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St. Saturninus and
Some Curiosities
of the  Roman Missal

Louis J. Tofari


On the 29th day of November, the Roman Church commemorates St. Saturninus!


In relation to this feast day—or dies natalis, his birthday into heaven—of a martyr of Rome, I would like to explain some of the printing and organizational curiosities of the Missale Romanum, otherwise known as the altar missal for the traditional Roman Mass.


Among the varied classes that I give during my Master of Ceremonies Seminar (also affectionately known as the “MC Boot Camp”) is a section-by-section review of the Missale Romanum and another on how to setup the various Mass propers and other parts in the altar missal such as the Preface.


One area of the missal that requires some time and practice for budding masters of ceremonies is the Proprium Sanctorum section—or Propers of the Saints—whose first calendar entry begins with the date of November 29th, which falls near the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year. (By way of contrast, the Proprium Temporum—or Propers of the Season—actually begins on the First Sunday of Advent.)


Thus confronting the MCs-in-training on the first page of the Proprium Sanctorum section is the commemoration of the martyr St. Saturnini, a name usually unknown to them. And yet this blessed name will somewhat stick in their minds as this Proper of the Saints entry becomes their first lesson on how to set up a Mass in this missal section. And as I prefaced earlier, this entry also illustrates some of the printing and organizational curiosities of the Missale Romanum.


Before giving an explanation of the various parts of the missal entry for St. Saturnini, let us honor his memory with an extract from the Roman Martyrology:


St Saturninus

At Rome, on the Via Salaris, the birthday of the holy martyrs Saturninus, an old man, and Sisinnius, a Deacon, under the Emperor Maximian: after they had been enfeebled for a long time in prison, the prefect of the city ordered them to be placed on the rack and stretched with straps, scoured with whips and scorpions, and then that fire should be applied to them, and they should be taken from the rack and beheaded.


It is interesting to note that another martyr by the name of Saturninus is also mentioned in the Martyrology on November 29th:


At Toulouse, St Saturninus, Bishop, who, in the time of Decius, was taken by the heathen to the Capitol of that city and was cast from its highest pinnacle down all the steps. Thus his head was broken and his brains dashed out, and, torn in all his body, he offered his worthy life to Christ.


Concerning our St. Saturninus, other sources describe him as an aged priest (and not just an old man) who fled from Carthage, Africa (once a great ecclesiastical see of the Catholic Church) to Rome with the deacon, Sisinnius, also mentioned in the Martyrology. Both of these men were arrested in Rome, sentenced to hard labor (supposedly in building one of the Roman baths), tortured and eventually beheaded, some say in the year 303, others in 309. It is also said that St. Saturninus converted many Roman pagans to the Faith not only due to his preaching and example, but from his physical appearance of holiness.


St. Saturninus was buried along the Via Saleria of Rome, and eventually his body was placed in a catacomb named after him and a martyred layman, St. Thrason. Most likely, these two martyrs knew each other in life, as can be implied from the Martyrology entry given in the appendix below.


It is also noteworthy that the Catacomb of SS. Thrason and Saturninus is renowned for its ancient Christian decorations in the form of wall murals. The holy remains of Saturninus were later transferred to a side altar in the Minor Basilica of Sts. John and Paul, where most of them rest today. (Readers might be interested in the additional information that the blogger, The Roman Sacristan, has to offer about St. Saturninus’ relics).

Let’s now move on to an examination of the entry page for the Proprium Sanctorum section and what it has to tell us.






Missa Lætabitur, de Communi

unius Martyris 4° loco (8), cum orationibus ut infra.


First there is a monthly header, Festa Novembris (Feasts of November). Then there is a date header, Die 29 Novemberis (On the Day of November 29th). Under this is a name header, with the Latin name of the saint, S. Saturnini. Following the saint’s name is his type or classification, Martyris (Martyr)—note also that this latter part is printed in red ink.


