Ranking of liturgical days in the Roman Rite

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The Ranking of liturgical days in the Roman Rite is a regulation for the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church. It determines for each liturgical day which observance has priority when liturgical dates and times coincide (or "occur"), which texts are used for the celebration of the Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the hours and which liturgical color is assigned to the day or celebration.


Each day in the Catholic liturgical calendar has a rank. The five basic ranks for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, in descending order of importance, are as follows:

All holy days of obligation are also solemnities; however, not all solemnities are holy days of obligation. For example, The Nativity of the Lord Jesus (Christmas) (25 December) is a solemnity which is always a holy day of obligation, whereas the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (24 June) is not a holy day of obligation.

In certain locales, certain days which are celebrated as feasts or memorials in most of the Church are celebrated as solemnities; for example, St. Patrick's Day is a solemnity in Ireland, but is normally a memorial for the rest of the Church; Our Lady of Sorrows is a solemnity in Slovakia, whereas it is a memorial in all other places.


The ranking of feast days of saints and of Christian mysteries such as the Ascension of the Lord, which had grown from an original division between doubles and simples, [1] developed into a more complicated hierarchy of Simple, Semidouble, and Double, with feast days of the Double Rite further divided into Double of the I Class, Double of the II Class, Greater Double or Major Double, and Double, in order of descending rank.

What the original meaning of the term "double" may have been is not entirely certain. Some think that the greater festivals were thus styled because the antiphons before and after the psalms were "doubled", i.e. twice repeated entire on these days. Others, with more probability, point to the fact that before the ninth century in certain places, for example at Rome, it was customary on the greater feast days to recite two sets of Matins, the one of the feria or week-day, the other of the festival. Hence such days were known as "doubles". [1]

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907 shows the incremental crowding of the calendar with the following table based on the official revisions of the Roman Breviary in 1568, [2] 1602, 1631 and 1882, and on the situation in 1907.

PopeDateDoubles, I ClassDoubles, II ClassGreater DoublesDoublesSemidoublesTotal
Pius V1568191705360149
Clement VIII16021918164368164
Urban VIII16311918164578176
Leo XIII188221182412874275

In 1907, when, in accordance with the rules in force since the time of Pope Pius V, feast days of any form of double, if impeded by "occurrence" (falling on the same day) [3] with a feast day of higher class, were transferred to another day, this classification of feast days was of great practical importance for deciding which feast day to celebrate on any particular day. Pope Pius X simplified matters considerably in his 1911 reform of the Roman Breviary. In the case of occurrence the lower-ranking feast day could become a commemoration within the celebration of the higher-ranking one. Further retouches were made by Pope Pius XII in 1955, [4] Pope John XXIII in 1960, [5] and Pope Paul VI in 1969. [6]

On ferias and many feast days of simple rank, the celebrant was permitted to substitute a Mass of his own choice such as a votive Mass, or a Mass for the dead.

Before the reform of Pope Pius X in 1911, ordinary Doubles took precedence over most of the semidouble Sundays, resulting in many of the Sunday Masses rarely being said. While retaining the semidouble rite for Sundays, the reform permitted only the most important feast days to be celebrated on Sunday, although commemorations were still made until the reform of 1960.

The division into doubles (of various kinds), semidoubles, and simples continued until 1955, when Pope Pius XII abolished the rank of semidouble, making all the previous semidoubles simples, and reducing the previous simples to a mere commemoration in the Mass of another feast day or of the feria on which they fell.

Then, in 1960, Pope John XXIII completely ended the ranking of feast days by doubles etc., replacing it by a ranking, applied not only to feast days but to all liturgical days, as I, II, III, and IV class days.

