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.
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).