Category Archives: Spirituality

Collecting the Saints: 2018 Edition

I know that there is great back and forth among those with strong opinions on the matter regarding the proposed Lesser Feasts & Fasts up for debate at General Convention. I had the opportunity to write a guest blog post for the Center for Liturgy & Music at Virginia Theological Seminary on a brief history of the Episcopal sanctoral calendar. In brief, I identified some major trends in how the calendar has been conceived and how it has or has not been representative of the church in the roughly fifty years that we have had a calendar. Too, I mentioned some ways that the proposed book is in continuity with some of the broad trends and how even some of the things that appear as novelties do have some antecedents.

I made a comment in that piece that I wasn’t going to talk about collects and readings because that topic was a complex one that deserved its own post. Well—this is that post…

I don’t plan for this to be deep and exhaustive, but merely to point out some key trends with the readings and collects. At the conclusion, I think you’ll agree that whatever you may think of the decisions around specific individuals in LFF 2018, you’ll see that it is superior to previous volumes in its poetry, literary artistry, and theological grounding.

There are three broad movements when it comes to a philosophy of sanctoral collects in the Episcopal Calendar: 1) Common(ish) Collects, 2) The Return of the Biographical Collect, and 3) The Theological Turn.

1) Common(ish) Collects

Prayer Book Studies XII

Let’s start at the beginning, which for this topic means Prayer Book Studies XII: The Propers for the Minor Holy Days, published in 1958. The table of contents for this volume breaks down like this:

  • The Collects
  • The Epistles and Gospels
  • Movable Octaves and Seasons
  • The Proposed Propers
  • Indices

Let me be clear on this… The first 35 pages of this work talk about the complex and important work of finding suitable collects for celebrating the black-letter days. The heading entitled “The Problem of Suitable Collects” includes some very quotable lines like these:

The writing of Collects for liturgical use is a most exacting discipline. One is tempted to say that it is an art possible only to a literary genius, who at the same time has a profound knowledge of theology and a rich experience of prayer. In any case, the best Collects are generally the work of individuals; they are rarely effective when produced by a committee. (PBS XII, 6-7).

Two members of the group—unnamed, but I’d bet cash money that it was Bayard Jones and Massey Shepherd—got together, worked on possible collects “for a number of years”, and sent them out for testing. The results of their test are worth citing in full:

The aim of our subcommittee was to provide Collects of a biographical character, comparable to those of the Apostles and Evangelists in the [American 1928] Prayer Book. A complete schedule of Collects was finally prepared and sent to a number of persons skilled in these matters for criticism; and the results of these endeavors was used experimentally in a few of our seminaries and in certain private chapels. The ensuing comments after this trial use were not encouraging. Too many of these Collects gave the effect of being overly contrived and erudite. To place them in the Prayer Book would demand an annotated commentary for the benefit of those lay people who did not have an extensive knowledge of Church History and were therefore unable to appreciate the subtle allusions in these Collects. However admirable most of these Collects might be for personal, devotional use, they lacked that quality of universal application that is needed in a formulary for corporate, liturgical use. (PBS XII, 9)

In short, the biographical collect, although seen as desirable, was deemed a failure by the best liturgical minds of the time.

Instead, they decided to go with a set of Common(ish) collects. That is, having Commons for readily identifiable groups of similar saints was seen as a good idea. However, a certain variety was still necessary and helpful to avoid monotony:

For…the ninety-two Black Letter commemorations, we are offering a total of thirty-six collects, of which seventeen are appointed for one occasion only, the others for two or more occasions. But none of them are listed for more than six commemorations; and of these, an effort has been made to avoid using the same Collect twice over within the space of one month. However, there are one or two exceptions to this latter usage. By such a distribution, it is hoped that tedium may be lessened, and thus the devout attention of worshippers encouraged.  (PBS XII, 10)

The way that this worked out in practice is that certain key people had unique collects (Gregory the Great, Francis of Assisi, Irenaeus, the BVM and Mary Magdalene [remember, these last two were still black letter days at this point, not Holy Days]). Then—for instance—the 12 commemorations of martyrs were grouped into four categories by affinity and four collects were used, one for each group. Hence, the “early women martyrs”  (Agnes, Perpetua & Felicitas, and the Martyrs of Lyon) shared a collect, “early male martyrs” (Ignatius, Alban, and Laurence) shared a collect, “early church leader martyrs” (Polycarp, Justin, and Cyprian [Ignatius could have been in this group but wasn’t]) shared a collect, and “missionary martyrs” (Boniface, Patteson, and Hannington”) shared a collect. The Just-missionaries-not-martyrs-or-teachers group of 12 names was simply divided into two groups, each group sharing a collect. Thus:

