Category Archives: Saints

A Great Slog of Witnesses

A few days ago I finally pushed “send” and A Great Cloud of Witnesses (GCW) went off to the chair and co-chair of the SCLM for them to steward along the path to publication.

You have no idea how happy I am to have that out the door… Over the years, I’ve begun categorizing the various projects that I have agreed to do. The most difficult are those I refer to as “tar babies.” These are the projects that I’m not particularly fond of, but must do, and that seem to soak up a disporportionate amount of time and emotional energy, preventing me from working on anything else. GCW was one of these. But the bulk of the work is now complete as it moves on to other stages.

A few thoughts at this point in the process…

1. I’m still not particularly happy with GCW, but I do think that it was the best we could do at this time. As I’ve said before, if it were up to me, the calendar would consist largely of martyrs, monks, mystics, and Marian feasts (the 4M kalendar….). But it’s not up to me, and it’s not my calendar. Starting from Holy Women, Holy Men and the responses we received from that, I think this was the best possible option, though, given where the church is.

2. I’m more convince than ever that “first” is not a theological category. Indeed, “first-ness” may well be a good litmus test for determining if a given calendar is eschatologically-oriented or historically-oriented. GCW, like HWHM before it, is primarily oriented towards history. Is that in keeping with the classic Christian conception of a sanctoral calendar? No. Is that in keeping with where the Episcopal Church is right now? Well—yes… But hopefully this will change at some point in the future.

3. I think the use of expanded commons will be a true benefit for two reasons. First, I think we had some fairly tortured readings in HWHM because we didn’t want to re-use readings and we wanted them to be appropriate. When you’ve got 287 lesser feasts to work with this becomes quite challenging! Giving a good range for local communities to select from makes far more sense. Second, it becomes much more clear that these readings are not now (and have never been!) intended for use with the Daily Office. The readings for Lesser Feasts & Fasts have always been for Eucharists, not for the Office.

4. There are a lot of really interesting people and true saints in GCW. I am glad that the church is being exposed to them. It is a decent starting place for exploring our history as Episcopalians and Christians as well as a means for getting to know those who are presently interceding with and for us.

5. We’ll see how the tags get used. There are two different kinds of tags in the resource–liturgical use tags and biographical tags. The liturgical use tags are those that indicate what liturgical materials to use for Eucharistic celebrations; these are balanced between the sanctoral commons and the Propers for Various Occasions. I do hope we’ll begin to see an expanded awareness and use of the later. The biographical tags are tags intended to help readers categorize and connect figures and groups of figures together. These identify things like ordination status, church community, time, place, and also charisms and virtues represented by the variou figures. Clearly, these will be more useful in an electronic version of the resource than a print publication—we’ll see what comes of that.

Hopefully, posting will become more regular now that this is done!

Repeat Performance: Talking Mary with the Collect Call

When Brendan and Holli invited me to appear as a guest on The Collect Call podcast, they were recording a double-header. The first was on the collect for the Eucharist, the second was on the collect for the Feast of St. Mary which is now up in time for the feast today.

I did have to bail early to deal with some familial turmoil, but before that point had a great chat with them.

Calendar Update

The resolution on “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” came before the House of Deputies yesterday. It passed, but with a very interesting amendment.

Rather than being “authorized”, convention will now “make [GCW] available for publication and distribution by individuals and in congregations and other church groups for devotional or catechetical use, or use in public worship subject to the provision for optional commemorations on page 18 of the Book of Common Prayer.

As I read this, GCW will then have the same force as “Daily Prayer for All Seasons”. Which is to say—not a whole lot. Essentially, it will be an entirely optional supplementary book. Any one concerned about its “criteria for inclusion” no longer needs to be concerned because it is not actually official this way.

This will mean some revision to the text of the document; part of the premise of GCW was that the official sanctoral calendar of the Episcopal Church would be formally established as the Holy Days as designated in sections 1-3 of the Calndar section of the BCP. If GCW is available, then it has no legislative force and references to this designation will need to be removed.

I must say—this is a very interesting development! It raises some questions which will have to be both thought through carefully and interpreted.

1. This means that Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006 still remains the official sanctoral document of the Episcopal Church. It is now back on the digital shelves of Church Publishing in hardcover form; we need a digital form as well.

2. The official criteria for sanctity in the Episcopal Church are the criteria listed on 491-3 in LFF2006. Page 492 includes the line: “Baptism is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite for inclusion in the Calendar.”

3. As the resolution currently stands, GCW is “made available” but Weekday Eucharistic Propers 2015 is still “authorize[d] for trial use.” So one-half of the two-part work is authorized, the other simply made available. Interesting… Will WEP2015 make sense as a standalone work? I suppose we’ll see.

4. The big question from where I sit is what happens to the related resolutions, i.e., those pertaining to the revised collects and to the Big List of Additions. Are they still directed towards GCW only? If so, what are the implications of those if they are only being “made available”?

5. In line with the “made available” designation, I’m now not entirely sure what we will have to report back to GC79 as directed in the last few resolves. It seems to me that this may now be as simple as “yes, it’s available…”

We’ll see how things proceed from here. Since it has been amended, this resolution will need to go back to the House of Bishops and be voted upon again. Of course, if that doesn’t happen—if it doesn’t get re-consented—then the discussion is done and LFF2006 remains our official sanctoral resource with no further direction for the SCLM to do anything with the structure of the Calendar. (Which would not be a bad thing in my book.)

Talking Saints with The Collect Call

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to chat with Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, one of the hosts of “The Collect Call” podcast about “Great Cloud of Witnesses” and the Episcopal Church’s multiple perspectives on sanctity. As I’ve said before, I love the way Brendan and Holli engage the collects of the prayer book in a warm and practical way; if you’re looking for discussion starters for Christian Education or Adult Forums, this podcast would be a great choice.

We had a great chat although I hardly let Brendan get a word in edge-wise for all my ranting and rambling. It lays out much of what was going through my mind as the Calendar subcommittee was working on the transition from Holy Women Holy Men towards A Great Cloud of Witnesses.