The 1969 revision by Pope Paul VI divided feast days into "solemnities", "feasts" and "memorials", corresponding approximately to Pope John XXIII's I, II and III class feast days. Commemorations were abolished both as a rank of liturgical day and as the addition of a second set of Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion for that commemoration after the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion of the day at Mass. [7] While some of the memorials are considered obligatory, others are optional, permitting a choice on some days between two or three memorials, or between one or more memorials and the celebration of the feria. On a day to which no obligatory celebration is assigned, the Mass may be of any saint mentioned in the Roman Martyrology for that day. [8]

The developments in the ranking of feasts according to the Roman Breviary's calendar can be summarised thus:

-13th centuryDoublesSemidoublesSimples
Pius V1568Doubles, I ClassDoubles, II ClassDoublesSemidoublesSimples
Clement Vlll1602Doubles, I ClassDoubles, II ClassGreater DoublesDoublesSemidoublesSimples
Pius XII1955Doubles, I ClassDoubles, II ClassGreater DoublesDoublesSimplesCommemorations
John XXIII1960I ClassII ClassIII ClassCommemorations
Paul VI1969SolemnitiesFeastsMemorials and Optional MemorialsFerias


Pope John XXIII's Code of Rubrics divided Sundays into two classes. Sundays of the I class were the four of Advent, the four of Lent, the two of Passiontide, Easter Sunday, the Octave of Easter (in some traditions, called "Low Sunday"), and Pentecost. [9] No feast whatsoever could replace the celebration of these Sundays, with the sole exception of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. [10] All other Sundays were of II class, [11] and outranked feasts of II class, with the exception that feasts of the Lord, whether I or II class, which replaced the celebration of any II class Sunday on which they happened to fall. [12]

The 1955 reform of Pope Pius XII [13] did not have this division of Sundays into classes. Instead it laid down that the Sundays of Advent and Lent and those that follow up to Low Sunday, and also Pentecost Sunday, are celebrated as doubles of the first class, and outrank all feasts; [14] but when feasts of the first class occur on the second, third or fourth Sunday of Advent, Masses of the Feast are permitted. [15] Sundays previously celebrated in the semi-double rite were raised to the double rite. [16] A feast of our Lord occurring on a Sunday per annum was to take the place of the Sunday. [17]


In addition to his division of festal days and Sundays, Pope John XXIII introduced a division of ferias into four classes:

Before that, ferias were either "major" or "minor". The major, which must have at least a commemoration, even on the highest feasts, were those of Advent and Lent, the Ember days, and the Monday of Rogation week; the others were called minor. Of the major ferias Ash Wednesday and the days of Holy Week were privileged, so that their office must be taken, no matter what feast might occur. [21]

Ember days are four separate sets of three days within the same week—specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday—roughly equidistant in the circuit of the year, that were formerly set aside for fasting and prayer. These days set apart for special prayer and fasting were considered especially suitable for the ordination of clergy. The Ember Days are known in Latin as quatuor tempora (the "four seasons"), or jejunia quatuor temporum ("fasts of the four seasons"). They occur in the weeks between the third and fourth Sundays of Advent, between the first and second Sundays of Lent, between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, and beginning the first Wednesday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), which is between the liturgical third and fourth Sundays of September. [22]

Rogation Days are, in the calendar of the Western Church, four days traditionally set apart for solemn processions to invoke God's mercy. They are April 25, the Major Rogation (or Greater Litanies), coinciding with St. Mark's Day (but transferred to the following Tuesday if they fell on Easter); and the three days preceding Ascension Thursday, the Minor Rogations (or Lesser Litanies). These are indicated below in the main body of the calendar and in the Movable Feasts section.


In early times, every feast had a vigil, but the increase in the number of feasts and abuses connected with the evening and night service of which the vigils originally consisted, led to their diminishment. Nevertheless, the Roman Rite kept many more vigils than other Latin liturgical rites such as the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite, and if they fell on a Sunday transferred them to the previous Saturday. [23]

In the Tridentine Calendar, there were initially seventeen vigils (excluding The Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday morning), divided into "major vigils" and "minor" or "common vigils". Christmas, the Epiphany and Pentecost comprised the major vigils. [23] The common vigils included the Ascension of Our Lord, Saint John the Baptist, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and All Saints. Most feasts of the Apostles also had vigils, namely Saints Andrew, Thomas, James, Simon and Jude. Whilst the vigils of the Immaculate Conception, Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Lawrence, Saint Bartholomew and Saint Matthew remained, they soon came to be impeded by higher-ranking feasts added to the calendar, and they were instead commemorated as part of other Masses rather than observed in their own right. The Vigil of St. Matthias was unique, in that it was normally commemorated on 23 February, the feast of St. Peter Damian, but in leap years was kept on 24 February, the leap day of the Roman calendar.

