Roman Canon Series, Part II – “Church Militant, know thyself:” The Roman Canon and the Church Militant’s Call-to-Action
Nov 28, 2022

Roman Canon Series, Part II – “Church Militant, know thyself:” The Roman Canon and the Church Militant’s Call-to-Action

In his reflection on the “catholicity” of the Church, Cardinal Henri de Lubac (1896–1991) posits that “the Church is not Catholic” simply “because she is spread abroad over the whole of the earth and can reckon on a large number of members;” indeed, as he rightly notes, she “was already Catholic on the morning of Pentecost, when all her members could be contained in a small room.”1 Instead of mere geographic diffusion, the “catholicity” of the Church is, rather, rooted in the shared communion of mind and heart of “the new man” who is composed of individuals gathered as one Body, a Body whose Head is the Redeemer.2 A similar reflection is taken up by Romano Guardini who, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, maintains that the liturgy “is not celebrated by the individual, but by the body of the faithful,” which is “not composed merely of the persons who may be present in church” but “reaches out beyond the bounds of space to embrace all the faithful on earth.”3

In this second installment of our series on the Roman Canon, our focus turns from an examination of the historical foundations of the Canon to a discussion of the varied ways in which the Canon reminds the Church Militant—the faithful here on earth—of the bonds of communion shared on both the local and universal levels. This essay will primarily analyze one aspect of the Canon that underlines this “catholicity” of the Church and her liturgy—the intercessory prayers for the Church, that also includes the Memento for the living4—recognizing that there are other moments in the Canon that can likewise serve this purpose of highlighting the catholica of the Church.5

Help Wanted

The section of the Canon treating the general intercessions for the living members of the Church is not unique to this form of the Eucharistic Prayer. Indeed, all the Eucharistic Prayers—both in the Roman Rite and in the Eastern and non-Roman Western Rites6—include similar commemorations for the living, as well as those for the dead.7 However, when examining what we find in the Roman Canon, we see a certain specificity regarding the longed-for results of the petitions offered on behalf of the Church. The insight regarding the intercessions for the Church begins after the priest humbly asks the “most merciful Father” to “accept and bless” the oblation being offered. Having accomplished that, the priest then identifies the primary beneficiary of the sacrifice offered to the Father: “for your holy catholic Church.” Prosper Guéranger notes that “the first interest at stake, when Mass is said, is Holy Church, than which nothing is dearer to God; He cannot fail to be touched, when His Church is spoken of.”8

Indeed, prayers offered on behalf of the whole Church is something well-observed in the lives of the early martyrs, many of whom, like St. Polycarp (69–155 AD) and St. Fructuosus of Tarragona (d. 259 AD), beautifully offered their lives for “the whole Catholic Church.”9 Jungmann makes a point of noting the two ecclesial marks attributed to the Church in this section of the Canon that manifest her greatness: “The Church is holy; it is the assembly of those who are sanctified in water and in the Holy Spirit. […] And it is Catholic; according to God’s plan of grace, the Church is appointed for all peoples, and at the time this word was inserted into the canon it could be said triumphantly that it was actually spread to all peoples, toto orbe terrarum.”10

And what petition do we offer on behalf of God’s holy and catholic Church? That the Lord God may be “pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world.” The first two elements of the petition—to grant the Church peace (pacificare) and to guard her (custodire)—are tautological, though the latter (custodire) provides the needed negative expression of the former (pacificare), indicating that in order for the Church to be leaven for the world, she first needs to be protected from the dangers that rise up against her.11 But perhaps more important than these first two elements are the last two in which the Lord is asked to unite and govern his Church, pointing to the essence of “catholicity,” at least according to the minds of de Lubac and Guardini: the Church needs to avoid the poison of division by submitting herself to the God of Love, who joins his chosen people together in a familial bond.

Protect the Shepherds…

The chosen instruments to foster this familial bond of communion are then brought into our field of vision: “together with your servant N. our Pope and N. our bishop.”12 The word “papa”—“father”—taken from the Greek word “πάπας,” was initially used in reference to the local bishop. It was only after the sixth century that we find this affectionate title reserved for the name of the Bishop of Rome, whereas the local bishop was given a different, and seemingly more formal, sacral, title—“Antistite nostro,” “our bishop” or “high priest.”13

The essential element of communion to which the faithful are called to have with both the local Church and the universal Church are, thus, given an immediate frame of reference: not just with my own bishop, who stands in first place in my most immediate sphere of ecclesial life, but also with the Supreme Pontiff, the papa, whose mission it is to “confirm the brethren.”14 This is something we can trace in other rites whereby “those through whom the Spirit of God wills to direct the Church and hold it together as a visible society” are held aloft in the Church’s intercessions at the start of the Great Prayer of the Mass. What’s more, the other particular Churches in communion with the Apostolic See and, therefore, with the other individual local Churches, are likewise brought into consideration: “and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.”15