We have attempted not to be arbitrary in the use of Collects for more than one worthy, and to find what might be termed obvious or natural groupings. The three monarchs: Louis, Alfred, and Margaret, share the same Collect as do five early Fathers who gave great contributions to the shaping of the dogma of the Incarnation–Hilary, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Leo. It was readily evident that modern leaders in Christian humanitarianism such as Maurice and Wilberforce could be classed under the same Collect, but their predecessors of earlier times, such as Nicholas and Elizabeth of Hungary, were better served by other memorials. (PBS XII, 13-4)

Now let me give you an example of the actual collects and the discussion around them. Let’s follow two commemorations, Perpetua & Felicitas and Dominic, and see what we’ve got for their collects…

Agnes (January 21)
Perpetua and her Companions (March 7)
The Martyrs of Lyon (June 2)

Almighty and everlasting God, with whom thy meek ones go forth as the mighty: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy blessed martyr(s) ——-, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect was based upon one for St. Agnes’ feast in the Gregorian Sacramentary. But in place of the original clause “who dost choose the weak things of the world to confound the the things which are mighty,” the Commission has drawn from a phrase used by William Bright in his Collect “For all who do the Work of the Church” (Ancient Collects, p. 237): “with whom thy little ones go forth as the mighty.” Both phrases are well-suited to describe the heroines who are the chief subjects of these commemorations. However, the Pauline expression, “weak things of the world” might not convey to the modern congregation the exact notion that is desired, hence the change of the word “weak” to “meek.” (PBS XII, 25)

And now Dominic:

Thomas Ken (March 20).
William Law (April 6).
Benedict (July 11).
Dominic (August 4).
Sergius (September 25).
Hilda (November 17).

Almighty and everlasting God, we give thee thanks for the purity and strength with which thou didst endow thy servant ——; and we pray that by thy grace we may have a like power to hallow and conform our souls and bodies to the purpose of thy most holy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The basis for this Collect was taken by the Commission from the Reverend E. A. L. Clarke’s The People’s Missal, where it appears for the Common of a Virgin-Martyr. It seems to be admirably suited to the varied “ascetical” gifts of the group of worthies here listed from all periods of the Church’s history. (PBS XII, 33)

I want you to notice a couple of key things here… First, collects are shared amongst similar kinds of saints—sorry, “worthies”—who are put together in relatively loose and arbitrary although reasonable groupings. Second, all of these collects have sources! Not only that, alterations were also made with reference to other collects as well as Scripture. There was not just thought but history and continuity behind what was being done here.

For selecting Scriptural readings, they didn’t start from scratch either, but looked at the old Roman Catholic Commons for the various categories of saints. Hence, Perpetua & Companions got the Epistle and Gospel from one of the 12 Commons of Marytrs—but not the one assigned to her day by Rome, rather from Salus autem: Hebrews 10:32-39 and Matthew 24:9-14a. Dominic doesn’t actually get a Scripture reading; in the two-tiered system of this book, Dominic is on tier 2 and hence only gets a collect, no Scripture.

Prayer Book Studies XVI/Lesser Feasts & Fasts (1st Ed.)

The material in Prayer Book Studies IX and XII were reworked to become Prayer Book Studies XVI which was itself adapted slightly to become the first edition of Lesser Feasts & Fasts. There was more change in the formatting than in the texts. Now the collects and Scriptural readings are grouped together. However, the brief biographies are still located in a separate part of the resource.

There is no change in the texts of either the collects or the Scripture for the two saints we’re following. However, there are signs of a shift on the horizon… At the end of the book are included one common each for the major categories of saints: martyrs, missionaries, monastics, etc.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts (Revised Ed. [1973])

Prayer Book Studies 19: The Church Year (1970) made some major forward strides in terms of thinking about a new way of doing the Calendar for a new prayer book that was now on the horizon. In particular, it re-aligned thinking on the Calendar in light of what Rome did with Vatican II. Nevertheless, this resource doesn’t address the Lesser Feasts. The Revised edition of Lesser Feasts & Fasts wouldn’t come out until 1973. What we see here is a Calendar very much under the sway of the coming ’79 Book of Common Prayer. The short Preface notes some changes that have taken place:

1. The Collects of the earlier edition have been carefully revised, and several new ones have been included. They are provided in both traditional and contemporary language, as in Services for Trial Use.