Pope Pius XII divided Vigils into only two classes: "privileged vigils" (Christmas and Pentecost) and "common vigils" (Ascension of Our Lord, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Lawrence). All other vigils, even those in local calendars, were suppressed. [24] The vigils of Saints Peter and Paul and Saint Lawrence, however, continued to be impeded by higher-ranking feasts.

In Pope John XXIII's 1960 Code of Rubrics, Vigils were divided into three classes. The Easter Vigil was left out of the calculations, being celebrated in a different way from that of other Vigils. [25] The Vigils of Christmas and Pentecost were of the I class, and took precedence over any feast. [26] The II class Vigils were those of the Ascension of Our Lord, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, and Saints Peter and Paul; they took precedence over liturgical days of III or IV class. [26] There was only one III class Vigil, that of Saint Lawrence, which had precedence only over IV class liturgical days.


The Tridentine Calendar had many octaves, without any indication in the calendar itself of distinction of rank between them, apart from the fact that the Octave Day (the final day of the octave) was ranked higher than the days within the octave. Several octaves overlapped, so that, for instance, on 29 December the prayer of the saint of the day, Saint Thomas Becket, was followed by the prayers of Christmas Day, of Saint Stephen, of Saint John the Evangelist and of the Holy Innocents. The situation remained such until the reform of Pope Pius X. [27]

To cut down on the monotony of repeating the same prayers in Mass and Office every day for eight days, Pope Pius X classified the octaves as "privileged", "common" or "simple"

The privileged octaves were of three "ranks". [28] The first rank belonged to Easter and Pentecost (permitting no feast to be celebrated during them, or even to be commemorated until Tuesday Vespers), the second to Epiphany and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (the Octave Day ranked as a Greater Double, the days within the octave as semidoubles, giving way only to Doubles of the I Class, and on the Octave day itself only to a Double of the I class which was celebrated in the entire Church), the third rank to Christmas, the Ascension, and the Sacred Heart (these gave way to any feast above the level of Simple).

The common octaves were those of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and All Saints, as well as, locally, the principal patron saint of a church, cathedral, order, town, diocese, province, or nation. These too gave way to any feast above the level of Simple. The difference between them and privileged octaves of third rank concerned which Psalms were said in the Divine Office.

The simple octaves were those of Saint Stephen, Saint John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, Saint Lawrence, the Nativity of Mary and, locally, secondary patrons. These were all Doubles of the II class, their Octave day was a Simple and, in contrast to the situation before Pope Pius X, their Mass was not repeated on the days within the octave.

In Pope Pius XII's reform, only the octaves of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were kept. [29] The days within the Easter and Pentecost octaves were raised to double rite, had precedence over all feasts, and did not admit commemorations. [30]

Table of precedence

  1. Paschal Triduum, the three paschal days of the suffering, the death and the resurrection of the Lord
  2. Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Pentecost.
  3. Sundays of Advent, Lent and Eastertide. Ash Wednesday. Days of the Holy week from Monday to Wednesday. Days of the octave of Easter.
  4. Solemnities of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary and those saints in the General Roman Calendar. All Souls' Day.
  5. Proper Solemnities
  6. Feasts of the Lord
  7. Sundays of the Christmas season and Sundays in Ordinary Time
  8. Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints in the General Roman Calendar
  9. Proper feasts
  10. Weekdays of Advent from 17 December to 24 December. Days within the octave of Christmas. Weekdays of Lent.
  11. Obligatory Memorials of the General Roman Calendar
  12. Proper Obligatory Memorials
  13. Optional Memorials
  14. Weekdays of Advent up to 16 December. Weekdays of Christmas Season from 2 January until Saturday after Epiphany. Weekdays of Eastertide from Monday after the Octave until Saturday before Pentecost. Weekdays in Ordinary Time.

Related Research Articles

Liturgical year Annually recurring fixed sequence of Christian feast days

The liturgical year, also known as the church year or Christian year, as well as the kalendar, consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches that determines when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read either in an annual cycle or in a cycle of several years.

