Category Archives: Saints

Sanctoral Hash

Before we start talking about the legislation around the sanctoral calendar that occurred at General Convention, let me refer you once again to the brief history of the Episcopal Calendar that I wrote for the Liturgy Center at VTS.

There are two directions from which to approach the question of the sanctoral calendar.

The first is to approach it as a place are individuals are recognized. An individual is lifted up as a saint—however that gets defined and understood—and is put on the calendar because their life-story appears to fit the criteria used for judging saintliness. From this perspective, the question of whether a person belongs on the calendar or not is a matter of whether they tick all of the right boxes and none of the wrong ones.

The second direction is to approach the calendar as a set, a deliberate group. As a set, the balance of individuals says something about how the church as a whole understands sanctity and the various breakdown of roles and functions within the church as a living organism. To borrow the great Pauline metaphor, a proper sanctoral calendar ought to reflect the disposition of the various parts of the body that make up the whole. It can’t be all made up of “brain” or all made up of “foot” or you get a warped view of the Body of Christ and its constituent features. To say it more clearly, the composition of the whole needs to reflect that contemplative holiness, self-sacrificial martyrdom, theological brilliance, pastoral sensitivity, just social action, and more are all in the mix in terms of what sanctity looks like. Furthermore, other kinds of balance matter here, not just the theological. This is where issues of race, ethnicity, temporal period, and gender come in as well.

One of the classic instances of imbalance is the late 19th century Roman Catholic calendar which was dominated by French and Italian bishops. What it said was, if you want to be holy, be a French or Italian bishop. If you’re a married woman of color, you’re out of luck.

When you approach the calendar from this angle, the question isn’t just about the worthiness of a given individual; it also has to do with how many of a given sort are in the whole system. Balancing the competing theological criteria with race and gender concerns makes this a very complicated matter. But if we are trying to portray sanctity across a wide range of time, locations, and social classes, it’s an exercise worth doing. We are literally trying to image the full humanity of Christ by illustrating how instances from across the whole spectrum of human experience have communicated Christ in their time and place.

What the proposed LFF 2018 was trying to do was to attack the calendar from the second angle. It tried to create a balanced group of worthies. Because our previous calendars had been so badly skewed in terms of gender and ordination status, and theological role, the only way to accomplish balance was to take some people off and to add some new people on. Overwhelmingly, the people removed were 19th century American white (male) bishops. The people added were women from across time and space. This is how numbers and math work—you can either add more and more people to come up to your target figure (and the addition of commemorations itself was an issue), or you can remove some from an over-represented group which means you will not to add as many from your under-represented groups.

The reaction from convention on seeing LFF 2018 was to approach it from the first direction and to freak out about people not seen. The issue is not that those people were not properly saintly; the issue was one of representation and balance. Otherwise, we send the message that the best path to sanctity is to be a white American bishop.

Now. All of that having been said, here is the resolution that General Convention passed:

A065 Authorize Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 79th General Convention authorize the continued use of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006; and be it further

Resolved, commend the continued availability of Great Cloud of Witnesses 2015 for the 2018-2021 triennium; and be it further

Resolved, that the new commemorations in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 proposed by the SCLM be authorized for trial use and be included in the calendar for the 2018-2021 triennium, under Article X(b); and be it further

Resolved that the SCLM provide the 80th General Convention with a clear and unambiguous plan for a singular calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

The first resolve retains Lesser Feasts & Fast 2006 as the official Calendar of the Church.

The second resolve “retains” Great Cloud of Witnesses by extending its non-canonical status (?) as available. I’m not sure what this does. To me it signals that they still want to keep the Great Cloud/Holy Women, Holy Men material in the mix but—as we have been over a number of times—there are issues with this material with regard to which criteria the entries match and whether all entries meet all of the criteria.

The third resolve essentially misses the point of LFF 2018—i.e., the principle of re-balancing—and smooshes [technical term] the new entries into…what…LFF 2006?…thereby watering down the intent of re-balancing.

