I recently came across the question of what is the proper grade of feast (i.e. optional memorial, memorial, feast, or solemnity) for the saint after whom an oratory is named. The oratory in question is a part of a seminary building and is named after a rather obscure saint, but one who is listed on the general calendar as an optional memorial. The seminary itself has a properly constituted patron different from the one after whom the oratory is named. We know from looking at the Table of Liturgical Days given in the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar that a titular feast of a church is a solemnity (Table of Liturgical Days I, 4, c). Can. 1218 stipulates that each church is to have its own title, which cannot be changed. Clearly, if we were talking about a parish church named after, say, St. Norbert, there would be no question that his feast day (June 6) would be a solemnity within the parish bounds, and an obligatory memorial in all the neighboring parishes. The question is how do we treat an oratory’s titular saint, when the Universal Norms don’t say anything about it. There are seemingly two ways to go about it, each resulting in a very different answer.
The Code distinguishes between three types of sacred places: church (can. 1214), oratory (can. 1223), and private chapel (can. 1226). (For our purposes only the first two are relevant.) Places become sacred when they are dedicated or blessed using the proper liturgical books (can. 1205). Churches should be dedicated (can. 1217) and have a title (can. 1218). It is fitting, on the other hand, to bless oratories (can. 1229). This is where the two ways I mentioned above split. How does one interpret the lack of a requirement for a title for oratories and the fact that oratories are blessed rather than dedicated?
1) One way is to take the non-requirement for a title as a statement that oratories don’t have titles because they are not dedicated… at least not titles that matter for liturgical law. If this is so, then the feast day of the oratory’s namesake is not altered and the grade which it is given by the General Calendar is followed. In the case at hand, this means the feast of the saint after whom the oratory is named would, for liturgical purposes, remain an optional memorial. Since the oratory is part of a seminary, one could claim the oratory’s namesake as a secondary patron of the seminary. It would seem, however, that according to the CDW’s Norms concerning the Constituting of Patrons, the saint would need to be constituted as such. Assuming it is constituted as such, the saint’s feast would then be accorded the level of obligatory memorial (Norms concerning the Constituting of Patrons, no. 14, CDW, 19 Mar 1973 in AAS 65, 276-279).
2) The other way to read this omission is to understand it as saying that oratories can have titles, but that they are not required to, unlike churches which must. Given the lack of a clear answer in the code, citation in support of oratories having titles can be made to the 1960 rubrics incorporated by Bl. John XXIII into the 1962 Roman Missal. Speaking of churches, public oratories, and semi-public oratories*, no. 45, b mentions that the titular feast of an oratory is a first class feast (equivalent to solemnities in the revised calendar) provided that it has been solemnly blessed or consecrated. Even if one accepts this second line of thought, there is still the question of why the Universal Norms make no mention of oratories in no. 52, c or in the Table of Liturgical Days. The omission could be significant; then again, the liturgical norms following the reforms of Pope Paul VI were not always written to cover every possible situation. This is evident in several places. Understanding the new norms for the calendar in continuity with the past, one could argue the omission in the Universal Norms is not an absolute prohibition but a recognition that the majority of Christians will experience the liturgy in a parish church. Thus, in this particular case where there seemingly is a hole in the liturgical law, one may draw from the principles of the Church’s traditional usage to fill the hole. Doing so means that oratories in the CIC/83 are—at least in some cases—a parallel situation to churches and, consequently, can celebrate their titular’s feast as a solemnity under I, 4, c of the Table of Liturgical Days.
An optional memorial or a solemnity… indeed to very different results. Determining the best solution would require one do some research into the drafting of the new norms of the liturgical calendar to find out if there is a specific reason why oratories are not included in the norms. Likewise, studies would have to be made to see what can be gleaned from the drafting process of cann. 1205 – 1229 with regard to the essential differences between churches and oratories. Unfortunately, the question is not important enough to drive me to do either of these.
* The categories in the 1917 CIC were church, public oratory, semi-public oratory, and private oratory. The 1983 CIC collapsed public oratories into the church category, renamed semi-public oratories to simply oratories, and designated private oratories as private chapels.