…And the Sheep

Although the pastors of the Church are given first billing in this intercessory section of the Canon, this is primarily done in light of the mission of their sacred ministry: to nourish the members of the flock who, themselves, participate directly in the sacrificial offering. The Memento for the living includes a number of poignant details that remind the faithful of their status as co-heirs of the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ. This first Memento, balanced at the end of the Canon by the subsequent Memento for the dead, begins by first providing the celebrant space to recall any particular intentions offered on behalf of the living members of the mystical Body of Christ: “Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N.16 Naturally, when the Canon began to be pronounced in a low whisper (the vox secreta) around the middle of the eighth century,17 the articulation of these names were either recalled mentally by the celebrant, pronounced in the vox secreta by the celebrant, or were whispered into his ear at those Masses where he had assistants around him, as in the Missa solemnis.18

However, an insight into one of the valued purposes of this section of the Canon can be gleaned from the restored catechumenate that was called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium,19 and the special Ritual Masses for the celebration of the Scrutinies that have been subsequently established in the current Missale Romanum.20 In these Ritual Masses, following the pattern established by the eighth-century Old Gelasian Sacramentary (Gelasianum vetus)21—a document containing many precious details about the rites of Christian initiation—the celebrant is instructed to insert the names of the godparents of the elect into the Canon at this point of the Eucharistic Prayer: “When the Roman Canon is used, in the section Memento, Domine (Remember, Lord, your servants) there is a commemoration of the godparents.”22 What’s more, the Missal anticipates that the names of the godparents are actually read out by the celebrant and not merely provided in a collective manner: “Remember, Lord, your servants who are to present your chosen ones for the holy grace of your Baptism, [rubric: “Here the names of the godparents are read out”] and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you.”23 The reason for the naming of the godparents rather than the elect is clear: within the context of the Canon, the only names mentioned are those belonging to the royal priesthood of the baptized.

This concept is brought home for us with the remainder of this section wherein the celebrant speaks of the “faith and devotion” of the gathered faithful, for whom the sacrifice is offered. Two insights can be noted here. The first is the way in which the Latin text refers to the faithful as “omnium circumstantium,” which in English is rendered “all gathered here.” The term “circumstantes” or, in some ancient versions of the Canon, “circum adstantes,” is not meant to indicate a sense of standing in a circle, though standing would have been the principal posture while listening to the Canon, as it still is in universal law.24 Instead, this term is reflective of the ancient basilica liturgies, wherein the altar stood between the sanctuary and the nave, “so that the faithful—especially if there was a transept—could form a semi-circle or ‘open ring,’ around the altar.”25

This insight draws greater significance when connected to the second insight of the Canon’s speaking of the manner of the offering of the oblation as either through the agency of the celebrant on behalf of the circumstantes—“For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise”—or through their own spiritual connectivity to the direct action of the celebrant at the altar—“or they offer it for themselves, and all who are dear to them.”26 This reminds us of the true nature of active participation (actuosa participatio) in that the faithful “are not idle spectators, even less a profane crowd; rather they are all together sharers in that sacred action with which we stand before Thee, O God.”27 And they unite their intentions with the intention of the priest-celebrant, maintaining the familial bonds of communion not only with their co-religionists, but also with “their own,” their family, neighbors, and friends.

Mission…to Be Accomplished

In this section of the Canon in which we have reflected on the mission of the Church Militant to foster communion inside and outside the bounds of the physical space of the church building, we are reminded of the words of the Holy Father in his recent Apostolic Letter Desiderio Desideravi where he states that “the Incarnation, in addition to being the only always new event that history knows, is also the very method that the Holy Trinity has chosen to open to us the way of communion. Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist. The Liturgy guarantees for us the possibility of such an encounter.”28 The Roman Canon, as the privileged patrimony of the Roman Rite, has provided us this opportunity as the living members of the Body of Christ to have such an encounter.

In our final installment of this series, we will examine how the Canon can lead us to not only solidify our communion with the members of the Church in the temporal realm, but also to solidify that communion with those members found in the supernatural realms of purification and beatitude.

Read part I of Fr. Ruiz’s series on the Roman Canon—“Roman Church, Know Thyself”—The Roman Canon and the Unique Patrimony of the Roman Rite—here, and look for part III in the next issue of AB Insight.

Father Ryan Ruiz is a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Currently, he serves as the Dean of the School of Theology, Director of Liturgy, Assistant Professor of Liturgy and Sacraments, and formation faculty member at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology, Cincinnati. Father Ruiz holds a doctorate in Sacred Liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’Anselmo, Rome.

Image Source: AB/Jeffrey Bruno on Flickr

Father Ryan T. Ruiz, S.L.D.