The fourth resolve is kind of a middle finger to the SCLM and folks who have been doing Calendar work over the past several years. Here’s the thing. Constructing a calendar that will be accepted by all Episcopalians is an inherent impossibility. Some of us believe in saints in the objective sense: that there are baptized Christian people who are physically dead who are participating in a closeness with God now that other physically dead people are not currently enjoying. Other Episcopalians fundamentally reject this notion and the theology that flows from it. A person who regards a sanctoral calendar as a roster of those actively praying for us now is going to have a different set of criteria and a different set of understandings about how that roster is made than someone who is looking for a list of inspirational figures who may or may not have been Episcopalian. In Great Cloud of Witnesses and in LFF 2018, we tried to put together a compromise list that would balance out competing Episcopal understandings of sanctity yet still have a list that people on both ends of the spectrum could live with.

Let me be blunt. There are people in Great Cloud of Witnesses that I do not regard as saints. Which is why Great Cloud was offered as a list from which local communities could identify those people they considered to be saints. That way we could have a list of inspirational people and yet not call them saints—because not all of them met that standard.

LFF 2018 was another attempt at a singular calendar that would address the concerns raised by the 2003 demand for attention to balance and representation. But Convention decided that wasn’t ok either.

At one point in 2013 or 2014, I listed out six different competing demands that a given calendar proposal would have to meet in order to satisfy all interested parties. Not all six can be met—something has to give. One of the major problems was the sheer volume of material in Holy Women, Holy Men/Great Cloud of Witnesses. Despite the fact that everyone in it is optional, there was tremendous push-back at GC 2012 that there were far too many names. Thus for a calendar to be accepted it must be smaller that HWHM/GCW. General Convention will not pass a lazy process of addition that just keeps adding on more and more names. Therefore if there is a “a clear and unambiguous plan for a singular calendar” there have to be winners and losers. We can’t do another compromise document. What the SCLM will have to propose is an actual sanctoral theology, and then follow that theology up with criteria and commemorations that meet those criteria.

They’ll be in my prayers…

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:

[table width =”100%” style =”” responsive =”false”]
[th_column]Old Collect[/th_column]
[th_column]New Collect[/th_column]
[row_column]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.[/row_column]
[row_column]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. [/row_column]
[row_column]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.[/row_column]
[row_column]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. [/row_column]

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.

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)?

The Famous or the Holy?

The editing work is done on A Great Cloud of Witness (hence AGCW) and it is off getting printed. I believe it will be available from Church Publishing next month. Once again, the Official Calendar of the Episcopal Church is Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006. AGCW has no official standing in the Church. It is merely a devotional resource that can be used or not as a person or parish wills. It is incorrect and misleading to say “Today the Church celebrates…” referencing contents of AGCW. And yet, it is still under discussion within the SCLM as we try to work through what an Episcopal Calendar is and is for.

I have ranted before that the post-Vatican II reworking of the “new” Book of Common Prayer give us in some places—like the Calendar—the appearance of catholicity but without the substance. No where is this more obvious to me than the Calendar. What we have in the Calendar section looks like a sanctoral kalendar, and there are many who use it that way. However, the broad majority of the Episcopal Church does not interact with or utilize the Calendar as a sanctoral kalendar in the Catholic fashion.

Now—clearly—I don’t know the mind of the whole church. What I’m going by here are recent debates I’ve had over individuals in the Calendar and applications—formal or informal—for additions to the Calendar.

I was having a discussion with one senior clergyman formerly on the SCLM over John Calvin (May 28th in AGCW). The most telling moment was when he responded to one of my queries with “I don’t care if people don’t like him—he’s important!”

I’m currently in discussions with a liaison from my diocese to include Origen of Alexandria into one of our calendrical lists. The case being put forward recognizes that Origen was a very important early Christian figure and theologian who has been unfairly treated over the centuries and who deserves to receive his due. I’m largely sympathetic here. Origen got dragged into a complicated tangle of theological and personality conflicts a couple of centuries after his death and was judged as a result of how that played out. De Lubac is absolutely right on the importance of Origen to Christian spirituality and especially Origen being at the heart of most renewals of monastic/ascetic theology.

