Honorific title comes with certain rights, duties and privileges, including being a 'center of active and pastoral liturgy'

DETROIT — When a church is designated as a basilica, in addition to the honor and dignity that comes with the use of the title, certain liturgical and pastoral expectations also arise.

According to the 1989 document Domus Ecclesiae from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which amended earlier norms established after the Second Vatican Council, a basilica is expected to “stand out as a center of active and pastoral liturgy” and “set an example for others” in the dignified celebration of the sacraments and devotions.

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Among other requirements, such as a sufficiently large church well-suited for the liturgy and historical significance to the diocese, basilicas are expected to be especially attentive to the active participation of the faithful in liturgical celebrations.

To that end, Domus Ecclesiae lists four “offices and duties” proper to a minor basilica:

Liturgical education

“In a minor basilica the liturgical instruction of the faithful is to be promoted by establishing groups concerned with liturgical activity, by special courses of instruction … and by other programs of this kind,” the document states.

To do this, the document recommends especially “the study and popularization of documents coming from the Supreme Pontiff and the Holy See, especially those pertaining to the sacred liturgy.”

Special seasons

Domus Ecclesiae also states that though the whole liturgical calendar is “to be prepared and carried out with great care,” the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter carry a special significance.

“The word of God is to be diligently proclaimed either in homilies or in special sermons,” it states. “The active participation of the faithful is to be promoted both in the Eucharistic celebration and in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, especially at Morning and Evening Prayer,” in addition to other approved devotions.

Singing the Mass

“Since the celebration of the liturgy takes on a more noble form when it is carried out in song, care must be taken that gatherings of the Christian faithful be associated with the singing of the various parts of the Mass, especially those found in the Ordinary,” the document states.

“In a basilica where the faithful from different nations or languages frequently come together, it is useful that they should know how to sing together in Latin the profession of faith and the Lord’s Prayer, using more simple melodies like those composed in Gregorian chant which is ‘proper to the Roman Liturgy.’”

Special feasts

“To make clear the particular bond of communion by which the minor basilica is united with the Roman cathedra of Peter, every year there must be celebrated with particular care:

  1. the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle (Feb. 22);
  2. the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles (June 29);
  3. the anniversary of the Supreme Pontiff’s election or inauguration into the supreme ministry.”

This article was first published in The Michigan Catholic newspaper in March 2015. To receive Detroit Catholic email updates in your inbox daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to our e-newsletter.