Our creeds tell us that we believe in “the communion of saints.”
Our Eucharists tell us that, in the consecratory act we are “joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven.”
These are important but rather non-specific ways of talking about our larger eccesiology. These two statements remind us that when we gather in the church on a Sunday morning (or other times) for a Eucharist there are more who gather than we see; our “we” and “us” are not simply limited to those physically and visibly present.
The Rite I Post-Communion Prayer may say it best: “we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…”
Now—“all faithful people” has a pretty wide scope. This helps break open the sense that we are more than the folks in this room, but almost broadens the scope to near incomprehension, not leaving us much better than we were to begin with.
How do we get a concrete sense of who these people are?
The central place where we get a picture of this in an Anglican environment is the church kalendar. Specifying people to be liturgically celebrated in Mass, the Offices, or both, is our primary vehicle for naming the company who surrounds us and joins us when we gather for worship.
In most of the Anglo-Catholic places I’ve been, a litany of the saints is chanted during the procession to the font during the rite of Baptism which seems a particularly appropriate time to be naming the saints who surround us and who have preceded it into the Body of Christ.
In both the kalendar and the litany, the church never claims—should never claim—that its lists are exhaustive. Rather, they are representational. They indicate a tiny fraction of this great host—just enough for us to get a sense of what kind of people inhabit our spiritual community. Furthermore, the Commons of the saints present us with helpful categories for grouping and conceptualize those who are in this company.
So—to summarize—the liturgy’s construction of the sanctoral cycle and sanctoral categories performs a valuable function in terms of giving us a tangible, comprehensible sense of who the church is.
More on this to follow…