The General Calendar is a living document

The calendar includes the celebration of saints’ solemnities, feasts, and memorials

By Father Randy Stice

Last month, I introduced the liturgical year and discussed what is known as the Proper of Time (the temporal cycle) that begins in late November/early December with Advent and comprises the seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time) and major feasts (preeminently Christmas and the Triduum) of our salvation. In this column, I want to discuss the Proper of Saints (the sanctoral cycle), the calendar of saints that begins in January and concludes with St. Sylvester I on Dec. 31.

The veneration of saints began in the second century with the first martyrs—Polycarp was probably the first to be venerated—and soon included the apostles. The third century added confessors, usually bishops who suffered prison or exile but were not killed, and in the late fourth century monks were added. All were Christians who were held in high regard for the vital role they played in the building of the Church. Liturgical calendars of saints in local churches began to appear in the mid-fourth century with the establishment of the feast of Christmas. In Carthage, the home of St. Augustine, a calendar from the year 506 celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25, followed by St. Stephen on the 26th, St. John and St. James on the 27th, and the Holy Innocents on the 28th. The first calendar that can be called a universal calendar for the entire Roman Church appeared by the end of the 10th century.

The current General Calendar for the universal Church was approved in 1970. It lays out the “entire cycle of celebrations of the mystery of salvation” and “those saints who have universal significance and therefore are obligatorily celebrated by everyone.” 1 The celebrations of the saints are ranked according to their importance. Solemnities are first in rank. They begin the evening before, so a vigil Mass can be celebrated. They include the Gloria and Creed and have two readings (and the responsorial psalm) before the Gospel. The greatest solemnities are Easter and Christmas, but other solemnities include the Assumption (Aug. 15) and the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) of the Blessed Virgin Mary; St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary (March 19); and Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29).

Next in importance are feasts, which are celebrated “within the limits of the natural day” 2 (morning to evening). Feasts include the Gloria but only one reading (and the responsorial psalm) before the Gospel. Examples of feasts include the apostles (except for Sts. Peter and Paul mentioned above); Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels (Sept. 29); and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12). When feasts of the Lord Jesus, such as the Transfiguration (Aug. 6), fall on Sundays in Ordinary Time and Christmas Time, they are celebrated as solemnities.

Third in importance are memorials, which are either obligatory (must be celebrated) or optional (may be celebrated, but another Mass may be celebrated instead). Examples of obligatory memorials are St. Polycarp, bishop and martyr (Feb. 23); St. Augustine (Aug. 28); and St. Vincent de Paul (Sept. 27). Examples of optional memorials are St. Blaise (Feb. 3), St. Patrick (March 17), St. Maria Goretti (July 6), and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (Oct. 16).

The General Calendar is a living document, and a number of saints have been added to it in the past few years. These include the optional memorials of St. Paul VI (May 29), St. Faustina Kowalska (Sept. 17), St. John XXIII (Oct. 11), St. John Paul II (Oct. 22), and Our Lady of Loreto (Dec. 10).

Saints of regional origin and devotion can be inserted into the General Roman Calendar, resulting in what are termed particular calendars. The particular calendar for the United States, for example, includes St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (Jan. 4), St. Katherine Drexel (March 3), Blessed Junipero Serra, priest (July 1), and St. Peter Claver (Sept. 9). Recent additions to our particular calendar include the obligatory memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha (July 14) and the optional memorials of St. Marianne Cope (Jan. 23) and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos (Oct. 5). Although St. Teresa of Calcutta (Sept. 5) has not been included in the General Roman Calendar, she was added to our particular calendar in 2022 as an optional memorial. Here is the link to the 2024 liturgical calendar for the United States:

The events of our salvation are celebrated and made present in the Proper of Time, but interwoven throughout are the commemorations of the saints that “proclaim the wonderful works of Christ in his servants.” 3 St. Teresa of Avila, a year before beginning her Carmelite reform, on the feast day of St. Clare was given a remarkable example of the power of the liturgical celebration of the saints. Teresa described her experience: “while I was going to Communion, St. Clare appeared to me with striking beauty. She told me to take courage and to continue on with what I had begun, that she would help me. I became very devoted to her; and what she said has indeed come true.” 4 St. Teresa’s experience is an exceptional example of how the saints offer us their example, companionship, and sure support so that “we may run as victors in the race before us and win with them the imperishable crown of glory.” 5

1 Universal Norms of the Liturgical Year, 49.
2 Universal Norms of the Liturgical Year, 13.
3 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 111.
4 The Book of Her Life, vol. I, p. 290.
5 Roman Missal, third edition, Preface I of Saints.


Father Randy Stice is director of the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at


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