Ok, so I’ve been mulling the issues with Holy Women, Holy Men (HWHM) around in my head for a while, trying to look at it from as many different angles as possible. One of the frequent criticisms of the work that I’ve encountered is that it seems to be trying to fill every available day. My own short-hand for this is “no feria left behind.”
A feria is a technical liturgical term whose basic English meaning is a regular weekday; Hughes helpfully and accurately describes it as “a day which is neither a Sunday nor a feast.”
One more time, here’s the chart of observances—take a good look:
Are you calculating?
The answer—wait for it…is: none.
Indeed. There are precisely no fewer ferial days now than there were then. Yes, the observance count has jumped up dramatically, but none of these days, none of these liturgical events are required or enforced by the church. Zip. Nada.
If you turn with me to the front of your prayer book, you’ll note that the Calendar section identifies the days that are to be publicly observed with Eucharistic celebrations (with propers provided for in that book).
- Principal Feasts: these are the big 7 feasts which take precedence over everything else.
- Sundays: There are 52 of these—although we’ve already accounted for three of them in the previous section.
- Holy Days: This is where things can and have changed. When the Calendar was originally proposed in 1964 there were 25 of them; in 1980 this number jumped to 32.
- Days of Special Devotion: As I’ve suggested before, this is more accurately an ascetical category than a liturgical one. No days are added here.
- Days of Optional Observance: These are days that “may be observed with the Collects, Psalms, and Lessons duly authorized by this Church.” But you don’t have to. They are entirely optional.
By my count, then, since 1980 there are (7+49+32=) 88 Sundays and feasts authorized by the prayer book in each year. Accordingly, there are 277 ferial days in a common year; 278 in a leap year.
What can we do liturgically on these days? This is the crux of the issue as I see it. So much of the discussion around HWHM seems to assume its use. It’s as if we have forgotten that we have options. But we do have options! And it’s worth thinking through what they are…
Option 1: We can choose to observe a Day of Optional Observance. So, using the trial resource HWHM or LFF 2006 which (as far as I can tell) is still the official non-trial document. (Isn’t it strange that you can’t buy it from Church Publishing, though? And that the cheapest edition of LFF currently on Amazon is $258[!?!]). This seems to be the default option in the heads of most people. To let it remain that way, though, is to miss the freedoms that the Calendar gives us.
Option 2: We can choose to observe the feria. The simplest way to do this is noted in the prayer book on p. 158: “The Proper appointed for the Sunday is also used at celebrations of the Eucharist on the weekdays following, unless otherwise ordered for Holy Days and Various Occasions. . . . Directions concerning the Common of Saints and services for Various Occasions are on pages 199, 199 [i.e., Rite I], 246 and 251 [i.e., Rite II].” For the Daily Offices, this means simply using the Collect from the previous Sunday (with a couple of exceptions around days like Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Ascension, etc. as noted in the Collects). For the Eucharist this also means what it says—the Sunday Propers are repeated.
Prayer Book Studies XII (1958) gave a fair amount of thought to the Lenten season. Between the 6th and the 8th centuries the Roman Church had given special attention to these days and gradually assigned propers to all of them. Noting this, but further noting that most Episcopal Church parishes didn’t need nearly that many propers, this work offers proper readings (“Epistles” and Gospels [scare quotes required as these were all OT or Prophecies following ancient precedent]) but not collects for the old Station days—Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent. In the first authorized version of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1964), both the readings and collects for these days were printed. (And here we actually have the eponymous “fasts” of the title. Ember Days for Advent, Summer and Autumn were also provided though I don’t consider them ferial in the technical sense as they would receive prayer book collects with the advent of the ’79 book and be listed amongst the “Days of Optional Observance”.) The rubric at the head of these weekday propers states that the priest may use these or the appropriate Sunday propers at his discretion on any day within that week.
With the advent of PBS19 and the move towards a three-year Sunday Mass lectionary with a psalm and three readings, this all changed. The note in the front of the Revised LFF (1973) makes reference to “Optional Collects and daily schedules of Psalms and Lessons for the weekdays of Lent.” Two weeks of optional collects are given. The general rubrics begin by saying that while this sequence is provided, the priest may use the proper of the preceding Sunday or the proper as appointed for a Lesser Feast or Ember Day. So—now there are readings provided for all ferial days in Lent, but no other season.