3. Commemorations which hitherto had only a Collect are now assigned Psalms and Lessons, either individually or by reference to the Common of Saints. (LFF 1973, vii, viii)

In this work we start seeing propers being conformed to the Commons that have been established for the forthcoming ’79 BCP. This shows up in both collects and in the appointed Scripture readings. Thus there is a certain work of norming the calendar and solidifying the previously rather fluid groups that had existed before. There is also a leveling of occasions and a move away from the original two-tiered system.

There is no change to the collect or lessons for Perpetua and her Companions except for getting the longer ending of the collect “…who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, in glory everlasting. Amen.” There is now a contemporary Rite II collect as well. This same collect is used but for a change of names for Agnes, but the Martyrs of Lyon now have a new collect that highlights Blandina and focuses less on meekness and more on the endurance of suffering. (I really need to do a post on JBob’s fascination with Blandina…)

Dominic’s collect is different and he now has lessons assigned to him (going forward, I’ll just provide the Rite II texts):

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Dominic to be a light in the world: Shine, we, pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praises, who have called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

This is a new template which will become the second Common for Missionaries. Here Dominic’s grouping has been rethought from “ascetic” to “missionary” and a new common assigned accordingly. If we look back  at Dominic’s original group, we’ll find that they have been dispersed into other Commons and assigned those collects; the only exception is Benedict who keeps the original collect with a minor change—“purity” becomes “humility” in recognition of the importance of that concept in the Rule.

Scripture-wise, Dominic will share 1 Corinthians 2 with Basil the Great, but Dominic alone gets the Romans 10 option and the Gospel, John 7:16-18. Glancing through the Scripture index, there is occasional overlap between the Scripture lessons that shows that a diversity of readings is the goal, but that they are falling back on Commons where it seems to make sense.

Broadly speaking, this era of Common(ish) Collects relied heavily on quality collects from the past. The authors mined the collect collections found in Bright, Frere, Souter, and a variety of Anglican missals as well as the Gregorian/Hadrianum material of the ancient Western sacramentaries. These were then adapted to serve for several people who fell into a coherent category, categories that became more formalized as we moved towards the ’79 BCP with its set classes of saints.

Because of the generalities needed (and the theological proclivities of its authors), these collects focused on the saints as exemplars in that their lives showed certain theological gifts or virtues—“witness through meekness,” “purity and strength,” “spread God’s light.” There were not usually specific details given because of the generalities of the Commons. However, some saints did get individualized collects and some Commons did get tailored at points (like the change to “humility” in Benedict’s).

2) The Return of the Biographical Collect

After being tried and rejected in the original tests for the Calendar, the biographical collect returned with a vengeance in 1980. There is a certain irony here. The ’79 BCP provided two or three collects for each Commons of the saints. The Revised Edition of LFF in ’73 utilized these commons for the Calendar. And yet, the edition of LFF released to accompany the New Prayer Book (you know, at the time when it actually was new…)  went in a completely different direction.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts (Third edition [1980])

The preface states “The purpose of the revision of the Collects for the Lesser Feasts was to ensure that each Collect be distinctive of the person commemorated, or of that aspect of the Church’s life to which that person contributed most significantly” (LFF 1980, iv). It then identifies several changes where collects were personalized for several individuals. This occurred at the hands of the Rev. Canon Charles M. Guilbert, Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer with the assistance of the Rev. Eric Jackson and Mr. Patrick Russell. (I’d dearly love to know if they looked at or used any of the material that Jones & Shepherd had compiled in their first go-around…)

In other words, the biographical collect was back—and it would be back to stay for quite a while.

While the Scripture lessons remained the same, we got a new collect for Perpetua and her Companions:

O God the King of saints, you strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And a new one for Dominic too:

O God of the Prophets, you opened the eyes of your servant Dominic to perceive a famine of hearing the word of the Lord and moved him, and those he drew about him, to satisfy that hunger with sound preaching and fervent devotion: Make your Church, dear Lord, in this and every age attentive to the hungers of the world, and quick to respond in love to those who are perishing; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

So—quite different and tailored to the occasion. A collect is one long sentence; these strain to the point of being run-ons. Truthfully, there’s a biographical first sentence about the saints, then a second sentence about us. What was classically a relative clause that said something about God pertinent for the rest of the prayer has become an opportunity to talk about the person. In theory we are thanking God for a specific gift or set of gifts given, but that ends up too often coming off like a rhetorical ploy than a focus on gifts and charisms. It’s a one-sentence biography, then the abstraction of idea or concept from that biography to be applied to us/the current church.

Needless to say, there are no classical sources being drawn on here. No doubt that was seen as a bonus. What has developed here is a new kind of prayer modeled on the collect but different.