In the liturgical calendar of the Roman Rite, a solemnity is a feast day of the highest rank celebrating a mystery of faith such as the Trinity, an event in the life of Jesus, his mother Mary, his legal father Joseph, or another important saint. The observance begins with the vigil on the evening before the actual date of the feast. Unlike feast days of the rank of feast or those of the rank of memorial, solemnities replace the celebration of Sundays outside Advent, Lent, and Easter.

Liturgical colours

Liturgical colours are those specific colours used for vestments and hangings within the context of Christian liturgy. The symbolism of violet, white, green, red, gold, black, rose and other colours may serve to underline moods appropriate to a season of the liturgical year or may highlight a special occasion.

Ordinary Time

In the liturgy of the Roman Rite as revised in 1969, Ordinary Time, in Latin Tempus per annum, is that part of the liturgical year which falls outside of the two great seasons, Christmastide and Eastertide with their preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent. Thus, the Ordinary Time of the liturgical years includes the days between Christmastide and Lent, and between Eastertide and Advent. The last Sunday of Ordinary Time is the Solemnity of Christ the King. The liturgical color assigned to Ordinary Time is green.

Paschal Triduum Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday

The Paschal Triduum or Easter Triduum, Holy Triduum, or the Three Days, is the period of three days that begins with the liturgy on the evening of Maundy Thursday, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday. It is a moveable observance recalling the Passion, Crucifixion, Death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus, as portrayed in the canonical Gospels.

A memorial in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church is a lower-ranked feast day in honour of a saint, the dedication of a church, or a mystery of the religion.

Feria is a day other than the sabbath day. In the liturgy of the Catholic Church, a feria is a day of the week other than Sunday.

In the Latin liturgical rites of the Catholic Church, a commemoration is the recital, within the Liturgy of the Hours or the Mass of one celebration, of part of another celebration that is generally of lower rank and impeded because of a coincidence of date.

The ordinary, in Roman Catholic and other Western Christian liturgies, refers to the part of the Eucharist or of the canonical hours that is reasonably constant without regard to the date on which the service is performed. It is contrasted to the proper, which is that part of these liturgies that varies according to the date, either representing an observance within the liturgical year, or of a particular saint or significant event, or to the common which contains those parts that are common to an entire category of saints such as apostles or martyrs.

Vigil (liturgy)

In Christian liturgy, a vigil is, in origin, a religious service held during the night leading to a Sunday or other feastday. The Latin term vigilia, from which the word is derived meant a watch night, not necessarily in a military context, and generally reckoned as a fourth part of the night from sunset to sunrise. The four watches or vigils were of varying length in line with the seasonal variation of the length of the night.

This article lists the feast days of the General Roman Calendar as they were at the end of 1954. It is essentially the same calendar established by Pope Pius X (1903–1914) following his liturgical reforms, but it also incorporates changes that were made by Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), such as the institution of the Feast of Christ the King, and the changes made by Pope Pius XII (1939–1958) prior to 1955, chief among them the imposition of the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary upon the universal Church in 1944, the inscription of Pius X into the General Calendar following his 1954 canonization, and the institution of the Feast of the Queenship of Mary in October 1954.

"Octave" has two senses in Christian liturgical usage. In the first sense, it is the eighth day after a feast, reckoning inclusively, and so always falls on the same day of the week as the feast itself. The word is derived from Latin octava (eighth), with dies (day) understood. In the second sense, the term is applied to the whole period of these eight days, during which certain major feasts came to be observed.


The Kyriale is a collection of Gregorian chant settings for the Ordinary of the Mass. It contains eighteen Masses, six Credos, and several ad libitum chants. This collection is included in liturgical books such as the Graduale Romanum and Liber Usualis, and it is also published as a separate book by the monks of Solesmes Abbey.

The Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X was promulgated by that Pope with the apostolic constitution Divino afflatu of 1 November 1911.

This article lists the feast days of the General Roman Calendar as approved on 25 July 1960 by Pope John XXIII's motu proprioRubricarum instructum and promulgated by the Sacred Congregation of Rites the following day, 26 July 1960, by the decree Novum rubricarum. This 1960 calendar was incorporated into the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, continued use of which Pope Benedict XVI authorized in the circumstances indicated in his 7 July 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

The Tridentine Calendar is the calendar of saints to be honoured in the course of the liturgical year in the official liturgy of the Roman Rite as reformed by Pope Pius V, implementing a decision of the Council of Trent, which entrusted the task to the Pope.

