I was working on my weekly article for the paper, for the column that gave this blog its original name and purpose, and turned up something that might interest you.
The column this week is about the section in the Roman Canon called the “Nobis quoque peccatoribus”. Here are some bits and pieces.
In celebrations of Holy Mass using the 1962MR the priest would elevate his voice with the first three words, which started in about the 9th c., and also strike his breast, which began in about the 12th c. Raising the voice was probably an indication to the subdeacons and various ministers present to get into the proper position for the fractio panis (“breaking of the bread”).
WDTPRS 2003 SLAVISH VERSION:
Deign to give also to us Your sinner servants, hoping from the great number of Your mercies, some part and fellowship with John, Stephan, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia and all Your saints: amongst whose lot admit us we beg You, not as the appraiser of our intrinsic merit, but the gracious bestower of forgiveness. Through Christ our Lord.
In celebrations of Holy Mass with the Ordinary Form there is an option to leave out most of the names of the saints. Does your priest suppress the names of all those women?
The scholar Pierre Henri Batiffol (+1929) thought this section was composed around the time of Pope Symmachus (+514). In the opinion of J. Jungmann the final version of this list, as in the Communicantes earlier in the Canon, was by Pope St. Gregory the Great (+604). There are parallels in the lists: there are two groups of seven, one of men and one of women. Among the men there is a hierarchical order. The women come from different parts of the Christian world and suggest an awareness of the Church’s universality.
There is a clear reference in our prayer to Psalm 50(51):3, the Miserere: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy (iuxta multitudinem miserationum tuarum) blot out my transgressions” (RSV) and a less clear reference to Col 1:12: “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints (in partem sortis sanctorum) in light” (RSV). The ancient bishop martyr St. Polycarp (69-155) wrote to the Philippians: “and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints… det vobis sortem et partem inter sanctos suos” (12, 2). We are dealing here with a very ancient desire and goal of Christians.
CORRECTED ICEL TRANSLATION
(with emphases to show changes from the LAME DUCK ICEL version):
To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs: with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, (Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia) and all your Saints: admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon, through Christ our Lord.
Whenever we look at a prayer we must consider the one to whom it is being said and who is saying it.
So, who is the nos, the “us” of this prayer?
In the Supplices te rogamus the priest was praying in the name of everyone present. I do not think that that is the case here.
We may be able to draw a clue from ancient letters, an ancient epistolary usage.
While the nos peccatores famuli can by extension mean everyone present, I think the praying celebrant may be referring to the bishop/priest(s) of the Church.
Peccator or “sinner” was a common term of self-identification for clerics in the early Church. Priests and bishops would sign their letters with their name and the epithet “sinner”, in Latin peccator, Greek tapeinós (“humbled, abased in power, pride”) which is very much the same thing in this context.
This may be why today bishops sign their names a little “+”, such as “+ Joe Bagofdoughnuts, Bishop of Black Duck”. In Greek, the epithet tapeinós was abbreviated with the first letter, tau, which is like a little cross. This is the same as the use of peccator, “sinner”, for clerics in the Latin West.
So… when people refer to some bishop or other as “plus Joe”, they are losing sight of what the little mark may really mean.