Of course, I’ll be interested to see what happens with GCW; I believe they will (or may already have by the time you read this…) be taking up GCW this morning in legislative committee. I have no idea what will come out of that process. (But I’m keeping on top of things by following Bishop Dan Martins [@BishSpringfield] on Twitter as he’s live-tweeting the meetings!) I’ll say again as I’ve said before, I think Great Cloud of Witnesses is the best way forward given what we had and parameters we were given to work with. Is it my vision of a satisfactory sanctoral resource for the church? No. But the only way to accomplish what we truly need to do is to go back to the drawing board and the Baptismal Covenant and the sacraments and go from there—not putting a band-aid on a bolted-on addition to Lesser Feasts & Fasts

But—without further ado, caveats, or framing—here’s the interview!: A Great Cloud of Holy Women, Holy Men

The Dorchester Chaplains

Susan Snook mentioned the Dorchester Chaplains below; I didn’t address it in the comments because this issue does deserve a full-on post of its own to sort through what we’re working with here.

For those unaware, the commemoration of the Dorchester Chaplains kicked off one of the biggest focused arguments around Holy Women, Holy Men (HWHM). You can see the commemoration here. I see a lot of different pieces to this commemoration and the controversy around it. Let’s call them out one by one…

1. The inclusion of an unbaptized person on the calendar. Of the four people listed in the commemoration, one of them is Rabbi Alexander D. Goode. Obviously, Rabbi Goode was not baptized. For those of us with a higher theology of sanctity, this presents a problem. We define “saints” as—among other things—Christians who witness to the particular character of God in Christ through their life and works. Therefore, having an unbaptized saint is a non-starter; it contradicts the definition. However…

2. There is a lack of consensus in the Episcopal Church on the definition of the term “saint.” People’s Exhibit A here is the (in)famous Dancing Saints mural at St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco. Exhibit B would be the exchange that Donald Schell (part 1, part 2)  and I (full thing) had at the Episcopal Cafe on saints and sainthood sparked by his writing on the mural. Exhibit C is the comment section for Lent Madness each year. I fear that the broad middle regards sainthood and sanctity in terms borrowed more from Moralistic Therapeutic Deism than it does from classical Christianity. That is, linking MTD’s points 2 and 5, I think the default definition is “good, nice, fair people who went to heaven when they died.” The additions that came in with HWHM also left some asking if the new criteria could be simply summed up as “proto-progressives.” What’s tricky here too is RC theologian Karl Rahner’s notion of “anonymous Christians” which, as far as I’m concerned is like throwing the back-door open wide and laying out a welcome mat for MTD theology.  Because there is no formal definition, those who see saints as (minimally) baptized have nothing substantive to appeal to against those who counter that a given person was “really good.”

3. Unbaptized martyrs. To complicate matters, there was one class of unbaptized persons who could make it into the rolls of the saints in classical Christianity: martyrs. This was a necessary situation because of the persecutions of the pre-Constantinian period. You would have catechumens and such who were seized by the authorities and killed for their faith without ever formally having been baptized. As a result, the church came up with the idea of a baptism with blood which lays down the principle that those who desired baptism but were killed before receiving it did get a de-facto baptism with their own blood and could, therefore be honored as sainted martyrs. The most famous examples on our calendar are Perpetua and Felicity.

It was absolutely axiomatic in the early church that martyrs were saints. The first saint of the church was Stephen and he provides the foundational account: he followed Jesus and imitated him so perfectly that he died a death like his—killed on account of his testimony concerning Jesus, condemned despite his innocence of any real crime, and forgiving his killers, even praying on their behalf with the result that one of them—Saul—was himself converted. Once we hit the Constantinian period and the opportunity to die at the hands of the state decreased, the church had to start thinking about other criteria and other forms of martyrdom. Fast forward to the present day and we see that the concept of martyrdom has become a little murky.

The 1988 4th edition of LFF first includes “Constance, Nun, and her Companions” with the subtitle “Commonly known as ‘The Martyrs of Memphis.'” What killed them was not a hostile government but a mosquito-bourne illness; they were not killed because they refused to recant or burn a pinch of incense to the emperor. Rather, they died because of their commitment to their mission of helping the sick and poor who could not or were not able to flee the diseased city. I think we can see why this is referred to as “martyrdom”; their deaths were due to their commitments to Christian principles. In this case, we can see how dying for a principle is linked to dying for Christ. But is all death on behalf of principles death, on behalf of Christ? Do we need to draw any lines—and if so, where? Since we already mentioned St. Gregory of Nyssa, how would we assess one of their choices, Iqbal Masih? Here’s how Donald described his witness in part 1 linked to above:

He was a Pakistani Christian child sold into indentured servitude at age four. At ten he escaped from crippling work as a rug-knotter, and fearlessly told his story to the world, offering his voice and experience to support the Bonded Labor Liberation Front that was freeing thousands of child-slaves like him and teaching rug buyers around the world to ask who was making their hand-tied rugs, how the workers were being treated and whether they were being paid fairly. In 1995, when Iqbal Masih was twelve, he testified before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. That Easter he went home to his village to go to church, and that afternoon was shot dead, martyred in the street for helping other children find freedom.

Is this martyrdom? On what criteria do we make a judgement yea or nay?

Then, of course, we return to the original subjects, the Dorchester Chaplains. They gave away their life-vests to other men. They died on behalf of their principles. Is this martyrdom—and to what do we appeal to ground our answer?

Then, to complete the step, is any martyrdom a baptism in blood; why or why not?

(The flip side of this is a controversy over the definition of marytrdom reflected in the Revised Edition of LFF. Typically martyrs were identified by assigning a person the propers for a martyr and/or the preface for Holy Week. But Christians killed by Christians–like Cranmer, Ridley, Tyndale, et al. receive the preface for a saint rather than those for a martyr. Someone judged that a death was not a martyrdom in the case of Christian-on-Chrstian violence. Do we agree or not? If not, why not?)

