Saints of the Roman Canon: The First Eucharistic Prayer

08-09-2020Weekly ReflectionShawn Tribe

In union with and venerating the memory of, in the first place, the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Lord Jesus Christ, but also blessed Joseph, spouse of the same Virgin, and your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James and John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Thaddeus: Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and all your Saints by whose merits and prayers grant that we may in all things be fortified by the aid of your protection."

The above is taken from the "Communicantes", so referred to because that is the Latin word which begins the prayer. It is found early in the Roman Canon.

How often do we hear these words and do not perhaps stop to consider the saints whose names are there mentioned? Evidently we need no introduction to the Blessed Apostles, nor to Our Lady or St. Joseph, however some of the other names may be less familiar to some of our readers. Accordingly, perhaps there would be some value to quickly take a look at them and who they are.

In the first instance, after the Mother of God and St. Joseph, we have the twelve apostles: "...and your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James and John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude..."

After the twelve, we are presented with another twelve names, and these are:

"...Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian..."

The first three names are accounted as three of the earliest successors of St. Peter.

St. Linus is considered the first successor to the papacy after St. Peter in Rome -- though in some sources he is put later. St. Irenaeus suggests that he was consecrated a bishop by St. Paul. The Liber Pontificalis suggests he was from Tuscany, but there is no other extant source for this information.

St. Cletus [or Anacletus] is thought to have succeeded St. Linus in the See of Rome from ca. A.D. 76-88. The Liber Pontificalis says that Cletus was a Roman by birth.

St. Clement is considered the third successor of St. Peter, sitting as Roman pontiff from ca. A.D. 88-97. He was the author of an epistle to the Corinthians. Of him, St. Irenaeus suggests that he "had seen the Prince of the Apostles, had associated with tradition before his eyes." Tertullian suggested that Roman tradition held he was ordained by St. Peter.

St. Sixtus, or Xystus; there were two popes with the name of Xystus in the early Church, though that mentioned in the Canon of the Mass, various commentaries suggest, was St. Sixtus II who reigned as pope only from A.D. 257-258, at which time he was martyred under the persecutions of the Emperor Valerian. A letter of St. Cyprian suggest he was captured in the catacomb of Callistus and immediately executed, though the method of his execution is debated.

St. Cornelius was likewise a Pope, reigning from ca. A.D. 251-253. He was banished to Civitavecchia by the Emperor Gallus. He is considered a martyr.

St. Cyprian is the first mentioned in this list who was not pope but was a bishop. He was thought to have been from great wealth and education, and was martyred by beheading in Carthage in A.D. 258.

St. Lawrence was a deacon and martyr, and one of the seven deacons of the Roman church, martyred under the same Valerian edict in which St. Sixtus II was martyred, only a few days later. He is one of the most celebrated Roman martyrs.

St. Chrysogonus is considered a martyr. The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests he suffered martyrdom at Aquileia, possibly during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian.

Ss. John and Paul were martyrs who were martyred in the time of Julian the Apostate, half brother of the Emperor Constantine.

Ss. Cosmas and Damian are thought to have been physicians who were martyred in Cyr, Syria, around A.D. 287 during the Diocletian persecutions. The cult of these saints are also found in the Christian East.

This takes us through the listing of the names mentioned in the Roman Communicantes -- I specify Roman for it is worth noting as a point of interest that in other traditions, for example the Ambrosian Canon, some of the names are different and not necessarily in this order.

This is also not the only such listing of saints within the Roman Canon. After the consecration, during the Nobis quoque peccatoribus another listing is found:

"...with John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and with all Thy saints."

We have already considered the saints of the Roman Canon who were invoked in the Communicantes and we now turn to the second great invocation which follows in the Nobis Quoque. However, before we do that, some mention surely must be made of the Supra Quae since our concern is also more generally with the various figures mentioned within the Canon:

"Deign to look with propitious and serene countenance on them, and to accept them, as you deigned to consider acceptable the gifts of your just servant Abel, and the sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham, and what your high priest Melchizedek offered you, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.

Here we see three figures of the Old Testament mentioned: Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek. Each of these offered to God sacrifices which were pleasing to Him (Abel: Genesis 4:4, Melchizedek, Genesis 14:18-20, Abraham: Genesis 22), and the same is asked of the sacrifice made present within the Mass.

That briefly noted, let us turn our attention back to our main point of focus, the Nobis Quoque.

To us sinners, also, your servants, who hope in your many mercies, deign to grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs: John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all your Saints.

John here comes in reference to St. John the Baptist (though as Archdale King notes, while that "seems certain" there is some vagueness about this point):

It seems certain that the reference is to the Baptist rather than to the Evangelist, and a decree of the Congregation of Rites to that effect was issued in 1824. This was rescinded, for some unknown reason, in 1898, so that we are permitted to take our choice as to which John is commemorated, although it would seem unlikely that a name would be duplicated in the lists of the canon.

-- Liturgy of the Roman Church, p. 338

However, V.L. Kennedy in The Saints of the Canon of the Mass (Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, Roma: 1963) rather plainly attributes the reference as being to St. John the Baptist:

The practice of commemorating St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen, the first martyr, in the prayer for the dead was very common in the East. [NLM: note that the saints commemorated in the nobis quoque immediately follow the memento of the dead] The fact that we find this practice, and along with it the phrase... which is the equivalent of the Latin, partem aliquam et societatem donare digneris cum tuis sanctis, in use in the church of Alexandria and in the rites that have their origin at that city, leads one to suspect that the composer of the Nobis quoque borrowed directly from Alexandria. (p. 152)

Kennedy further comments that "The remembrance of the dead is accompanied by a mention of the Blessed Virgin, St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen in the following Eastern liturgies: Coptic Jacobite, Abyssinian Jacobite..." (p. 45)

Next we have mention of St. Stephen, deacon and protomartyr, whose martyrdom we read of in the book of Acts, chapters 6 and 7. This is followed by St. Matthias, the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26) and St. Barnabas, the companion of St. Paul, who is often thought of as a kind of apostle -- or as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes it, "styled an Apostle... and, like St. Paul, ranked by the Church with the Twelve, though not one of them." As Kennedy himself suggests, the inclusion of Matthias and Barnabas then would seem to be a completion of the list of the apostles found in the Communicantes.

The next four saints we shall look at only briefly. Ignatius comes in reference to St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop who was martyred in the reign of Trajan (ca. A.D. 98-117). With regard to the mention of Alexander, Kennedy notes the difficulty in ascertaining which St. Alexander this might have come in reference to, though he seems to leans toward "St. Alexander martyr, buried in the Cemetery of the Jordani... one of the group of seven whose names are found on July 10th in the Depositio Martyrum of 354 in the Hieronymian Martyrology and Leonine Sacramentary." This is followed next by mention of Ss. Marcellinus and Peter, two martyrs, attributed by some ancient sources as a priest and exorcist respectively.

We finally conclude the saints mentioned in the Roman Canon with seven female saints: "Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia." These women saints are all rather well and popularly known, so suffice it to simply point out the following, which is of some interest:

+ Ss. Felicity and Perpetua were martyrs from Africa (though Kennedy wishes to make a case that the Felicity here mentioned might instead be St. Felicity of Rome);
+ Ss. Agatha and Lucy were both martyred in Sicily;
+ Ss. Agnes and Cecilia, martyrs in Rome;
+ St. Anastasia, also a martyr in what is today Croatia.