Not to pick on anyone, but a comment here exemplifies the logic that I’m seeing—wondering about Stephen Langton who gets the credit for the modern scheme of chapter divisions that we use in our modern Bibles.

Do we select individuals because they are “important” or because we think or hope that they should be “famous” or do we select them because they are holy? (And what is or should be the relationship between the two?) And that—right there—is what I would point to as the difference between a catholic perspective on the kalendar versus a protestant one.

I believe that a catholic perspective looks on the names in the kalendar chiefly as examples of lives living out Christian maturity, exemplifying the sacramental path of discipleship. These are our very present fellow members of the Body of Christ who strengthen us with their prayers now and who give us direction and encouragement by their lives and how they participated within the mysteries of Christ. Holiness therefore is the primary consideration and criterion.

A protestant perspective identifies the people who church folk should know. The folks we want to be famous (whether they are currently or not). Importance is therefore the primary consideration and criterion.

So—what is it that we have? Or, what is it that we think we have? Honestly, I think that our first efforts towards the Calendar that we currently have reflect a confusion on this point. Take a look at these two paragraphs. They come from Prayer Book Studies IX (1957), the first published work on the Calendar as the SLC considered revising things…

The choice of commemorations in the proposed Calendar of this Study has been made primarily on the basis of selecting men and women of outstanding holiness, heroism, and teaching in the cause of Christ, whose lives and deaths have been a continuing, conscious influence upon the on-going life of the Church in notable and well-recognized ways. There are included martyrs, theologians, statesmen, missionaries, reformers, mystics, and exemplars of prayer and charitable service. In every instance, care has been taken to list persons whose life and work are capable of interpretation in terms morally and spiritually edifying to the Church of our own generation.

In the list of primary criteria, holiness receives top billing. Importance is in here—as to some degree it must—but the ranking places holiness over importance.

The next page, though, has this:

It has often been remarked that the Prayer Book provides the parish priest with an excellent teaching manual for the study of the Bible, the doctrines and ethics of the Church, and, of course, the principles and practices of worship and prayer. It has lacked but one thing, an adequate instrument for teaching the history of the Church. The present proposal should do much to meet this need. With the names on this Calendar arranged in a historical, or topical order, the parish priest or teacher will have a convenient guide and outline of Church History from its beginnings to the present time. Such a study should greatly reinforce the other teachings of the Prayer Book, as they are exemplified in the lives of the saints.

This is fundamentally an argument for importance. This is Calendar as tool for catechesis, not tool for mystagogy. This is a tool for teaching dates and individuals, not for presenting paths of holiness. What if this paragraph had been written differently to say something like this:

The Prayer Book contains liturgies and provides directions for the worship of the Church. It provides texts for the Church’s daily praise of God and for the celebration of the sacraments as the God-given means of grace. However, what it did not contain up until this point is how this pattern of worship creates and molds lives that are lived primarily outside of churches. The Calendar that we present here teaches Church doctrine and sacramental theology by the ways that these people lived out their lives in the world, conforming their hearts, minds, spirits, and bodies to the call to die daily to self, to daily take up the cross, and follow Christ.

Now that would be Calendar as mystagogy rather than Calendar for catechesis. But that’s not what we got, and that’s not how we see it now.

When I was faced with the dilemma of the Calendar, I saw a cross-road with two major choices. First, try to change the perspective of the Episcopal Church to understand the Calendar as a mystagogical tool first. Second, meet the Church where it was but try to direct it towards what I understand to be the more complete understanding. AGCW goes the second route. It foregrounds the important and significant but also states quite clearly that it is not and is not intended to be a sanctoral kalendar. It embraces the catechetical role. Had it been approved, it would have much more clearly put the responsibility for sanctoral recognition and use at the local level, not the Church-wide level. But it wasn’t. And now we need to figure out where to go next…

Thinking about Saints on Kalendars

When I was a pious young Lutheran lad, some elderly person at our church gave away their library piece-meal. They’d leave books on a table to be picked through and taken by anyone who wanted them. Through this means, my parents inherited a whole bunch of books that they likely never expected to have…

One of the treasures that I scavenged was The Lives of the Saints by Omer Englebert, a work that fed into my growing interest in the medieval Church and pre-Lutheran Christianity that would eventually take me down the Canterbury Trail. Organized by day, this book introduced me to a whole host of figures I had never heard of who lived in ways that were utterly unfamiliar to a 20th century suburban protestant.