4. The Long Shadow of anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism. This is one that both sides in the controversy have to be very careful about. There are those who suggest that we can keep the commemoration, but just drop Rabbi Goode from it. There are a couple of reasons why this doesn’t fly including some I’ll hold until my next point. Suffice it to say that this approach would smack of continued Christian anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism. We have a history of saying and doing very bad things to Jewish people in the name of Christianity; we don’t want to perpetuate this in any way or form. But we’re in danger of doing it in two different forms here. One is the approach that seeks to lift up the Christians and dispense with “the Jew.” That’s a complete non-starter for me. The other is to say that we welcome his presence and accept that his faithful witness to God is identical or certainly equal to that of his Christian brother chaplains. He was being very Christian, but maybe didn’t realize it… But is there a way to do this without passing him in as an “anonymous Christian”? How do we do this without the spectre of supercessionism raising its ugly head? Again—in the face of the pervasive presence of MTD and its philosophy in our culture, how do we properly differentiate Christian virtue from a more generic “being excellent to each other”?

5. There are politics involved. One of the factors that makes this commemoration more complex than others is its source. If you notice, there are actually no Episcopalians in the quartet; there was the rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest, a Methodist minister, and a Dutch Reformed minister. So, where did this come from and why? This commemoration was passed to the SCLM by the office of the Episcopal Church that deals with both military and hospital chaplaincies, an office overseen by an Episcopal bishop. One of the reasons why this particular commemoration was offered was because it underscores and celebrates the ecumencial character of chaplaincy work. Its interdenominational and interfaith character is a feature, not a bug.  The other key reason why removing Rabbi Goode from the commemoration (in addition to the appearance of anti-semitism) is that it would undercut one of the key purposes of the observance in the first place. It is politically more complex for the SCLM to refuse a commemoration that we asked for from an official body with a bishop behind it.

6. Memorable/Important/Significant vs. Holy. One of my great liturgical heroes and a person I look up to quite a lot is Walter H. Frere. An English bishop who did a lot of work in late medieval Sarum sources and a correspondent of Evelyn Underhill, Frere did some important work in thinking through incorporating classical catholicity into the process of modern prayer book revision and was one of the architects of the failed English 1928 effort. One of the topics he wrote about was how to do a responsible Anglican sanctoral calendar, and his approach was widely followed in prayer book revision processes across the Anglican Communion throughout the 20th century. But I think he failed in one very important and significant way. He entirely avoids any discussion of the miraculous or the holy. Instead, he takes what I’d consider a rationalist approach to the saints, portraying them chiefly as historically significant individuals.

This is the place where our processes diverge the most from—say—the Roman Catholic approach. As is well known, Roman Catholic saints must “prove” their sanctity through two well-documented miracles. Largely we tend to consider this to be wierd and a hold-over of medieval superstition. But what we don’t do is consider why this factor is important to begin with… Miracles and holiness functioned for medievals and continue to function for modern Roman Catholics as proof of the eschatological character of the saints—that they were hooked into the life of God in an extraordinary way by virtue of their devotion and manner of life.

Following Frere, we don’t go there. No Anglican commemoration process looks at or asks about miracles. Instead we focus around notions of memorability, importance, and significance. I think we lose something important here. I stand behind what I said in the post I linked to above: “I understand perfectly well the banality of modern life. What I ask of my saints is the capacity to crack open reality and reveal to me the numinous life of God hid within it.”

Where is the numinous here? As we amass a collection of “good, nice, and fair” progressive people, are we considering elements of the numinous and mystical as part of their witness—that weird connection into the life of God that is part of eschatological experience? That’s actually something that jumped out at me in the materials submitted for Hiram Hisanori Kano; he had that.

Final Thoughts

The SCLM did recommend some commemorations to remove from the calendar; this was not one of them. I support that precisely because of the shift away from the liturgical/sanctoral model of HWHM to the catechetical/family history model of GCW. Because GCW is not intended to be a sanctoral calendar, I can see this commemoration catching the outside of the plate in terms of people and events who are significant and important for how the Episcopal Church sees and understands itself moving into the 21st century.

I do think that Rabbi Goode—or at least what little I know of him—shows a good and noble character. But that’s not all there is to a saint. We should fully believe in and celebrate good and noble people without feeling the need to either force them into our vocabulary or to warp our vocabulary to accomodate them. Saints are models of Christian maturity, mirrors of the virtues of Christ, present intercessors on our behalf, and signs of who the Church is. Rabbi Goode can’t be that for us on several levels but that doesn’t make him any less of a person.

As an analog, in addition to the necrology model I mentioned in the previous post, I am reminded of Jerome’s On Illustrious Men. This work was a collection of Jerome’s thoughts and opinions on early writers who were important and significant for the Christian Church. Chiefly, he is identifying authors and the books they wrote that ought to be read by Christian readers. Generally, it serves as a catalog of the orthodox Christian Fathers of the Church and an ennumeration of the books they wrote. However, amongst the people you’d expect are a number of interesting choices: the Jewish philosopher and exegete Philo Judaeus, the Jewish historian Josephus, and the Roman Stoic Lucius Annaeus Seneca whom he includes on the technicality of some apocryphal works (which I’m pretty sure Jerome knew were spurious). Jerome performs a little CYA here:

Lucius Annaeus Seneca of Cordova, disciple of the Stoic Sotion and uncle of Lucan the Poet, was a man of most continent life, whom I should not place in the category of saints were it not that those Epistles of Paul to Seneca and Seneca to Paul, which are read by many, provoke me. In these, written when he was tutor of Nero and the most powerful man of that time, he says that he would like to hold such a place among his countrymen as Paul held among Christians. He was put to death by Nero two years before Peter and Paul were crowned with martyrdom.

Jerome’s list isn’t really a sanctoral list. Properly, it’s a list of authors who were important and significant—which is what GCW is too. If Jerome can include a few outliers like Philo and Seneca, I think GCW can survive an occasional exception like Rabbi Goode.