This model would continue to be the regnant model as new names were added to the Calendar by General Convention.

With the arrival of Holy Women, Holy Men this kind of collect was pushed almost to the point of parody—particularly in the new additions. I’ve ranted about this before and will spare you the speech now. However, there was some reworking of the older biographical collects as well. While there was no change in Perpetua & her Companions, there was a new version of the Dominic collect:

Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

For all that I may not like the style,  this is a better prayer than the previous one. It is less allusive and more direct. It’s a better biography. Also, the request is more closely tied to the bio: “Dominic established an order of preachers: help us preach Jesus.”  This is better than “help us connect with hungers”—because Dominic was about preaching Jesus and doing it well!

The biographical collect stops being one sentence about God, who God is, and what we request of God based on who God is. Instead, it’s a sentence about a person—a human—and then a sentence about what we think we should ask as a result of that person. At it’s best it’s asking for a gift like what that person had; at it’s worst, it’s asking that we can do the same kind of job as that person. To my eyes, the focus is on humanity—an exemplary person and what we can learn from them—rather than on the God who has been in relationship with us and the gifts and charisms given by the Spirit that share in the virtues of Jesus Christ.

3) The Theological Turn

Great Cloud of Witnesses

HWHM was quite a thing to inherit—which I did when I became head of the Calendar Subcommittee in 2013. My initial attempt was to do what LFF 2018 is doing: move some names to more of a “remembrance list” and better balance the names that remains. This approach was rejected by the SCLM as it was composed then. Great Cloud was a compromise that attempted to maintain inclusivity, but address the theological issue of folks on the Calendars whom all could not receive as saints. You can read through all of the travails of that process in the back catalog here, so I won’t dwell on it.

Over all, GCW didn’t achieve what I had hoped that it would, and it was not accepted by the church.  Despite its shortcomings, I think the best work that went into it was the beginning of revision on the collects. As you can probably tell by now, I’m not a fan of the biographical collect. What I attempt to do was to think about how these collects are supposed to function and—in particular—to tie them into the concept of the Baptismal Covenant. How were these people living out the Covenant and what were the baptismal gifts and, graces, and charisms that they inhabit? Which of the virtues of Christ did they put most prominently on display?

Here’s a post where I discuss the specific revision of one collect (St Bede’s) along these lines. (And I see that I did a mini-version of the above post there too so it may be a teensy bit repetitive at points.) Here’s another that’s not as specific where I call out the relative clause problems in particular.

Looking back, I didn’t make any changes to either of these collects. They weren’t as bad as some others (Bede, Alcuin…) so I left them alone.

I must say, that was my biggest disappointment in the side-lining of GCW—the revised collects did not get much circulation.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018

Now we get to the new proposal on the table. It starts with what had been done in GCW but goes further and does more, particularly in the trimming of unnecessary relative clauses. Let’s compare the one’s we’ve been looking at side by side:

Old Collect New Collect
O God the King of saints, you strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. O God, the King of Saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions to make a good confession and to encourage one another in the time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Almighty God, Grant unto all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share your Gospel, that like your servant Dominic we might labor to bring the whole world to the knowledge and love of you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

To my eyes and tongue, the revisions here make objectively better prayers—prayers that can actually claim the name “collect” again! The content has not been completely overhauled, you can still see the bones that they’re working with, but the trimming of material has re-balanced the focus of the collect. The virtues, the charisms, the gifts are more in focus than before.

These two commemorations are just examples that I picked pretty much at random. As I flip through LLF 2018, I can see a host of improvements along these lines. Prayers are tightened up, the collect form is restored, some have been overhauled.

Is LFF 2018 a prefect document? No, of course not. But I see it as much improved step over what I did, certainly, and over what we have been working with over the past many years. We celebrate the saints because they show us what “the full stature of Christ” looks like in human form. They show us what the virtues of Christ look and act like in myriad different times and places and societies. They show us where a sacramental path of discipleship leads. They illustrate a Baptismal Covenant fully embraced. And the prayers with which we fete them ought to represent that truth too. This volume does that in ways we haven’t seen in a long time.

Please—let’s pass this one.

Office Lectionary Gaps

I find myself pondering the reasons for gaps in the lectionary of the Daily Office readings. I’m struck by a couple in particular…

What makes these interesting is that I’m not looking at the currently lectionary, but the original 1928 Daily Office lectionary.

