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A Mass offered for a votum, a special intention. So we frequently find in prayers the expression, votiva dona (e.g., in the Leonine Sacramentary, ed. Feltoe, p. 103), meaning "gifts offered with desire [of receiving grace in return]". The Mass does not correspond to the Divine Office for the day on which it is celebrated. Every day in the year has appointed to it a series of canonical hours and (except Good Friday) a Mass corresponding, containing, for instance, the same Collect and the same Gospel. So Mass and Office together make up one whole. Normally the Mass corresponds to the Office. But there are occasions on which a Mass may be said which does not so correspond. These are votive Masses.
The principle of the votive Mass is older than its name. Almost at the very origin of the Western liturgies (with their principle of change according to the Calendar) Mass was occasionally offered, apparently with special prayers and lessons, for some particular intention, irrespective of the normal Office of the day. Among the miracles quoted by St. Augustine in City of God XXII.8, is the story of one Hesperius cured of an evil spirit by a private Mass said in his house with special prayers for him a votive Mass for his cure. The first Sacramentaries contain many examples of what we should call votive Masses. So the Leonine book has Masses "in natale episcoporum" (ed. Feltoe, pp. 123-26), "de siccitate temporis" (ibid., 142), "contra impetitores" (ibid., 27), and so on throughout. Indeed the Masses for ordination and for the dead, which occur in this book and throughout the Roman and Gallican Rites, are really examples of votive Masses for all kinds of occasions, for ordinations (ed. Wilson, pp. 22-30, etc.), for those about to be baptized (ibid., 34), anniversaries of ordinations (153-54), nuns (156), for the sick (282), for marriages (265), kings (276), travellers (283), the dead (301 sq.), and a large collection of Masses of general character to be said on any Sunday (224-44). In this book the name first occurs, "Missa votiva in sanctorum commemoratione" (p. 367; Rheinau and S. Gallen manuscripts). The Gregorian Sacramentary, too, has a large collection of such Masses and the name "Missa votiva" (e.g., P.L., LXXVIII, 256).
So all through the Middle Ages the votive Mass was a regular institution. The principle came to be that, whereas one official (capitular) high Mass was said corresponding to the Office, a priest who said a private Mass for a special intention said a votive Mass corresponding to his intention. The great number of forms provided in medieval Missals furnished one for any possible intention. Indeed it seems that at one time a priest normally said a votive Mass whenever he celebrated. John Beleth in the thirteenth century describes a series of votive Masses once said (fuit quoddam tempus) each day in the week: on Sunday, of the Holy Trinity; Monday, for charity; Tuesday, for wisdom; Wednesday, of the Holy Ghost; Thursday, of the Angels; Friday, of the Cross; Saturday, of the Blessed Virgin (Explic. div. offic., 51). This completely ignores the ecclesiastical year. But there was a general sentiment that, at least on the chief feasts, even private Masses should conform to the Office of the day. It is well known, for instance, that our feast of the Holy Trinity began as a votive Mass to be said on any Sunday after Pentecost, when there was no feast. This idea of allowing votive Masses to be said only when no special fast occurs finally produced the rules contained in our present missal (1570). According to these we distinguish between votive Masses strictly so called and votive Masses in a wider sense. The first are those commanded to be said on certain days; the second kind, those which a priest may say or not, at his discretion.
Strict votive Masses are, first, those ordered by the rubrics of the Missal, namely a Mass of the Blessed Virgin on every Saturday in the year not occupied by a double, semi-double, octave, vigil, feria of Lent, or ember-day, or the transferred Sunday Office (Rubr. Gen., IV, 1). This is the "Missa de S. Maria" in five forms for various seasons, among the votive Masses at the end of the Missal. To this we must add votive Masses ordered by the pope or the ordinary for certain grave occasions (pro re gravi). Such are for the election of a pope or bishop, in time of war, plague, persecution, and so on. Such votive Masses may be ordered by the ordinary on all days except doubles of the first or second class, Ash Wednesday, and the ferias of Holy Week, the eves of Christmas and Pentecost; except also days on which the office is said for the same intention or event as would be prescribed by the votive Mass. In this case the Mass should conform to the office as usual. A third kind of strictly votive Mass is that said during the devotion of the so-called "Forty Hours". On this occasion the Mass on the first and third days is of the Blessed Sacrament; on the second day it is for peace. But on doubles of the first and second class, Sundays of the first and second class, on Ash Wednesday, in Holy Week, during the octaves of Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, on the eves of Christmas and Pentecost, the Mass of the day must be said, with the collect of the Blessed Sacrament added to that of the day under one conclusion.
The other kind of votive Mass (late sumpta) may be said by any priest on a semidouble, simple or feria, at his discretion, except on Sunday, Ash Wednesday, the eves of Christmas, Epiphany, Pentecost, during the octaves of Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, Holy Week, and on All Souls' Day. Nor may a votive Mass be said on a day whose Office is already that of the same occasion; but in this case the corresponding Mass of the day must be said, according to the usual rubrics. A votive Mass may be taken from any of those at the end of the missal, or of the common of Saints, or of their propers, if the text does not imply that it is their feast. A Sunday or ferial Mass may not be used as a votive Mass. Nor may it be said of a Beatus, unless this is allowed by special indult.
The Gloria is to be said in votive Masses pro re gravi unless the colour be violet; also in votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin on Saturday, of angels, whenever said, in those of saints, when said on a day on which they are named in the Martyrology or during their octaves. The Creed is said in solemn votive Masses pro re gravi. The first and third Masses of the Forty Hours have the Gloria and the Creed, not the Mass for Peace (but if said on a Sunday it has the Creed). Solemn votive Masses have only one collect; others are treated as semidoubles, with commemorations of the day, etc., according to the usual rule. The colour used for a votive Mass is the one which corresponds to the event celebrated; except that red is used for Holy Innocents. It is red for the election of a pope, white for the anniversary of a bishop's election or consecration, violet in the general case of asking for some special grace and for the Passion. The particular case of votive Masses for each day of the week, corresponding to votive Offices ordered by Leo XIII, is now abolished by the Decree "Divino afflatu" of 1 Nov., 1911. Requiems and Masses for marriages are really particular cases of a votive Mass, which are considered in their place (see MASSES OF REQUIEM; NUPTIAL MASS).
The unchangeable character of the Eastern liturgies excludes anything really corresponding to our votive Mass. But they have a custom of singing certain troparia, sometimes of reading special lessons on certain anniversaries and occasions, which is virtually what is done in the Latin votive Masses.
BONA, Rerum liturgicarum libri II, I, xv, 3; BENEDICT XIV, De SS. sacrificio Missae, III, xxiii; DE HERDT, S. Liturgiae praxis, I (Louvain, 1894), 26-54; LE VAVASSEUR-HAEGY, Manuel de liturgie, I (Paris, 1910), 222-231.
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Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Votive Mass'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/v/votive-mass.html. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.
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