That having been said, I do think that we need a much better and clearer agreement on what saints are. For me, this is directly tied to the sacraments and to seeing Christian discipleship as intimately tied to the living of a sacramental life that begins with Baptism and is nourished by Eucharist, Confession, and the rest. We need to cultivate our appreciation for the numinous and to explore it as an important part of our faith, not to flee from it as some kind of superstitious embarrassment.

 

Responding on the Saints

Scott Gunn posted on the three sanctoral resolutions coming out of the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music’s (SCLM) work for General Convention this summer. I’ve found his whole series on the General Convention resolutions for this year (Tangled Up in Blue) to be a good starting place to think things through. I know there’s been some criticism of this effort, but—speaking as someone who has been privy to the discussions and the drafting of the resolutions—I’ve found it helpful to see how a “regular person” who hasn’t been privy to the conversations reads things.

Why legislation is presented a certain way is not always clear. In some cases, it seems that an unnecessarily tortorous route was taken for no good reason. Some suggestions from outside observers can appear like easy fixes if you don’t know the history behind the situation. Others seem like good ideas but have hidden gotchas buried in them. Others are untenable due to political fights within the church or within the committee. Sometimes a tortorous route really is the best solution to a problem because it will present the greatest good to the greatest number in the most pastoral way; sometimes it reflects a lack of will to make hard decisions and piss some people off…

As I read Scott’s reflections on the three sanctoral resolutions, I come with the history/baggage of knowing why certain easy options wouldn’t work or why we chose to go in a certain route. Thus, I want to make some corrections, some clarifications, and present some answers about why things look the way they look.

Scott starts with some general comments around the “Holy Women, Holy Men” (HWHM) process. Brief background—this revision of the Calendar was kicked off in 2003 by then Presiding Bishop and SCLM member Frank Griswold with the intention of expanded the calendar and remedying some historical imbalances in the demographics of the calendar with special reference to lay/clergy, white/people-of-color, men/women, and Anglican/non-Anglican levels. The SCLM came back in 2009 with a bit of an expansion: here is my graphical breakdown of what it accomplished in terms of numbers of additions and how it affected some of the identified areas of concern. Now, here are Scott’s thoughts:

…my concerns can be summarized thusly:

  • SCLM seems to want to do too much, too soon, which results in less than their finest possible work.

  • They confuse “extraordinary or even heroic human being” with “exemplar of Christian discipleship.”

  • They set out excellent criteria for inclusion in the calendar, and then proceed to ignore their own work.

  • They don’t seem to listen to feedback, unless what they’re hearing is very different from what I’m seeing. If so, I’d love to see a report on the feedback that’s been received.

I’d agree that the first three are issues—and, because of that, we’ve tried to address them in the resolutions that we offered. On the fourth, there was feedback given publicly on the blog that we did look at, and in my own work submitted to the SCLM, discussed in meetings, and posted here on my own blog, I took the criticisms of HWHM into account as much as possible. In particular, I identified six major centers of energy around HWHM that we needed to factor into our work. So—yes, I did listen; the degree to which it was enacted, well, I think we had varying amounts of success as we attempt to balance different needs and concerns against one another.

The other major issue that Scott raises in his beginning section is the definition of a saint:

However, we must also note that WEP sows theological confusion. An example:

There are a variety of views concerning who and what a saint is: some would identify a saint as any Christian who has struggled to lead a faithful life; others reserve the title for those who have demonstrated heroic virtue on account of their depth of union with Christ and who now participate in the nearer presence of God.

Well, no. Actually, the scriptures and the church’s tradition are quite clear on who the saints are. Anyone who is baptized is a saint. The New Testament is crystal clear on sainthood, and sainthood is the property of all Christians. Go ahead and look it up. I’ll wait. Except for the SCLM, I just don’t think anyone is confused by this.

Actually—Scott’s wrong here. The church has traditionally used the term saint in two ways. One is the Pauline general sense, but since the third or fourth century it has also had a specific referrent to those people who have heroic lived out their baptismal calling. All Christians are created equal. All Christians are equal in the eyes of God. But not all Christians are equal in their fervor, devotion, and witness to who Christ is. Not only that, the church has historically said that holiness isn’t just about ethics but about humans serving as channels for eschatoogical power and grace that manifest miraculously in connection with certain Christian persons living and dead. Yes, 21st century Christians tend to get squeamish when we start talking about miracles and holiness—but its part of our tradition that we have to work with.

Yeah, sure, under the general sense of the term both your grandma and Francis of Assisi are saints. But—no offense to granny—Francis has a far greater impact on our common life as a community because of the way that he inspires a full-bodied living of the Christian message, serves as an icon of Christian maturity, and helps draw the whole Church towards its end in Christ through his life, work, witness, and on-going prayers. He deserves the specific use of the term in a way that granny just doesn’t.

So—moving from generalities to specific resolutions now…

A055: Revise Liturgical Commemorations.

Here we recommend some deletions, recommend some additions, and introduce some revised collects.

I agree with Scott that both the additions and the deletions could use some additional information about them. To be fair, though, this is the form in which additions and deletions have been made since there was a process to do so. Information has not historically been provided. Ruth Meyers has already requested some information on the deletions to be drafted; it would probably be a good idea to do the same on the additions.

On the additions, most of these were submitted by dioceses or provinces. Hiram Hisanori Kano, in particular, was put forward quite strongly by two geographically separated dioceses who already commemorate him in their local calendars, so there is evidence for pre-existing commemoration on-the-ground for some of these.

As far as I’m concerned, the centerpoint of this resolution is the revised collects. We received a lot of feedback on the poor state of the collects for HWHM; this is an attempt to answer it. I wrote many of these collects, but other members of the subcommittee also took part. The goal here was to move away from the “biographical ‘collect'” and to produce true collects that were grounded in baptismal virtues and charisms. Too, these collects should be far more singable than the former versions. There are still some collects out there that probably should have been redone; there are doubtless many things that could be tinkered with to improve the new collects—but forward progress has been made to address the issues raised about them.

A056: Authorize New Liturgical Resources: A Great Cloud of Witnesses; Weekday Eucharistic Propers.