I would dip into the book every once in a while, look up the day’s date and see what saints were listed there, reading about them and wondering at them. Even now after who knows how many moves around the country, it’s still one of the books on my bookshelf—one quite close to my computer in fact. (The value/utility quotient of books in my office can be directly calculated by their distance from my computer…)

Looking back at this book from where I stand now, most of the saints in the book fall within a fairly defined set of strata. There is an Early Martyr strata. These were the martyrs of the 1st through the 4th centuries who were persecuted, tortured, and executed by the state—usually the Roman state. There are literally several of these provided for every day of the year.

Then there is an Ascetic strata. There’s a band of folks who fell from around the 5th century to the 11th century who were mostly monks, hermits, or founders of monastic orders. You get some ascetic bishops sprinkled in there too. You usually see at least one of these a day.

Then there’s the Teachers strata. From the 12th through the 15th centuries there are theologians and mystics of various sorts. They tend to pop up a few every week.

Last, and most sparsely, you have the Counter-Reformers. These are folks from the 16th and 17th centuries who were Jesuits or something similar who fought the spread of the Reformation in various ways. You get one or two of these a week.

I gained a sense of the scope of the Church Catholic from this book, and I think it’s one that still shapes me today. First, what I learned from this book is that you can’t talk about the history of the Church or its past without stumbling over the bones of martyrs. Before anything else is said and done, there are multiple martyrs every day of the year: that’s a basic reality of who the church is (as sketched by this book…). The perennial drumbeat that underscored every reading for every day is that the faith was worth dying for—and there were the names and dates to prove it.

Second, another daily reminder was that faith in the gospel led lots and lots of people to embrace a kind of life that I couldn’t even contemplate. A young suburbanite couldn’t comprehend the life of a hermit; it wasn’t on the radar for me. But the fact that so many people chose it as a means of expressing the gospel in their lives made me sit up and take notice: truly engaging this gospel thing made people make some really hard and uncomfortable decisions. Fidelity to the gospel takes precedence over creature comforts.

Martyrs and hermits are not part of contemporary American life. However, encountering them so frequently in this book put them into my mental map and, in doing so, taught me some very important things about the Church and about the demands of the Gospel.

Turning from this kalendar, then, to something like Holy Women, Holy Men or the soon-to-be-issued A Great Cloud of Witnesses gives me something of a sense of spiritual whiplash. There are a whole lot fewer martyrs and not terribly many hermits. A whole different set of strata appear here. More “19th century founders of Dioceses” and “Progressive Pioneers.”

I’m not judging—I’m just noticing.

One of the drivers of recent kalendar revisions in the Episcopal Church is something that I’ll call “relatability.” You won’t find this in the official list of criteria, but it’s the notion that there should be sufficient people in the sanctoral kalendar who act and live like me. Martyrs and hermits may be great and all, but what about doctors and lawyers and professionals? Accordingly, the single greatest influx of people into a trial kalendar was the add of 2009 that introduced 117 new individuals. In line with the “relatability” criterion, 79 were from the 19th and 20th centuries. To be completely clear, over half of these (42) were clergy falling either into the “missionary” or “pastor” categories, but it also added 11 “prophetic witnesses,” 8 “artist/writers,” and 5 unallocated “saints.” Accordingly we now have modern doctors and teachers and bureaucrats in the collection. (I haven’t seen any secretaries or construction workers or cooks or janitors.)

One of the central functions of a sanctoral kalendar is the notion of social memory. Social memory is the phenomenon by which a group’s present social identity is shaped by the way that it chooses to remember the past. It’s like Collective memory as described here, but this entry doesn’t make the clear connection to how this memory is linked to present identity formation and identity politics. My thinking around this issue was sparked by Martyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture Making by Elizabeth Castelli (who argues that the Early Church talked more about martyrdom than practiced it).