Here’s one: 2 Samuel 11:2-4a, and 12:1-7,9-10,12-13a

That’s the David and Bathsheba story. The big chunk missing makes sense—that’s the full narrative that doesn’t focus on the specific sins of David here. What draws my eye immediately is the odd single-verse gaps, the omission verses 8 and 11. Here they are:

verse 8: [Nathan to David] And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

verse 11: Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.

So, it seems like the polygamy of David is at issue here—but wouldn’t that seem to be  pertinent thing in discussing his “acquisition” of Bathsehba?

Doubtless the reason for this omission was because this is a reading for a major day—it’s the first reading at MP on Lent 1. I imagine the idea here was to avoid scandalizing congregations with the idea that David was polygamous or at least to distract people with that fact at this point. In all fairness, 2 Samuel 12:1-25 is read in its entirety on the Friday after the 15th Sunday after Trinity so we can chalk this up to Sunday Embarrassment, a feature of Anglican lectionaries since 1561.

What, then, do we make of Joshua 11:1-19, 23?

This is the reading appointed for Friday after the First Sunday after Trinity and is the only time Joshua 11 is read during the year. Let me provide you with some context—here’s 18 to 23:

18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. 20 For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses. 21 And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.

It’s the divine genocide section.

Clearly no Sunday Embarrassment going on here because it’s a Friday and not a hugely major one at that. What interpretive principles are at work here, I wonder? I can see that these verses cause a scandal, but for me it’s more important that they’re left in. I believe it’s important that the rough edges remain in the text because they cause us to examine our hermeneutics more carefully: a selectively edited Bible makes it easier to teach and believe a simplistic inerrancy doctrine.

Update

Found another good one… Thursday after the 20th Sunday after Trinity: 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-27

Like any good bandit chieftain, David leaves behind a hit list for Solomon on his deathbed:

Moreover thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet. Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace. But show kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be of those that eat at thy table: for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom thy brother. And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.

 

 

The Lazy Invitation

With General Convention coming up, I’m thinking about Communion Without Baptism again, prompted by occasional mentions of it I see around.

Clearly I’ve got strong opinions on this topic, but it’s occurred to me that I rarely express the real problem with it…

Bear with me here for a moment. My take on it is the traditional and the canonical one: that there is a theo-logical order to the sacraments. Baptism begins an individual’s covenant relationship with the Triune God through the church; the Eucharist nurtures that covenant relationship and helps one grow in intimacy towards a deeper connection with God and all of the other members of Christ. These are two major parts of the sacramental path to discipleship. Following Jesus starts on a whole new level with Baptism, then the rest of the sacraments help us follow that path more clearly and deeply into love of God and neighbor. That’s why I think this whole debate is important. Because it’s about follow-through: at the end of the day, it’s about discipleship.

The parish I currently attend  issues an open invitation to all to the altar. I’m not a fan of that. And, yes, my rector knows that full well. However, I don’t have quite as big of a problem with it at this parish because the clergy are very good at follow-up and emphasizing discipleship. I know that if an unbaptized person starts attending and starts communing, the clergy will begin a discussion with them about getting baptized and getting engaged in the community. No, they’re not doing it right and they’re not following the canons. But, at the end of the day, all of this connects into whether we are about forming communities of discipleship.

Ok—that having been said, the real problem that I have with Communion Without Baptism is the lazy invitation. I think that some clergy and/or congregations welcome anyone to the table because 1) they want to demonstrate to themselves how inclusive they are and 2) because it avoids the hard conversation. Let’s break these down…

1) The Thrill of Inclusivity

One of the complicating factors in this discussion is the question of post-schism Episcopal identity. So few of us are now Cradle Episcopalians. (I’m not.) As a result, we don’t always know what being “Episcopal” looks and feels like. However, a lot of us are refugees from churches that have done us spiritual damage; we may not know what “Episcopal” should feel like, but we sure do know what it shouldn’t feel like! And exclusivity is often a very big part of that, and a major source of past spiritual damage. As a result, there are many Episcopalians who will reflexively choose what appears to be the inclusive option whether it has theological integrity or not. Indeed, I’ve been in Episcopal parishes who will trumpet their inclusivity all day long but aren’t very friendly or welcoming or…inclusive…at all. What’s important to them is their ability to see themselves as inclusive and therefore better than the churches they left.