My main critique here is that Scott has missed the chief point of A Great Cloud of Witnesses (GCW). Here are the big things to know about GCW:

  • It would clarify that the official Sanctoral Calendar of the Episcopal Church consists of the Major Feasts already identified within the ’79 Book of Common Prayer. Lesser Feasts & Fasts never said if it was a sanctoral calendar and never called the people in it “saints”; HWHM made some pretentions in this direction and did use the word saints; GCW is clear that it is not a sanctoral calendar—GCW is definitely for the idea of saints, but is not going to try to tell you who they are.
  • It makes a clear and decisive break from the idea that the SCLM is a canonization committee. No longer are we operating with a curial model of a central committee naming saints that everyone else has to live with. Instead, it emphasizes the classic Christian model: local communities identify and celebrate saints.
  • GCW is primarily a catechetical resource that offers pointers towards liturgical resources if the local community decides that they wish to celebrate a certain person within it as a saint.

Because GCW is a catechetical rather than a liturgical resource, Weekday Eucharistic Propers 2015 (WEP) is a liturgical resource to help local communities think through what propers to use for Eucharists that fall outside of Sundays or Feasts provided for in the BCP.

Here’s the key thing to know about WEP:

  • Its three main divisions reflect the three major options for celebrating weekday Eucharists:
    • It provides weekday readings for the Temporal cycle
    • It provides the Commons of the Saints
    • It provides the Propers for Various Occasions
  • It reinforces what the prayer book has always said about the entirely optional character of the people in LFF, HWHM, or GCW. They’re all optional; they always have been. HWHM did not take away any ferial days. There was a perception of a loss of ferial days on the part of those who perceive the “lesser feasts” as mandatory—but they’re not: they’re entirely optional.

In particular, I’d like to see greater use of the Propers for Various Occasions (votive masses). Of the suggestions for liturgical commemoration listed in GCW, you’ll note that usually roughly half of them are from the Commons of Saints while the other half are from the Propers for Various Occasions. What’s happening here is that a community might decide that it wants to celebrate the life and work of someone who they don’t feel was a saint but who brought attention to a specific issue, cause, or doctrine. In that case, a votive proper for that issue/cause/doctrine could be used to supply the propers of the day and the devotional collect could be used to conclude the Prayers of the People: this way a particular cause or concept is honored without the person being celebrated as a saint.

Ok—the other thing to note here is to loop back to the cathecetical vs. liturgical distinction and to reflect on the new purpose of GCW. What is this thing? From my perspective, the book has shifted from being a martyrology to being a necrology. Let me clarify the terminology here… A martyrology was a community’s “book of saints.” Usually at the Office of Chapter—kind of like a daily monastic staff meeting—the martyrology would be read so that everybody would be clear on which saints they would be celebrating on the next liturgical day (which might start at sundown if it happened to be a feast).  A necrology was a community’s “book of the dead.” Classically in the Christian West, a dead person who was a significant part of an ecclesial community (church, cathedral, monastery, whatever) got a requiem on a set of anniversaries: 3 days after their death (in token of the resurrection), 7 days (the week anniversary), 30 days (the month anniversary), then yearly after that. And when I say “significant part” there are a variety of ways a person could get included, the two most obvious being members of the community and benefactors. That is, monks got listed in their community necrologies as did people who give financial gifts and support. Too, one of the ways that relationships between different monasteries was maintained was in a mutual sharing of necrologies. (I.e., we show that we’re connected to you by praying for and remembering your dead in the same way we do our own—and vice-versa.) The necrology was where this community list was maintained through the decades and even centuries. (We often see necrological entries in sanctoral calendars within community books—the distinction between feasted saints and the local dead is usually pretty obvious based on the way the dead were written into the margin of the kalendars. I don’t have any good examples of hand but I should definitely run some down for you…)

[As an aside, the practice of a fulsome necrology gve our spiritual ancestors a much better sense of a baptismal ecclesiology than our current practice does—we have a tendency to neglect our dead… But that’s a discussion for another post.]

GCW is a necrology for the Episcopal Church. It lets us know when certain people who are of on-going importance to our community died, and helps inform our current community about who they were and why they matter to us. The key, then, is importance and significance not necessarily or inherently holiness. Now, local communities may well decide that some of the communal dead are indeed the blessed dead who are not just part of our historical past but are part of our eschatological present and are working alongside us and praying for us now—but GCW is not that list!

As a result, this changes what we’re doing here and how we think about both the number of names and who we include. That, therefore, bring us to the last sanctoral resolution:

A057: Create Additional Liturgical Commemorations.

Scott seems to be un-thrilled by this one…:

My answer to this one can be served up on a plate. It’s a NO sandwich as a side of NO. For dessert, we’ll have the NO cream sundae with a NO-berry on top. Seriously. What the…?

Yes, the proposal is to add 55 new people to GCW. And, yes, they’re all women.

The impetus here should be fairly straightforward. Since 1982, General Convention has told the SLC/SCLM to produce a set of commemorations that is more balanced with respect to gender. The 1980 edition of LFF had 90% men and 10% women so you can see why this would be an issue. Again in 2003, the call was given for a more gender balanced list. And, you can see why as the numbers and only twitched despite the 1982 legislation; in 2003 the balance was 86% men and 14% women. HWHM, that paragon of inclusivity which was going to solve this problem through the addition of a hundred plus names, provided only another little twitch: the count is currently at 81% men and 19% women. Which is why my co-chair tends to refer to it as “Holy Men, Holy Men.”

Part of the mandate for this triennium was to actually make some progress in this area: try to get the commemorations to better reflect what the church actually looks like. Now, there are only strategies that can be used in order to change a percentage: take away some of one group or add more to the other group. Too, these strategies can be used in combination. And that’s what my first attempt tried to do. I initially floated the idea of reducing the calendar significantly and putting the other people into an historical almanac. Thus, I both removed men and added women. But this solution was rejected.  The message was loud and clear: you can’t remove men already on the calendar to make the numbers work. Therefore there was only one other option left—add more women. And that’s what this resolution does.