In 1955 Pope Pius XII made several changes to the General Roman Calendar of 1954, changes that remained in force only until 1960, when Pope John XXIII, on the basis of further recommendations of the commission that Pius XII had set up, decreed a further revision of the General Roman Calendar. The changes made by Pope Pius XII thus remained unaltered for only five years.

The liturgical reforms of Pope Pius XII continued a process initiated by Pope Pius X, who began the process of encouraging the faithful to a meaningful participation in the liturgy. Pope Pius XII redefined liturgy in light of his previous encyclical Mystici corporis and reformed several liturgical practices in light of this teaching. The liturgical teaching of Pius XII is contained especially in his encyclical Mediator Dei of 1947. Although Pius XII felt compelled to reprove the desire for novelty among certain leaders of the Liturgical Movement, the liturgical reforms undertaken later in his pontificate were in fact relatively broad in their scope.

Traditional Ambrosian Rite

The Ambrosian Rite is a Latin Catholic liturgical Western Rite used in the area of Milan. The Traditional Ambrosian Rite is the form of this rite as it was used before the changes that followed the Second Vatican Council.

Mysterii Paschalis is an apostolic letter issued motu proprio by Pope Paul VI on 14 February 1969. It reorganized the liturgical year of the Roman Rite and revised the liturgical celebrations of Jesus Christ and the saints in the General Roman Calendar.


  1. 1 2 "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Christian Calendar". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2020-03-06.
  2. For more information on this calendar of Pope Pius V, see Tridentine Calendar.
  3. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Occurrence". home.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2020-03-06.
  4. General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII
  5. General Roman Calendar of 1960
  6. General Roman Calendar of 1969
  7. Note: On the weekdays of Advent from 17 to 24 December, on days within the Octave|Octave of Christmas]], and on the weekdays of Lent, except Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, the Mass texts for the current liturgical day are used, but the Collect, but not the Prayer over the Offerings and Prayer after Communion, may be taken from a Memorial which happens to be listed in the General Calendar for that day (GIRM 355).
  8. General Instruction of the Roman Missal Archived 2008-07-20 at the Wayback Machine , 355 c
  9. Rubricae Generales, 11
  10. Rubricae Generales, 15
  11. Rubricae Generales, 12
  12. Rubricae Generales, 16
  13. De rubricis ad simpliciorem formam redigendis of 23 March 1955 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 47(1955), pages 218-224). The only English translation available on the Internet seems to be that on a blog.
  14. De rubricis, 3
  15. De rubricis, 4
  16. De rubricis, 5
  17. De rubricis, 7
  18. Rubricae Generales, 23
  19. Rubricae Generales, 24
  20. Rubricae Generales, 25
  21. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Feria". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2020-03-06.
  22. The rubrics of the Breviary defined the liturgical first Sunday of August, September, October and November as the Sunday closest to the first day of the month, in this manner: "That which is called the I Sunday of the month, is that which is on the Kalends, or nearest the Kalends of that month: so that, if the Kalends be Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, then the I Sunday of the month, on which the book of Scripture to be begun is placed, is that which precedes the Kalends. But if Thursday or Friday, or Saturday, it is that which follows." The first Sunday of September, therefore, could fall between 29 August and 4 September. The 1960 reforms changed this to the actual first Sunday of the month (Rubricae Generales, 19), with a possible resulting adjustment in the dates of the September Ember Days.
  23. 1 2 "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Eve of a Feast". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2020-03-06.
  24. Decree De rubricis ad simpliciorem formam redigendis, 8-10
  25. Rubricae Generales, 28
  26. 1 2 Rubricae Generales, 30
  27. See, for instance, Missale Romanum, published by Pustet in 1862
  28. "Ordo" in Latin, not "classis" (class), the word used for feasts, the word too that was used in Pope John XXIII's revision of the rubrics for all kinds of liturgical days.
  29. De rubricis, 11
  30. De rubricis, 12