
"There isn't quite the same devotion to the saints as there was in times past, but they're still there and they're still examples of living the Christian life faithfully in an exemplary way," he said.