I was thinking aloud a few days ago about the liturgical act of acknowledging the dimensions of our spiritual community. It occurs to me that a quick glance at the Sarum Rite will give some really interesting examples of what I mean… (Note: most of the things I say here will be broadly applicable to the Historic Western Liturgy—I’m just focusing on the Late Sarum because it gives a nice nailed-down example that I can conveniently point to.)
First, there’s the exercise of the capitular office. Four major things happened here. First, it was the monastic/cathedral daily check-in meeting. Second, there was a reading from the Rule or the Fathers. Items three and four are the reason I’m bring it up. Third, it was a list of obits that identified anyone in the community’s records who had died on that day. Fourth, the hagiographies were reviewed for the saints who would be celebrated that evening and the next day.
Before Mass on Sundays there was a procession. That procession would include the following prayers bid by the priest “in the mother tongue”:
“Let us make our Prayers to God,” [here was sometimes added, “Our Lord Jesu Christ, to our Ladie S. Mary, and all the Company of Heaven,”] beseeching His Mercy for all Holy Church, that God keep it in good estate, especially the Church of England, our Mother Church, this Church, and all others in Christendom.” [Here sometimes was added, “For our Lord the Pope, for the Patriarch of Jerusalem, for the Cardinals.”] “For the Archbishops and Bishops, and especially for our Bishop N., that God keep him in his holy service. For the Dean or Rector, or all other Ministers, that serve this Church.” [This was sometimes varied “For your ghostly father, and for Priests and Clerkes that herein serve or have ferved, for all men and women of religion, for all other men of Holy Church.”] For the Holy Land [and the Holy Cross], that God deliver it out of the hand of the heathen; for the Peace of the Church and of the earth; for our Sovereign Lord the King, and the Qyeen, and all their children. For [Dukes, Earls, and Barons, and for all that have the peace of this land to keep], all that have this land to govern. For the welfare of N. and N., and all this Church’s friends. [For all that live in deadly sin.] For our brethren and sisters, and all our Parishioners, and all that do any good to this Church or Foundation. For yourselves, that God for His mercy grant you grace so to live as your soul to save, and for all true Christian people.
Thus we’ve got a naming here of a whole bunch of folks—from the saints to the geographically dispersed to the deceased to one another. It does name quite a community to keep in mind.
At the beginning of the Mass itself, we have a form of the Confiteor:
I confess to God, to blessed Mary, to all the saints, and to you, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, by my fault : I pray holy Mary, all the saints of God, and you, to pray for me.
I’m more used to the modern form where it calls out more of the saints by name, however, Not only does the Confiteor name the saints—mirroring the prayer at the procession—it places them in the proper relationship to us; we pray together for one another.
The beginning of the Canon of the Mass likewise begins with a very clear naming of the gathered spiritual community (rubrics are parenthetical):
…together with thy servants our Pope N. and our Bishop N. (That is to say, the bishop of the diocese only,) and our King N. (The above persons are mentioned by name. Then shall follow : ) and all who are orthodox, and who hold the catholic and apostolic faith. Remember, O Lord, thy servants and thy handmaidens N. and N. (in praying for whom a due order dictated by charity ought to be observed. The priest prays five times : firstly for himself; secondly for his father and mother, that is to say both carnal and spiritual, and for his other relations; thirdly, for his special friends, parishioners and otherwise; fourthly, for all persons present; fifthly, for all Christian people; and here the priest may commend all his own friends to God. I counsel, however, that no one should pause at this point too long, both on account of possible distractions of mind, and also on account of suggestions which may be made by evil angels, as well as on account of other dangers.) and all here present, whose faith is approved, and whose devotion is known to thee; on behalf of whom we offer unto thee, or who offer unto thee this sacrifice of praise, for themselves and for all pertaining to them, for the redemption of their souls, for the hope of their own salvation and security, and who are paying their vows unto thee, the eternal, living, and true God. In communion with and reverencing the memory, in the first place, of the glorious and ever virgin (inclining a little as he says,) Mary, mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ ; As also of thy blessed apostles and martyrs—Peter, Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Thaddseus, Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian. Laurence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and of all thy saints; through whose merits and prayers do thou grant that in all things we may be defended by the aid of thy protection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
That initial “together” kicks off quite a clear naming of who all has gathered: the living, the dead, the saints, and anybody else who might not fall neatly into any of those categories.
That’s just a few examples; doubtless many more could be produced. Notice something here: all of these prayers are very much present tense. The point is not that they’re liturgically remembering historical figures—however fondly. Rather, these prayers are naming the current, present members of the spiritual community whether they happen to be visibly present or not.
Now, this rite does a great job with this liturgical naming—when it’s considered as a text. The actual liturgical experience of it would be quite different. The laity would hear the processional prayer in their native tongue; the monastic or cathedral Chapter would here the capitular office; the confiteor would be heard by the altar party and basically only the priest would have heard the section that starts the Canon. There’s a great ecclesiology present here; the fact that so much of it is liturgically inaccessible to the majority of the physically gathered community does seem a little ironic.