One of the criticisms that I heard of Holy Women, Holy Men when we were rethinking it and working towards A Great Cloud of Witnesses was that it was engaging in identity politics. I do think that’s true. I also think that it’s completely unavoidable. All kalendars are engaged in identity politics. That’s what social memory is about: leveraging the past to talk abut our present identity. There is no way to disentangle identity politics from a kalendar. Some kalendars are more aware of it than others, perhaps. Some are more overt about it than others.

Creating, maintaining, and using a sanctoral kalendar is a formal act of social memory. Putting together a list of people from the past says something about us now, about who we look up to, about what kinds of qualities, characteristics, and charisms we think are important. My old Lives of the Saints does that in one way; I think that A Great Cloud of Witnesses does it in a rather different way.

Or, rather, they hit us in different directions. They approach the goal from different paths. Lives of the Saints takes a “volume” approach. That is, I learned about the shape of sanctity and gospel fidelity by the sheer number of examples of certain kinds of witnesses. A Great Cloud of Witnesses takes a more “individual” approach—look here’s a person we remember.

Again, I’m not advocating one way or the other at the moment, I’m noticing.


Floating along with St. Brendan

Now—in something completely unrelated to prayer book revision plans, I have a new post up at Godspace. This one is a musing around the concept of pilgrimage, and my way into it is a brief meditation on the Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator. If you’ve not encuntered this text before, I’d urge you to do so. It’s quite fascinating. I have a feeling I will drill into it quite a bit deeper at some point in time.

But that time is not now.

Too many other plates in the air at the moment…

Conduct Unbecoming

After seeing a tweet from Ruth Gledhill, I clicked through to this sobering article about Chichester bishop George Bell.

My first thought was, of course, “October 3rd, George Kennedy Allen Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and Ecumenist, 1958.

Bell was one of the figures added into Holy Women, Holy Men in 2009 and brought from there into A Great Cloud of Witnesses. If you do the math, you’ll note that he was included 51 years after his death. Historically there has been a “waiting period” on including people in our calendar of commemorations; usually the criteria mention 2 generations and/or 50 years. On of the reasons for such a waiting period was to give sufficient time for scandals to air out. HWHM was significant for the number of recent entries who hadn’t fulfilled this waiting period. There is a certain grim irony, then, that Bell technically met the criteria even though not all of the facts were yet out in the plain light of day.

I don’t know what we’re going to do about Bell yet. GCW is not an official church document since it was only “made available.” Since it hasn’t been printed yet, I’ve sent a note to the powers that be indicating that we need to think through what ought to be done here. My vote is for removing Bell.

But—this raises bigger issues that still need to be addressed. Are there more revelations like this still yet to come from some of our 20th century inclusions? Are there skeletons like this in the closets of some of our earlier choices? One of the central differences between GCW and HWHM was that we explicitly altered GCW to say that it wasn’t a sanctoral calendar and therefore the issue of sanctity was formally off the table. But, as many argued at General Convention, it will likely be viewed as a sanctoral calendar informally.

What do we do here to address this issue and to address wider and deeper issues about grace, merit, sanctification, and models of the sacramental life?

Obligatory St. Francis Post


When M was competing in the Triathlon Age-Group Nationals in Milwaukee this summer, the girls and I popped into the museum of art there on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Because they were remodelling most of the collection was inaccessible, but there were a collection of photos from items that are housed there.

This one in particular caught my attention.

This is “Saint Francis in his Tomb” by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán, sometimes referred to as the Spanish Caravaggio (no surprise that I like him, then!).  Most of his work is on religious subjects; he has several paintings of Francis, one in the St. Louis Museum of Art very similar to this one, but I like this one best. Francis’s face is almost wholly in shadow, his attention squarely fixed on the skull he holds, and the stance of the right foot (no…left foot; thanks, Fr. J-J!) depicts him advancing directly toward us.

The power of the work, for me, rests in the tension between the depth of contemplation and the solemn inevitability. It welcomes us to a side of Francis which feels deeply true but rarely acknowledged.