As far as a list of women goes, I think it’s a good one. It does skew modern in the range of who is included, but it could have been much worse; I think we have a good selection of women who represent a wide variety of Christian vocations. I.e., it’s not all modern “social justice warriors.” Some of them clearly make the list, but we also have a solid variety from the patristic and medieval periods as well as the last century and a balance of actives and contemplatives.

I don’t know if this resolution will pass or not. I think a lot of people will have the same reaction that Scott did. One of the consistent criticisms of HWHM was the number of people on it; recommending more does seem to be ignoring that feedback. On the other hand, we are trying to address something that has been mandated by General Convention and has not been sufficiently acted on for over 30 years despite reminders in the interim to do something about it.

One more time since it seems not to have sunk in: adding more names is not the same as adding more saints. We’re not adding saints, we’re expanding the scope of who we remember as part of our community, some of whom we may actually want to celebrate as saints, others of whom we won’t.

Parting Thoughts

Scott had a few more parting thoughts, one of which was this question:

A bonus challenge: I’d like to hear from any lay or clergy leader in a congregation who celebrates Holy Eucharist daily (that’s all seven days, every week). Do you find this sanctoral calendar expansion, as envisaged by the SCLM, helpful in your corporate worship life? Why or why not?

Now—I’m not in such a congregation. But I try to pray the Office daily and include the saints within the Office. My own perspective too is shaped by the fact that I’m a medievalist. I have no issues at all with having a whole pile of people being remembered on one day. In fact, many of the historic calendars did just that. It’s pretty simple—you have a principal figure of the day and you commemorate the rest. What does this acheive? That’s easy—it helps us get a better sense of what baptismal ecclesiology really is and what it actually means: we are a community spread through time, united in the eternal present moment of Jesus Christ. I do believe that some (probably most) of our dead are presently “go[ing] from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in [God’s] heavenly kingdom” (BCP, 488) while others presently cheering us on so that “encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (BCP, 489).

The Liturgical Addendum

My sincere apologies to the General Convention translation crew… The appendix to the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM) resolutions has now been made public. It can be found here (in a 264 page pdf…). The first section contains the materials on same-sex blessings. A second part contains the material generated by my Calendar Subcommittee. Of that part there are three major sections. The third contains resources for Honoring God in Creation.

The first section of the Calendar material is the revised collects. These go from page 152 to page 171. Generally, what you’ll find here is a move away from the “biographical collect.” Introduced in the 1980 revision of Lesser Feasts & Fasts, the biographical collect tends to functionally serve as a mini-homily in prayer form. It tends not to formally be a collect as a collect is one sentence long; these tend to be two sentences. Instead of stressing elements of biography or profession, the new collects try to foreground virtues and charisms. That is, the new revisions attempt a deeper connection with Baptism and the Baptismal Covenant.  Baptism doesn’t give a person a profession. That is, one isn’t baptized as a lawyer or a musician or a teacher. Rather, Baptism opens us to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the virtues of Christ. As a result, most of the revisions attempt to reflect this theological understanding grounded in Baptism, and focus on charisms and virtues rather than accidents of profession and biography.

The second section contains the prefatory material for “A Great Cloud of Witness” (GCW) which introduces a new paradigm for understanding the materials formerly submitted as Holy Women, Holy Men.  This material goes from page 172 to page 217. I’ll expand on this later, but there are two central shifts here. The first central shift is from the Calendar as martyrology to the Calendar as necrology. That is, the SCLM is not saying that the people listed in GCW are saints. Rather, these are people whom we recognize as part of our broader family of faith who have helped the Episcopal Church understand who it is and how it proclaims the Gospel in this time and place. Saints are not declared by a “central committee” but by local communities who may choose all, some, or none of the folks listed in GCW as they discern holiness and sanctity within the bounds of a prayer-book faith. The second central shift is from propers to commons. Instead of trying to assign appropriate propers—Scripture readings in particular—to every single person in the book, the Commons of Saints have been greatly expanded and the individual entries suggest which Commons would be appropriate sources from which to select biblical readings if a given individual is deemed to be a saint by the local worshipping community.

The third section is a companion to GCW. Entitled “Weekday Eucharistic Propers: 2015”, its presence underscores the fact that all of the contents of GCW are entirely optional. Thus, it presents three among many licit options for celebrating weekday Eucharists by 1) collecting the options for following the Temporal Cycle together into a coherent structure, 2) giving greater visibilty to the sadly neglected Various Occasions, and 3) giving options for eucharistically celebrating saints as determined by the local community. This material goes from pages 218 to page 228.

I will be saying more about these materials as time allows and as you ask questions for clarification!

Collecting

M and I got home without incident from the Society of Catholic Priests conference in Toronto. As always, it was a great experience! We reconnected with old friends, met people we’d only known online, and made new friends. My talk was well received. Usually I post them here—I won’t this time because I don’t actually have the substance of it. Fr. David Cobb and I presented on the new revision of the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. I talked a bit about the historical background of devotional books for the laity (also used by clergy) and went through the psalters, books of hours, primers, and later devotionals to provide some context for the SAPB. I decided to work from bullet points rather than a manuscript ; hence the lack of material to post here.

I’m desperately trying to get work on ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’ (GCW) done before the SCLM meets in person to finalize our Blue Book submissions for General Convention. I’m pulling together the efforts of various members of the committee and giving it a final once-over. As I do so, I find more tweaking to do…

Look—it’s pretty clear. If you trouble to turn to page 357 of your ’79 BCP you’ll see a section of the Eucharist entitled “The Collect of the Day.” Under that is a rubric: “The Celebrant says the Collect.” (This is also exactly what appears on p. 325 in the Rite I Eucharist.) Ergo, whatever prayer is inserted there ought to be a Collect. A Collect is a particular kind of prayer. While the Prayer Book itself doesn’t give a definition, it certainly gives us enough examples so that we ought to be able to recognize one when we see it!