2) Avoiding the Hard Conversation

What happens if a policy is announced from the chancel that a visitor doesn’t understand? What happens if the priest says in part “…only baptized Christians should receive the Eucharist…” (I say in part because, as I’ve argued at length before, how we invite people is very important and just saying this in this way is not the way to do it) and in doing so offends an unbaptized visitor? The two most likely possibilities is that the offended person will leave to never darken the door of that church again or else they will come with the very simple question: “Why can’t I receive?”Then, that leads to a potentially uncomfortable conversation where the priest has to explain that we actually believe that the Eucharist is important and that the Church has historically maintained rules around who does and doesn’t receive and why. And that can lead to tricky questions about whether we actually believe all of this stuff and what does baptism actually do anyway and do we really believe that Jesus is there in that little cracker in a special way. Which can lead to the look that says, you guys really are crazy and I can’t believe I just wasted a Sunday morning like this…

It also means hitting that point where we have to explain that we actually do believe these things that we say about God and Jesus, but that we don’t believe all of the things that other Christians believe that you may have heard in the media, and, yes, we think you can believe in God and dinosaurs and science all at the same time.

But at the end of the day that conversation has to get to the point where it says that we believe that the little cracker and the sip of wine are life-changing things. That they mean enough that we need to rethink and reshape the way that we are in the world on account of them. That Eucharist and baptism are about discipleship and that means reorienting the way we live. And I think that’s the hard conversation that gets avoided; it’s so much easier to give a lazy invitation instead.

Because you don’t need to have the hard conversation if you can give the lazy invitation. If you get up in front and say “all are welcome, no questions asked,” well—then they won’t be. The questions won’t be asked, and the consequences of these sacraments won’t get discussed.  The follow-through won’t happen. The discipleship will be lost by the wayside. And that’s what worries me about this whole Communion Without Baptism thing.

It’s one thing for a parish to ignore the canon if the follow-through and the commitment to discipleship are there. It’s another thing entirely to try to get rid of the canon, to make a policy of not even asking the question. The sacraments are about discipleship. They’re about how we are converted into the Body of Christ and, from there, drawn into the mind of Christ. That’s why this matters. It’s not about inclusive vs. exclusive—that’s the wrong framing because that’s not a fight I’m even interested in having. It’s about discipleship and whether we are fostering and promoting it or if we’re more interested in taking the easy way out.

Brief Thought on the Sanctoral Calendar

I just finished writing a brief history of the Episcopal sanctoral calendar for another blog (I’ll link when it goes up).

I’ll be the first to tell you that the evolution of our Calendar has been both crazy and problematic. However, I’ve been seeing recommendations on Facebook and in other places suggesting that we just get rid of our Calendar—cut it back to just the Holy Days and take time to think it out, or to not even bother thinking it out.

I have a negative reaction to this proposal. Let me play devil’s advocate and suggest that a flawed Calendar authorized by the church is better than no Calendar. The 1928 BCP, despite a late push at the 1928 General Convention to adopt a calendar, was published with just the vestigal kalendar of Holy Days in place since the 1789 BCP. To me, a New-Testament-figures-only calendar is a betrayal of our pneutmatology and therefore ecclesiology.

We believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Holy Spirit has been at work since Pentecost guiding and directing the Church into all truth. (Obviously, the Spirit was around and active before Pentecost—my point is the Church, which wasn’t…) To skip over twenty centuries of human history is tantamount to a denial of the presence of the Spirit in the Church. Or, at the very least, a dangerous agnosticism about our ability to discern the movement of the Spirit in the past.

We need a Calendar to affirm fundamental Christological, pnematological, and ecclesiological truths: throughout the Church’s flawed and checkered history, the Spirit has been at work, saints have incarnated Christ in their times and places, and the Body of Christ has made Christ Really Present to the world through the members of the Church.

The question that we are faced with now is what exactly we want the Calendar to be. Is the Calendar a history of famous men who taught things we should know? Is the Calendar a representative picture of the kinds of people who make up the Church? or (spoiler alert) is the Calendar a depiction of the virtues of Christ and the gifts of the Spirit incarnated through the Body of Christ (in ways both representative and historical)?

First feasts of December

Kalendar Calculations

I’m thinking back to yesterday and the conjunction of two different feasts, Corpus Christi and the Feast of the Visitation. It’s worth commenting on why two different sites—like the St. Bede’s Breviary and Daily Prayer—would choose one over the other. How do we think through these decisions theologically and what are the practical logics involved in these kind of kalendar calculations?

Occurrence–It’s a Thing

First off, this kind of thing happens not infrequently. That is, two days of significance to the church will overlap with one another because we have two different ways of reckoning dates for liturgical occasions. One is a Temporal cycle that shifts with the seasons, goes by weeks, and is calculated by means of Sundays which do not maintain a consistent date on the calendar every year. (Hence the tables on pp. 880-885 of your ’79 BCP.) The other is the cycle of fixed Holy Days. These are a combination of days celebrating apostolic saints (like Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, etc.) and feasts of Our Lord either directly (like Feast of the Holy Name) or indirectly through events surrounding the Incarnation (like The Visitation, the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, etc.). These are, clearly, fixed on certain calendar dates.