Below the name header and printed in red is the rank of the feast day, Commemoratio (Commemoration). This means that in most places the ferial Mass of the preceding Sunday will be offered with a commemoration of St. Saturnini (i.e., just saying the collects which will be explained below). But for example, if a church is named after him, then the feast would be of I Class and his Mass would be offered instead (with a commemoration of the preceding Sunday during Low Masses but omitted at sung Masses).

Following the classification rank, the missal entry then tells us what Mass should be used for St. Saturnini (if it can be offered in its entirety versus a mere commemoration). Since this is a rubric, this part is also printed in red, with the exception of two items: 1) the name of the Mass, and 2) the missal’s page number where it can be found in the Commune Sanctorum (Common of the Saints) section.


Just as in a daily missal, the Common of the Saints section offers the Mass propers that are shared by the various ranks of saints, because to print these out for each saint would require a triple-thick missal! So a full entry for the Mass propers will not be found in the Proprium Sanctorum, unless the saint(s) has his/her own special set of propers—and even then, they may still borrow a proper or two from the Commune Sanctorum section.


The Mass assigned for St. Saturnini is called Laetabitur from the first word of the Introit, and it is de Communi unius Martyris (from the Common of one Martyr). Thus from this entry, we know for certitude that the St. Saturnini being commemorated is the martyr of Rome and not the martyred bishop of Toulouse; otherwise the propers for a single martyred bishop (i.e., one of the Masses Pro Martyre Pontifice, Masses I-IV) would have been appointed.


On the same rubrical line, we also see 4° loco which means “in the fourth place” referring to the fourth Altera Missa (Another Mass) that can be offered for a martyr not a bishop (Pro Martyre Non Pontifice) followed by (8) which refers to the page number in the Commune Sanctorum section where this Mass can be found.

Proprium Sanctorum page from Missale Romanum published by Benziger.
Commune Sanctorum page from Missale Romanum published by Benziger.

There are also some publishing curiosities surrounding the aforementioned numeral indicators:


  1. The Arabic numeral “4” and the degree symbol “°” are used in the rubrical text of the Proprium Sanctorum entry, but in the Commune Sanctorum section, the fourth place is marked with the Roman numeral “IV” and without the degree symbol.

  2. In some missals—depending on the printer’s practice—the page numbers for the Commune Sanctorum section are encased in square brackets [] versus round ones (), but in the 1962 Bezinger edition, round ones were used.


These numeral settings are then followed by cum orationibus ut infra (with the prayers as follows), referring to the three prayers printed below, namely, the Oratio (Collect), Secreta (Secret), and Postcomunio (Postcommunion), also known as collects.


These collects have been printed in full because each of them are proper (or particular) to St. Saturnini as opposed to being shared from the Commune Sanctorum. Another interesting printing aspect (though not seen here) is if the collects were taken from the Commune Sanctorum section, some missals mark this with a capital letter “C” printed in black ink on the right margin side of the word Oratio, etc. And if there is a mixture of borrowing from the Commune Sanctorum and one or two that are proper, the proper ones will be marked similarly with a black “P” indicating the prayer is proper to the saint.


The advantage of having these collects printed within the Proprium Sanctorum section—as we see here with the entry for St. Saturninus—is two-fold: 1) it does not require an additional ribbon to mark the various parts in the missal that the priest will use during that Mass, and 2) the name of the saint is already properly declined, whereas in the Commune Sanctorum texts, the name is simply indicated by a red N. for where it should be inserted.


There are many more printing or organizational curiosities in the Missale Romanum—which in itself is a unique liturgical book in the universal Catholic Church—and hopefully in the near future more of these examples can be explored.


Meanwhile, St. Saturninus, pray for us!

Martyology Extract for St. Thrason


“11th December: In Rome, St. Thrason, who, employing his wealth, not only to nourish the Christians who were employed in the baths and other public works, but also, those who were in prison; was arrested by order of Emperor Maximian, and received the crown of martyrdom, with Pontian and Pretextatus, his town companions in 293.” The Roman and British Martyrology (O'Neill and Duggan, 1846) [access it online via Google Books].

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