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Despite falling on Sunday, St. Patrick symbols will still be present at cathedral Mass

A statue of St. Patrick is surrounded by blessed shamrocks at the 2012 St. Patrick's Day Mass at the cathedral. The tradition of distributing the shamrocks after the Mass will continue this year. Pilot file photo/Gregory L. Tracy

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SOUTH END -- While this year's Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on March 17 will be celebrated using the liturgy of the Fifth Sunday of Lent rather than the liturgy of the Feast of St. Patrick, the Boston Catholic traditions saluting the local patron will continue this year.

"We will have a Mass on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, with all of the readings of Lent, and with the purple vestments of the Lenten Sunday, and there will be a statue of St. Patrick, in the Church most likely, and we will talk about St. Patrick," Father Jonathan Gaspar, director of the Office of Worship, said.

The Pilot confirmed with the Office of Worship that in keeping with one beloved Boston tradition, shamrocks will be blessed during the Mass and will be distributed afterward by Bishop Robert P. Deeley who was to celebrate the liturgy on behalf of Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley -- who is now in Rome for the conclave to elect the next pope.

"We can do that because St. Patrick followed Christ. We can use stories from his life that would help us to apply the Gospel of that Sunday to our own," Father Gaspar said.

He explained that the liturgical days of the Church have a kind of hierarchy, with the Sundays of Lent holding particular prestige because Christ's death and resurrection make up the heart of the Gospel.

"Even though he is our patron saint, and we have such a large number of Irish in Boston, we cannot celebrate the liturgical Feast of St. Patrick on that Sunday," he said.

He said the rest of the Archdiocese of Boston will also celebrate the Mass with the liturgy of the Fifth Sunday of Lent that day.

"Sundays of Lent outrank any of the feast days of a saint. It can never be replaced by the patron of a local Church," Father Gaspar said.

Father Gaspar said celebrating the lives of the saints never takes the place of celebrating the Eucharist as Christians, because liturgical feast days dedicated to saints celebrate the ideal of Christian example in commitment to Christ, not the saints themselves.

"Any time we focus on a saint, any time we celebrate a saint, we are celebrating Jesus Christ. The saints are examples of what it means live a Christian life, to follow Christ," Father Gaspar said.

"That's what the saints do. They are in living color, the Gospel, the word of God," he said.

The feast of a patron saint allows Boston Catholics to observe their traditions -- involving corned beef and cabbage to whatever extent -- at home outside of Mass, Father Gaspar added.

He said some restrictions of Lent could be lifted for the meal celebrating the feast, precisely because St. Patrick is Boston's patron saint, as they have been in years past.

"The only day you couldn't have a corned beef is if, say, it fell on a Friday, and in that case in Boston in the past the archbishop has given permission for Catholics who wish to celebrate St. Patrick's day to eat corned beef on a Friday in Lent -- provided it is not Good Friday," Father Gaspar said.

On Good Friday, he said, Catholics would never receive such an exemption -- even in Boston for St. Patrick's Day.

"We like results as Catholics. We are results oriented, but for us the best results are saints. So, when you think about the Gospel or the teachings of the Church, you want to see results? Fine. Look at the saints, because those are the results of everything that we have learned, that the Church teaches us in the Gospels, and that Christ continues to instruct us in," Father Gaspar said.

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