So many of the prayers in HWHM being reworked into material for GCW simply aren’t collects! I’ve written sufficiently on the topic of definition to not bore you with it here, but at least the notion bears frequent repeating. The blame, if blame there even needs to be, belongs at the feet of the 1980 revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. This edition signaled the move to the “biographical ‘collect'”—an approach tried and rejected in the first trials towards the Calendar in the ’50s and ’60s. What we see in HWHM is an extension of what was already done there.

Vatican II and the Liturgical Renewal Movement made much of the phrase “noble simplicity.” Typically, I’ve not been a fan of it because in its usual application, it means an attempted return to imagined 4th century liturgical norms and removal of “medieval accretions.”  However, it keeps forcing itself to the forefront of my consciousness as I work on these materials; I guess I’ve been more formed in this way than I thought. In particular, it means an instinctive desire to trim the vast thickets of relative clauses currently littering the new compositions appearing in HWHM.

Oh well—at the very least it’ll be interesting to see how these efforts get received at the SCLM meeting and beyond…

Feasting Bede: An Exercise in Collect Revision

The feast of Saint Bede fell over Memorial Day weekend this year. I didn’t post on it this year on its proper date but shall do so now.

In praying his collect this year, I was struck by its limitations. Here’s the text:

Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still
a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines
of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the
Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation,
so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you
known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It’s not so bad as far as current sanctoral collects go. It’s singable. It points towards his virtues and isn’t overburdened with detail. And yet, it could be better.

The regnant model currently is that of the “biographical collect.” This is a proper prayer that incorporates elements of a person’s life and biography. In the Episcopal Church, the biographical collect was attempted and rejected as a strategy in the original deliberations leading up to the first batch of sanctoral collects published in 1958’s Prayer Book Studies XII.  The main reason for the rejection was because “Too many of these Collects gave the effect of being overly contrived and erudite” compounded by the appearance of “subtle allusions” not edifying to the whole worshiping community (PBS XII, 9). However, in 1980, in contrast to these earlier findings, a great majority of the sanctoral collects were rewritten to be biographical. In recent years, particularly in Holy Women Holy Men, the biographical collect has achieved a position of dominance as the genre of choice for sanctoral collects.

I have a fundamental theological problem with the biographical collect. I’m a medievalist: everyone knows this. As a medievalist, my perspective on the saints—who they and and who they are for us—has been heavily influenced by medieval models and perspectives while still retaining a Reformation perspective. Saints are neither demi-gods nor cool people who were also Christian. Rather, the saints are remarkable individuals who have been singled out by their own communities and those after them because they represented the ideal of Christian maturity. If, as Irenaeus has said, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists of beholding God,” then these individuals are example of those who, in the act of beholding God, entered most fully into their own God-imaged humanity. Yes, many of them lived remarkable lives, did remarkable things, and have interesting biographies. But what we celebrate in them is our ability to see in their lives the universal virtues of Christ that they put on by virtue of their Baptism. It’s easy to get lost in biography. What we need to celebrate are the virtues and the charisms which they shared with Christ, which they grew into by virtue of Baptism, and which are available to us also by way of our own Baptisms. Thus, the biographical collect tends to err on the side of accenting their particularity rather than connecting to their universality and the Christ from whom it flows.

The second main issue I have with the biographical collect is its tendency to stop being a collect and to begin being a mini-sermon or secondary biography. A collect is a prayer; it is first and foremost speech to God. Only secondarily is it speech to the gathered assembly. The biographical collect tends to get this reversed, and attempts to edify more than it prays and praises. Consider again the genre of the collect. I’ve written about it here with a two-pronged simile: a collect is simultaneously like a sonnet and like a haiku. And I continue to come back to the words of Percy Dearmer:

Unity is the essential characteristic of the collect. To be good, it must have colour, rhythm, finality, a certain conciseness as well as vigour of thought; but it must be a unified petition, or it becomes something else than a collect. We might indeed say that it must be one complete sentence, an epigram softened by feeling; it must be compact, expressing one thought, and enriching that thought so delicately that a word misplaced may destroy its whole beauty.

Holding these things in mind, let’s review again the appointed collect for Bede…

Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still
a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines
of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the
Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation,
so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you
known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First off, this is a two-sentence prayer, not a collect. Standing in for an actual Invocation+Relative Clause describing God we have an Invocation+biographical note. This is one complete thought: “Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship.” While it begins with God (verbally, at least), it says very little about who God is and says far more about who Bede was.  But it does so to talk about his job. (Again, the professionalization of sanctity, something I’ve railed about before and which I’ll spare you at the present…) Now—how does this first sentence relate thematically and conceptually to the second sentence? The second sentence (“Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world”) identifies the effect of Bede’s service as bringing out the riches of God’s truth, and then requests—on the strength of that—that we be good evangelists.

I guess I can follow the logic—but is it good logic? Is it strong logic? Is this the best we can say about Bede and what we see in him and what we see of Christ through him? I certainly hope not…

Well, what are some other options, then? Here’s the version in the People’s Anglican Missal and the Anglican Breviary that substantially translates the Latin of the pre-1962 Roman Missal:

O God who hast enlightened thy Church with the wondrous learning of blessed Bede thy Confessor and Doctor: mercifully grant to us thy servants; that we, being in all things enlightened by his wisdom, may at all times feel the effectual succor of his righteousness. Through…

We do, in fact, have a collect here! We have a true Invocation+Relative Clause that says something about who God is—he is the enlightener of the Church and Bede is an example of vehicles he has used for this purpose. We at least see something of why we are revering Bede: his wisdom. And yet, this collect, too makes me feel a little edgy. I see Bede—I don’t see Christ…  This falls too close (and perhaps even over) the “saint as demi-god” line. Whose is the “effectual succor of righteousness”: Bede or Christ?

