Liturgical Glossary Part II


This week’s explanation of liturgical terms focuses on words used for various elements of liturgical rites. Readers with access to the web will find other definitions in Liturgy Lines dated 20th August 2000.
A canticle is a song used in liturgy that comes from scripture but is not a psalm. The three best-known canticles are the Benedictus (the song of Zechariah), the Magnificat (Mary’s song), and the Nunc Dimittis (the song of Simeon) that are sung at morning, evening and night prayer respectively. All three come from Luke’s gospel. Morning prayer includes a canticle from the Old Testament and evening prayer a canticle from the New Testament.
The word canon is used in a number of ways in the church, such as ‘the canon of scripture’, and ‘canon law’. In every case, it has the sense of something that is fixed and unchanging because ‘canon’ derives from the Greek word for a measuring rod. The canon of scripture, therefore, means the list of those writings which are officially recognised and accepted by the Church as the inspired word of God and are included in the Bible.
In liturgy, the canon of the Mass refers to the Eucharistic Prayer, that great prayer of thanksgiving which always includes, amongst other elements, the epiclesis (the calling down of the Holy Spirit on the gifts of bread and wine and on the people gathered), institution narrative (the retelling of the scriptural account of Christ’s words and actions at the last supper), anamnesis (meaning ‘not forgetting’, that part of the Eucharistic Prayer which recalls Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension) and the final doxology (‘through him, with him, in him…’).
Collect is the term for the prayer which concludes the Introductory Rites of the Mass and the prayer at the end of morning and evening prayer. They are now often called ‘opening prayer’ and ‘concluding prayer’ respectively. The term ‘collect’, however, better indicates the nature of the prayer. It follows the call “Let us pray” after which the members of the assembly pray in silence. The words proclaimed by the presider ‘collect’ the petitions of the assembly into a single prayer.
A collect has the basic structure of YOU (we begin by addressing God), WHO (we name who God is for us), DO (we petition God to act, to ‘do’ something), THROUGH (we pray to God ‘ through Christ our Lord’ or similar words).
A litany is the name given to a repetitive form of communal prayer in which the assembly sings or recites a common response to a series of petitions or acclamations sung by a cantor or proclaimed by a reader. It comes from the Greek word litaneia which means petition or supplication. A good example of a litany is the Litany of the Saints that is prayed during the celebration of Baptism. Examples of litanies included in the Order of Mass are the Penitential Rite with its ‘Lord/ Christ have mercy’ response and the ‘Lamb of God’ which is sung during the fraction rite, the breaking and pouring out of the consecrated bread and wine.

Elizabeth Harrington