(ETA: There’s an arresting simplicity in the overall composition. There’s a central brown scalene triangle imposed on a background divided vertically in half into light and dark with the darkness occupying central positions in the central triangle as well. The visual simplicity and structure adds a great deal to it.)

The Carrow Psalter: At the Beginning

It started out a grey and rather yucky day in Baltimore. I decided we needed some pretty pictures. So—here are some pretty pictures. They’re from the Carrow Psalter. It’s a psalter written in East Anglia, the Norfolk/Suffolk/Cambridgeshire area part of England that used to be the heartland of the old Danelaw. Written in the mid-thirteenth century, it appears at Carrow Abbey (near Norwich—still within East Anglia) at some point in its fairly early history. And, yes, this is abbey where Julian of Norwich was said to have received her training. (Indeed, if a certain expert on Julian wants to weigh in further, that would be much appreciated!) Could she have seen or even used this psalter? Who knows. I’d like to think so!

In addition to the Julian connection, I like this book because of one of the saints who figures prominently in it is St. Olaf. Here we’re likely seeing some of the old cultural connections from the Anglo-Scandinavian character of the Anglian area. It’s significant to me as I’m an alum of St. Olaf College.

Finally, I picked it because this book’s shelfmark is W. 34. The “W” signifies that it is one of the holdings of the Walters Art Museum, meaning that this book currently sits 1.7 miles away from my house…

Here’s the url linking to the full manuscript from the Digital Walters: W.34, Carrow Psalter.


The psalter opens with this full page spread of Peter and Paul with facing collects. Following traditional iconography, Peter has the keys, Paul has a sword and is bald on top. The collects are relatively straightforward. The Early Church knew of the dust-up between the two described in Galatians 2, but the tradition describes them patching up their difficulties and the story is told of their joint martyrdom in Rome. Liturgically, the two are connected because whenever a feast of one was celebrated, the collect of the other was included as a commemoration immediately thereafter. That’s basically what we have here—the collect from the Chair of St Peter followed immediately by the commemoration of Paul.


Here’s the next full page spread. If you can see up at the top above the figures, they are labelled St. Barnabas and John the Evangelist. However, if you look very carefully at the second collect, you may notice something odd. It mentions “gemini” (twins) and names both John and Paul (beatorum iohannis et pauli). Yeah—it’s the wrong John and Paul… Somehow the scribe has inserted the collect for the 4th century martyr brothers John and Paul who have an ancient titular church in Rome built over their tomb (which was also one of the “stations” where papal masses were held), and who are celebrated on June 26th. Not John the Evangelist.

After these two there are four more full-page spreads each having two saints—mostly apostles—and a collect. The sense you get is that the psalter begins with the 12 apostles (2 saints, 6 pages, sure, why not?). Except that Barnabas was a companion of Paul, not an apostle, and the last pair includes a very generic and surprisingly well-groomed John the Baptist. Luke’s list of disciples is being followed but we’re missing Philip and the second  James (and, of course, Judas Iscariot would round out the Twelve count but Paul is in his place. No Matthias either.)

So—there are some pretty pictures from interesting manuscript that raise a variety of questions! Hopefully we’ll dip back more into this psalter in the future.


Back to the Keys

I’ve been occupied with quite a number of things over the last several weeks, but I’m on my way back to regular blogging.

For those of you who read The Anglican Digest, the Autumn issue opens with a piece from me. Naturally, I’d urge you to read it!  (I don’t see it up yet at their main site, but you can see the Autumn issue on their Scribd feed.)My piece may be familiar to long-time readers, it’s an edit of something I originally published several years ago at the Cafe, and I still regard it as one of my favorite essays.

While you’re there, definitely check out the rest of the issue as well. There’s a very interesting line-up of people with content ranging from the devotional to the pastoral to the theological; this issue has a particular focus on the Communion of the Saints. I used to be a faithful reader of TAD but dropped off a while ago; it’s under new editorial management now by two solid folks who should be well known to Episcopal blog readers, Fr. Anthony Clavier and  Catherine Salmon (verger extraordinaire and daughter of Retired Bishop Salmon). They’ve been at the helm for about a year now, and are breathing new life back into it.

Duty calls—more later!