Thus, there always exists the possibility for Temporal occasions to land on the same day as fixed Holy Days. That’s what happened yesterday: Corpus Christi, a traditional feast of the Temporal cycle celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, fell on the same day as the Visitation, the feast fixed on May 31. The technical church geek name for this is “occurrence.” (The other related issue is “concurrence” which is what happens when Evening Prayer of two feasts tangle with one another—that’s a much longer and more technical discussion on why and how and what you do, so I’ll shelve that for now…)

There are a few different approaches to deal with occurrence. The first is to let one event supplant the other entirely. This is the simplest route. The second is transference. This is where one feast stays on its original day and the other gets bumped to the next open day. The third is commemoration. This is where both feasts stay on the day, one gets the spotlight and the other gets an honorable mention. The prayer book’s preferred option is the second, transference, and the mechanics of this process is discussed on pages 15-17 of your ’79 BCP.

Personally, I much prefer the third, commemoration. The reason is theological. This whole clashing of days is messy. How are we supposed to deal with the mess? Do we sanitize it, simplify it, or embrace it? This mess happens because these cycles are fundamentally incarnational—embracing the mess is embracing the inherent messiness of embodied life where things don’t always go the way you plan. And, in fact, amazing things can proceed out of the mess that you never would have expected. If you remember, just a couple of years ago in 2016, Good Friday fell on March 25th. Following the prayer book rules, all of us good Episcopalians dutifully transferred the Feast of the Annunciation to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter as directed on page 17. But—how much more powerful was that Holy Week considering the juxtaposition of the events: the death of Christ on the cross with his mother at its foot and the announcement of Christ’s conception to his mother by the angel Gabriel? Luckily, we even got a poem out of John Donne on it when this conjunction occurred in 1608.  Commemoration enables messy conjunctions like this to occur, allows us to wonder and revel in them rather trying to tidily confine God’s action to discrete days. (Which is why the image for yesterday’s post was Mary holding the Host—the best intersection of the two feasts I could think of!)

But—choosing one of the three options only determines your course of action, it doesn’t solve the problem of precedence: which feast stays and which goes (or gets the spotlight).

Determining Dignity

Old rules about which feast to celebrate when will sometimes make appeals to the “nobler” or the feast “of greater dignity” and such. This implies the existence of a theologically determined set of criteria to be used to

figure these things out—and these exist in spades! Here’s the problem with the traditional systems. Most of them begin with facts on the medieval ground and proceed by attempting to figure out logical rules that can be universally applied. Thus you have something like a calendar from a Book of Hours written around 1485 in Bruges following the Roman Use (Walters W.. September has three days written in red: September 1st for the Abbot Egidius, the Nativity of the BVM on the 8th, and the Exaltation of the Cross on the 14th. (And note the feast of Philip and James in black on the 13th!) What happens if a Sunday falls on one of these days? There’s no clear sense in this manuscript of how one would work it out or exactly what “red” means.

Now—to be perfectly fair, that’s from a Book of Hours. The function of a kalendar in Books of Hours was more general familiarity with where we are in the year and which saints are being celebrated than anything else. While you might use a certain collect or set of devotions based on the saint of the day, the prayer offices did not change. As a result if we really want to know what an actual medieval system for reckoning the Office looked like in the flesh we need to look at something like this kalendar from a breviary written around 1420 according to the Use of Liege (Walters W.83). If you look carefully here there are directions in red regarding what to do and how these various feasts ought to impact the Offices. Hence, in this use, the feast of Abbot Egidius is a feast of nine lessons (.ix.l.) meaning longer than normal. The feast of the holy virgin Magdalbert on the 7th is a “double” of a certain sort (dux) and is the primary feast of the day—the feast of Bishop Evortius is only commemorated with a collect (co[ll]). On the next day, the Nativity of the BVM is a double with all of the antiphons doubled (tot) with a collect commemorating the martyr Adrian (coll). The point I’m making is that books like these recorded what communities did and largely they had their own ideas about how things ought to be done. Systems grew up that attempted to systematize and regularize around these practices and that can lead to a confusing welter of gradations formalized at the Council of Trent and beyond that divides feasts in Greater Doubles of the First or Second Class as opposed to “normal” Greater Doubles or Lesser Doubles (leaving aside semidoubles and such entirely…).

