Michelle at Heavenfield was asking about avatars. And I’ve been intending to get back to talking about early medieval liturgy. Sorry, but putting together a pedagogically helpful structured sequence of posts that lay everything out in good order is more than I can muster at the present time. Rather, it’ll be bits and pieces that perhaps I’ll try to connect logically at a later date. I mention these two things (avatars and liturgy) together because they’re related…
My avatar is, in fact, a liturgical symbol.
Early medieval sacramentaries are books for the Mass used by the priest. They’re different from missals because missals include more material—they have stuff that the priest wouldn’t pray given a full liturgical crowd. A sacramentary only has the priest’s parts. (On this way of structuring liturgical books and its theological implications see this piece of mine at the Cafe.)
Sacramentaries have material that can profitably be classified in two parts: ordinaries and propers. Ordinaries are those prayers or elements that are used all year long. Preeminently, this means the canon of the Mass. Propers are material that change whether seasonally, weekly, or daily. The bulk of a sacramentary is taken up by “mass sets.” These are collections of a number of prayers—anywhere from four to six or so—that provide the “proper” elements for the occasion, that is, the things that change. The full Eucharistic prayer is not complete until these items are plugged into their proper place.
Major days may get these six proper elements:
- An opening collect that goes at the beginning of the service after the introit,
- An offering prayer (also known as the secret as it was said inaudibly) [typically marked as sub obl or secreta]* wherein the bread and wine to be consecrated are offered to God,
- A proper preface [often marked as Praefat] which follows the introductory dialogue (sursum corda) at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer,
- A prayer at the conclusion [marked Ad Comp] of the Eucharist,
- a prayer over the people [marked Ad Pop/uli],
- and a benediction [marked Benedict].
*Rubrics are at all the whim of scribes, different books may use different designations. For solid guidance on this matter generally look to Andrew Hughes which is essential for understanding manuscript layout—just be warned he covers sources from 1250 and later…
Mass sets for non-major days—especially weekdays—tend to just have numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5. These days don’t get their own proper preface and, properly speaking, only a bishop should give a benediction and these are often relegated to their own separate book. (I work a lot out of the Leofric Missal which was written for a bishop and thus has them…)
So—what does this have to do with my avatar? Because these prayers are designed to be inserted into pre-existing prayers, there is common transitional material. Since everyone knew what this was, these transitional phrases weren’t written out but were merely abbreviated with signs. My avatar is one of these. What looks like an odd ‘W’ is actually the joining of a V, a D, and a cross to abbreviate the standard phrase that begins proper prefaces: “Vere dignum et iustum est… (It is right and proper that we…)”
This one is taken from Cod. Sang. 342, a manuscript from the monastery of St. Gall and is a proto-missal that contains, in addition to a sacramentary, a Gospel lectionary and the earliest survival noted gradual. It was probably written by Hartker, a monk of St. Gall, who is a major figure for the study of early chant.
As to why I selected it—because I’m a liturgy geek. Was there really any question about that?
(And now I want LP and Lee to explain why they picked theirs…)