Father Ryan Ruiz was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in May of 2008. He currently serves as Dean of the School of Theology, Director of Liturgy, Assistant Professor of Liturgy and Sacraments, and formation faculty member at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology, Cincinnati.


  1. Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, tr. Lancelot C. Sheppard and Elizabeth Englund (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988) 48-49.
  2. De Lubac, Catholicism., 47.
  3. Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, tr. Ada Lane (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company/A Herder & Herder Book, 1998) 36 [“The Fellowship of the Liturgy”].
  4. Missale Romanum (2002), Ordo Missae nn. 84–85, from the line “in primis, quae tibi offerimus” in the Te igitur section, to the conclusion of the Memento, Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum.
  5. Two such moments that this essay will not be able to treat include the Anamnesis of the Canon (Ordo Missae n. 92–93, from the Unde et memores, through the conclusion of the Supra quae propitio ac sereno vultu), wherein we identify how the hierarchically established Church (“we, your servants and your holy people”) offers the oblation, and how she likewise does so in view of the types that had been established (Abel, Abraham, Melchizedek), thus foreshadowing Christ and His Paschal Mystery. The other moment is found in the Nobis quoque peccatoribus at the conclusion of the Memento for the dead (Ordo Missae n. 96), wherein the Church Militant’s petition for the clergy and faithful gathered at that Mass to receive God’s pardon and mercy is presented to the Lord.
  6. Specifically, the Mozarabic Rite of Toledo, Spain, and the Ambrosian Rite of Milan, Italy.
  7. Jungmann notes that the practice of inserting particular names and categories of people into the Eucharistic Prayer became solidified in the East in the fourth century, and then became a regular part of the Roman practice by at least the fifth century, as witnessed to by Pope St. Innocent I’s letter to Decentius, the Bishop of Gubbio. Josef Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, Vol. I, tr. Francis Brunner (Notre Dame: Christian Classics, 1950) 53–54. Cf. Innocent I, Epistula 25, in Patrologia Latina, XX, ed. J.P. Migne (Paris, 1845) 553, 5.
  8. Prosper Guéranger, On the Holy Mass (Farnborough, Hampshire: Saint Michael’s Abbey Press, 2006) 70–71.
  9. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 154: “When Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna (d. 155–156), upon being arrested, begged for a little time to pray, he prayed aloud for all whom he had known and for the whole Catholic Church, spread over the world. Another martyr-bishop, Fructuosus of Tarragona (d. 259), about to be burnt to death, answered a Christian who sought his prayer, saying in a firm voice: ‘I am bound to remember the whole Catholic Church from sunrise to sunset.’”
  10. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 154. Emphasis original.
  11. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 154.
  12. una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N. et Antistite nostro N.
  13. G.G. Willis, A History of Early Roman Liturgy: To the Death of Pope Gregory the Great, Henry Bradshaw Society, Subsidia 1 (London: The Boydell Press, 1994) 43; Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 155.
  14. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 154.
  15. et omnibus orthodoxis atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus.” As Willis notes, “The rightly believing defenders of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith are not the faithful in general, who are prayed for in the first part of this prayer, but the bishops in particular” (Willis, A History of Early Roman Liturgy, 43).
  16. Memento, Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum N. et N.
  17. See Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 104.
  18. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 164.
  19. Sacrosanctum concilium §64.
  20. Missale Romanum, Iuxta typicam tertiam (2008), Missae rituales, “I. In conferendis sacramentis initiationis christianae. 2. In Scrutinis peragendis.” The Roman Missal, English translation according to the Third Typical Edition: for use in the Dioceses of the United States of America (2011), Ritual Masses, “I. For the Conferral of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. 2. For the Celebration of the Scrutinies.”
  21. See Liber sacramentorum Romanae Aeclesiae ordinis anni circuli. Sacramentarium gelasianum, ed. Leo Cunibert Mohlberg, Leo Eizenhöfer, Petrus Siffrin, Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Series Maior, Fontes IV (Rome: Herder, 1960) 33, n. 195.
  22. See Liber sacramentorum Romanae 33, n.195. A similar allowance is made for Eucharistic Prayers II and III.
  23. See Liber sacramentorum Romanae 33, n.195.
  24. See Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 166. In article 43 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal the universal norm is given, and then the exception for the United States indicated: “The faithful should stand […] from the invitation, Orate, fratres (Pray, brethren), before the Prayer over the Offerings until the end of Mass […]. In the dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer […].”
  25. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 166.
  26. “[…] pro quibus tibi offerimus: vel qui tibi offerunt hoc sacrificium laudis, pro se suisque omnibus […].”
  27. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. II, 167.
  28. Francis, Apostolic Letter Desiderio Desideravi (June 29, 2022). English translation from the Vatican website,, accessed November 23, 2022.