These were the kinds of complexities that the Reformers pushed back against. Classically, Cranmer complained about these in the preface to the first Book of Common Prayer: “Moreover, the number and hardness of the Rules called the Pie, and the manifold changings of the service, was the cause, that to turn the Book only, was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times, there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out” (BCP, p. 866). Honestly, the Sarum Pie isn’t that hard to follow, but you get his general gist.

My Ranking System

In the run up to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church simplified their kalendar systems quite a bit. When we decided to adopt an expanded kalendar in the ’79 BCP we more or less modeled ours based on the Roman Catholic concepts produced in 1963 and 1964 that yielded a papal motu proprio on the kalendar in 1969. And, as I’ve said before, when trying to understand many aspects of the ’79 BCP we should look first to the liturgical reforms of Vatican II first (Point 4 at this link).  What the Calendar section of the BCP tries to do is to express something very much like the list from section 59 of Paul VI’s motu proprio Mysterii paschalis. What I don’t get is why they didn’t just put in the list (or a list)!

Because the St. Bede’s Breviary is based on a computer algorithm, I did compile a list. This list is rank by order of precedent so that you can see which feasts land where in relation to other feasts. I started with something like the Mysterii paschalis list and then re-ordered it as necessary to make sense of the directives in the Calendar section of the BCP:

I.

1. Easter Triduum [Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday]
2. Christmas, Ascension, Holy Trinity, All Saints’ Day, Epiphany and Pentecost
3. Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter
4. Ash Wednesday
5. Weekdays of Holy Week from Monday from Thursday inclusive
6. Days within the Octave of Easter
7. Local Feast of Dedication of a church, Local Feast of Title, Local Feast of Patron
8. Special Feasts, locally having a first class rank*
9. Proper Feasts, locally having a first class rank*

II.

10. Holy Days: Feasts of Our Lord
11. Sundays of the Christmas Season and Ordinary Time
12. Holy Days: Major Feasts
13. Special Feasts, locally having a second class rank*
14. Days of Optional Observance, locally having a second class rank*

III.

15. Special Feasts, locally having a third class rank*
16. Days of Optional Observance, locally having a third class rank*
17. Weekdays of Lent
18. Weekdays of Advent from December 16th through December 24th inclusive
19. Days of Optional Observance
20. Weekdays of Advent up to December 15th inclusive
21. Weekdays of the Easter season
22. [Saturday Office of the BVM]†
23. Weekdays of the Christmas season
24. Weekdays of Ordinary Time

* The starred categories reflect the freedoms given in the Days of Optional Observance section. Practically speaking, the Prayer Book allows the appointment of propers to any day that does not contravene the pre-existing rules. This allows feasts already in the Calendar to receive additional celebration or the addition of other feasts so long as the other rules are obeyed.

The Pay-Off

So—now we get down to brass tacks… The Visitation is listed on page 16 of the BCP as a Holy Day and a Feast of Our Lord. That gives it a pretty high ranking, a 10 on my scale. Corpus Christi doesn’t actually appear in the BCP. For some folks, that’s the end of the discussion right there. The Visitation is in the book, Corpus Christi isn’t, Visitation wins. But, Corpus Christi is of long-standing importance in certain communities in the church. For those communities, this remains a live issue. Looking back at older rules (that many of these communities base their reckonings on), Corpus Christi was considered a Primary Double of the First Class; the Visitation was a Primary Double of the Second Class. Under those rules, Corpus Christi wins.

But what about our current rules? The way I reckoned it for the St. Bede’s Breviary was to view Corpus Christi as a Feast of Our Lord (10). The Visitation is also a 10—so which 10 is more 10 than the other? This is where we apply the rule of dignity of persons. Which more directly displays to us who Jesus is and is for us in our experience? Based on my answer to this question, I argue that Corpus is more directly a Feast of Our Lord than the Visitation. That’s not to say the Visitation isn’t important at all. It’s just to say that in this particular match-up, the revelation of Christ in the Eucharist ranks ahead of the Visitation.

It’s a judgement call. And, again, I don’t disagree with those who point out that Corpus Christi isn’t in our BCP. But, if nothing else, this gives us an opportunity to think about the directives and principles by which we give spiritual expression to the incarnate collisions of our faith.

Brief Daily Office Programming Note

The St. Bede’s Breviary is celebrating today as Corpus Christi as a local Feast of Our Lord with a commemoration of the Visitation.

Forward Movement’s Daily Prayer is celebrating today as the Visitation.

This is one of the possible conjunctions that had never occurred to me but which the liturgical cycles throw together on occasion. The beauty of having two similar resources like this is that they split the difference and offer both options!