Now, here’s a collect for Bede that appears in PBS XII when he was first introduced into the Episcopal Calendar:

Almighty God, who hast enriched thy Church with the singular learning and holiness of thy servant Bede: Grant us to hold fast the true doctrine of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, and to fashion our lives according to the same, to the glory of thy great Name and the benefit of thy holy Church; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So—a true collect that starts out in a very similar fashion to the Roman version, thanking God for enlightening the Church by virtue of Bede his instrument. Too, we see Jesus and ask to pattern our lives off his and to both glorify his name and benefit the Church. The collect doesn’t explicitly say that this is what Bede did, but we should certainly imply it.

I like this collect. It does what it’s supposed to do and it falls quite neatly between our two boundary lines. It is a bit general, though. This is actually a common collect for teachers and theologians; in PBS XII, Bede shares this same collect with Thomas Aquinas, John of Damascus, Ephrem, Jeremy Taylor, and Samuel I. J. Schereschewsky! You can see how it will work admirably for all of them. Can we get more particular and still hold to our principles?

How about this:

Almighty God, who hast enriched thy Church with the learning and holiness of thy servant Bede: Grant us to find in Scripture and disciplined prayer the image of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and to fashion our lives according to the same, to the glory of thy great Name and the benefit of thy holy Church; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Learning and holiness capture well the virtues of Bede. I would characterize them as wisdom, knowledge, piety, and discipline myself. Holiness and piety are fairly synonymous, holiness lacking the whiff of sanctimoniousness that often accompanies the contemporary use of “piety.” I deleted “singular” as I don’t feel it adds. Rather, it detracts from our theology of sanctity! We don’t celebrate the saints because they are singular or unique; we celebrate them because they witness to our common gifts in Christ. Bede wrote his own epitaph in the closing chapters of the Ecclesiastical History thus: “I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing.” In making the common particular to him, then, I modified the petition relating to Christ. The original phrase “hold fast the true doctrine” is certainly correct as Bede was quite orthodox. However, bringing in the Scriptures and the singing of the Offices honors Bede’s own self-description better and enables us to capture his virtue of discipline.

Is this singable? I think so. It does have a number of clauses, but no more so than some of our other classic collects.

Now, I had made a suggestion earlier on in the process that we create collects that could sustain the optional phrase “[and in union with her prayers]” where grammatically appropriate in order to capture a true baptismal ecclesiology. This phrase would recognize the unity of our Baptismal community in Christ that physical death cannot sever, and acknowledge the presence of the saints within our present worshiping community. (And be entirely optional, noting that some have a more limited understanding of Baptism…) Looking at this new collect, though—there’s not a good way to fit the phrase in. I could see it going here: “and [in union with his prayers] to fashion our lives according to the same” except that we open a can of worms regarding antecedents. The natural antecedent of “his” would be Christ and if we substitute “Bede” for the pronoun it becomes clunky and interferes with “the same” at the end of the line. Thus, despite my desire for a recognition of our eschatological community with Bede and the rest of the saints, I think this collect is better off without the added phrase.

Decision on Calendar Issues

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music met yesterday afternoon. One of the top topics was the future of commemorations and the state of the Episcopal sanctoral calendar. I had pulled together the work of the subcommittee into a document which was further modified by committee and which was subsequently posted to the SCLM blog where we asked for feedback. Based on the feedback and discussion in the SCLM, we will be moving forward with a reconfiguration of HWHM tentatively retitled “A Great Cloud of Witness” (likely with a clear and descriptive functional title appended to the Scriptural phrase…).

Here are the key features of the recommendations:

  • We clarify that the sanctoral calendar of the Episcopal Church consists of those days celebrated by all—the Principal Feasts and Holy Days of the Book of Common Prayer—and that the calendar in the prayer book reflect this.
  • We clarify that all other days are—as they have always been—optional. They can be celebrated or not at the discretion of the presider or parish.
  • We move away from a canonization model. Instead, the resource follows a “family history” model and identifies people who have been significant and important for the church being the church in the 21st century.
  • The recognition of sanctity of any of the people either on or off the list is a local decision.
  • The central ecclesial act of recognizing a saint is eucharistic celebration. In order to clarify that the list of names and the resource is not a sanctoral calendar, entries will contain a collect for devotional purposes but not full eucharistic propers. However, suggestions for appropriate propers will be provided should a local community choose to honor a given person or group as a saint or saints.
  • Speaking of collects, the prayers currently contained in HWHM will be overhauled. We agreed that the goal is for each commemoration to have an actual collect that is appropriate for worship (not a supplementary mini-bio as one person said in the meeting…). However, given the scope of work, some entries may share appropriate Common collects if unique rewrites cannot be completed for all.
  • The bios will also be redone to remove errors and to highlight Christian discipleship.
  • Because this is not a sanctoral calendar there will be a clause in the criteria allowing for extremely occasional inclusion of non-Christian people with the clear understanding that the bio needs to be upfront about the fact that this is an exception and be equally clear on how the person’s life, witness, work, whatever directly connects to the church’s understanding of Christian discipleship. For example, all of the Dorchester Chaplains will be included—even Rabbi Goode—because the a significant part of the witness of this group is their ecumenical nature. To leave out Rabbi Goode would undercut an important aspect of the commemoration. Is anyone suggesting that Rabbi Goode is a Christian, “anonymous” or otherwise? No. Is his inclusion here indicating that the Episcopal Church now thinks of him as a saint? No. Instead, it recognizes that he was an integral part of a heroic gesture of compassion and ecumenical cooperation that local congregations are free to observe or not at their discretion.
  • The Weekday Temporal material and the Commons for Various Occasions will be collected together and will receive greater emphasis as equally valid alternatives on non-festal days.

There are other things that haven’t been fully decided that still remain to be hashed out. Too, none of this is official until General Convention renders a decision on it. GC may decide to scrap the whole thing and go back to HWHM. However, this represents what we’re working to pull together and put before convention.

As regular readers know, I don’t consider this a perfect solution. There are a number of things I would do differently if it were up to me, but it’s not—this is part of a church-wide process that must satisfy a wide range of theological and political positions. However, it is a workable solution, and addresses many of the flaws identified in HWHM. Whether we’ve just created new flaws, only time will tell…