On the Avatar and Liturgy

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 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:

  1. An opening collect that goes at the beginning of the service after the introit,
  2. 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,
  3. A proper preface [often marked as Praefat] which follows the introductory dialogue (sursum corda) at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer,
  4. A prayer at the conclusion [marked Ad Comp] of the Eucharist,
  5. a prayer over the people [marked Ad Pop/uli],
  6. 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…)

9 thoughts on “On the Avatar and Liturgy

  1. John-Julian, OJN

    By the way, Derek, re. liturgical books: what do you make of the new Roman Catholic “Book of the Chair”? (I know, it is not pre-13th century, so automatically irrelevant to you – grin!)

    I am interested in that (and have made one for use at the monastery) because the very existence of the book implies a liturgical position, i.e., a Presider’s Chair separated from the altar.

    On a practical level I find that it is wonderful to have everything preceding the Offertory in one book: all proper Collects (including LFF), all Hymnal musical settings for Glorias/Kyries, appropriate topical Collect for Prayers of the People, and a proper Offertory Verse. This does away with juggling a bunch of books: BCP, Hymnal, LFF, Psalter, etc. Also, it is interesting that it virtually demands a lectern at the Presider’s chair (or a Deacon to hold the Book).

    I wonder how many historical liturgical books might give us insights about ceremonies just by the very existence of the books and the way they were used?

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    Huh–I’ve never heard of that before…

    (For the rest) From what I can find it has everything that the presider needs from the sacramentary for the parts of the Mass before the Eucharist and is kept at the presider’s chair. So, it is essentially a parallel document with the altar book: the altar book has the altar stuff and stays at the altar, the chair book stays at the chair…

    That does make sense. You’re right about needing a lectern or attendant, though.

    The division of materials between all the various types of books does tell us quite a lot about liturgical use, norms, and expectations. Hence my sadness at the move from sacramentary to missal and from collectar to breviary… Although, putting BCPs in the hands of everybody was a big step back in the right direction.

  3. Michelle of Heavenfield

    I have been trying to figure out what your avatar is for a long time. For quite a while I thought it was an odd looking M, but that never seemed to fit either. Yes, I do see the v and d now. How fitting that you took the symbol for a proper…

  4. aconservativeblogforpeace

    I love it!

    All this time I thought it was something like a fractal drawing/painting, two parabolæ ballooning out like a tie-dye pattern.

    Then when I first saw this entry listed I thought it was a calligraphic W.

    Now I know: vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare…

  5. Annie

    If I picked an avatar, I wouldn’t have a clue what it meant. I saved the original page you posted with it on it thinking I might work it with a needle someday.


  6. Lee

    Man, you and LutherPunk are much more thoughtful and self-aware than I am. I just love Elvis and Aloha from Hawaii. But why?, you may ask. Hmmm….icon of Americana in all its glory and excess? Yeah, I’ll go with that…

  7. Kit

    Annie, when I saw your post, i think i was thinking of an entirely different needle…which probably came from my link here from lutherpunk’s blog =)

  8. Annie

    Uh . . . yeah. ;)

    When I saw it, I thought I could render it well in fine cross stitch.

    I do a lot of needlework: knitting, crocheting, quilting (it might make a nice quilted motif, too) . . .

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