A full-on set of collects and lessons for every day in Lent appears in the next revision, LFF 3rd Ed. (1980). Lenten ferias get privileged, now: “In keeping with ancient tradition, the observance of Lenten weekdays ordinarily takes precedence over Lesser Feasts occuring during this season” (LFF3, 20). Easter ferial material appears now as well. Twenty collects are provided as are ferial Eucharistic readings for every day in the Easter Season. The notes in this proper keep the flexibility of using any weekday reading on any other day in that week that stood at the head of the Lenten materials. However, the discussion of the Easter proper states the following:
Since the triumphs of the saints are a continuation and manifestation of the Paschal victory of Christ, the celebration of saints’ days is particularly appropriate during this season. On such days, therefore, the Collect, Lessons, Psalm, and Preface are ordinarily those of the saint. Where there is a daily celebration, however, the weekday Lessons and Psalm may be substituted. (LFF3, 56)
(Mark those words and the context in which they’re given…) With only 20 collects given for the Great Fifty Days, though, quite a number of Days of Optional Observance are in view if one doesn’t use the Sunday collect. So, with LFF3 ferial Eucharistic readings and collects are given for Lent and Easter.
At this point, I have a sizable gap in my LFF collection. Looking at the legislative documents, though, General Convention passed 1991-C025 referring to the SLC the daily Eucharistic lectionary of the Church of England and the Anglican Church of Canada. (I believe Forward in Faith had a hand in this—can anyone confirm or deny?) GC authorized in 1994 the daily (ferial) Eucharistic lectionary for the seasons of Advent and Christmas but gave no new collects. The SLC didn’t like the idea of a continuous reading scheme for Post-Epiphany/Pentecost and chose to explore their options, coming back with a six-week series. In 1997-A073 it looks like an amended six-week cycle was adopted in addition to the CoE/ACC scheme thus giving provisions for all ferial Eucharistic services.
Jumping to HWHM, the question on my mind is whether permission is given for a ferial celebration on any ferial day. In the directions (Concerning the Proper) before the Advent/Christmas section, I see these words:
On days of optional observance on the Calendar, the Collect, Lessons, Psalm and Preface are ordinarily those of the saint. Where there is a daily celebration, however, the weekday Lessons and Psalm may be substituted. (HWHM, 24)
And these are precisely the words that stood in the Easter section following an explanation of why the celebration of saints was especially suitable in that season. Days of Optional Observance seem to be granted a preference given the use of “ordinarily.” (This seems odd given the traditional privileging of Advent ferias particularly upon reaching Sapientiatide…) At the back of HWHM, both the 6-week scheme and the 2-year CoE/ACC scheme for Ordinary seasons are given, but no mention is made of them giving way to Days of Optional Observance.
To summarize, ferial days can be celebrated either in the Daily Office or in weekday Eucharists by using the propers of the previous Sunday (or Principal Feast). This permission is granted in the BCP and is not revoked. Alternatively, ferial Eucharistic propers for the whole year are provided in LFF/HWHM (albeit in a rather disjointed fashion) with collects that could be used in the Office for Lent and Easter. While the rubrics recommend priority going to Days of Optional Observance in Advent/Christmas and an expressed preference for them in Easter, this is not mandated.
Option 3: We can choose to observe a Votive. Votives were common in medieval missals; one edition of the Sarum had 29; others had more. PBS19 reprints the SLC’s report to the General Convention of 1967 on votives which broadly identify two types: intercessory and doctrinal. That is, there are those that focus upon particular intentions, and there are those that focus upon specific doctrines. The prayer book offers 25 votives (see pp. 199-210; 251-261; 927-931) in addition to the 14 commons of the 6 identified kinds of saints. These votives are granted with only the following permissive rubric: “For optional use, when desired, subject to the rules set forth in the Calendar of the Church Year.” (BCP, 199; 251) HWHM itself adds a combination of 12 commons and votives (including 2 for the BVM) bringing the total authorized votives and commons to 51.
When are these votives used? Well, the first seven in the prayer book loosely follow the typical weekly votive cycle with the exception of Saturday’s which was usually given to the BVM. Otherwise little direction is given. The rubric at their head, though, makes clear that they can be used on any day that is not claimed by a Sunday or Feast…
Of the major complaints I have heard around HWHM, there are three that stand out in particular.
- It doesn’t leave enough ferial days. Frankly, I’ve not been convinced that this is a major problem. After all, I’m a medievalist. I’m used to martyrologies that pile multiple people onto every single day of the year and kalendars that choose amongst the options of whom to celebrate. All of these figures are optional. The absence of ferias is only an issue if you choose to celebrate everyone who comes along, and that is not required.
- The criteria given were not used with regard to the people chosen. This is more of an issue. And it ties into…
- Not all the people chosen pass a litmus test for “sanctity.” In a sense this is a narrowing of the 2nd issue in that it is a focus upon the criteria around leading a sufficiently holy life. What counts and what doesn’t? I have a certain sympathy with this one. There are folks in HWHM who I don’t feel belong due to a lack of sanctity. But sanctity is not an easy thing to quantify…
What if—we made the options more clear?
What if we held a book clearly entitled “Optional Observances”? What if “Holy Women, Holy Men” was the title of a subsection of it rather than the whole? And if the ferial material was not scattered throughout it in disjointed fashion but presented as a coherent option equal to HWHM?
What if we promoted the votives more and gave them a focus?
There are people in HWHM whom I have a hard time honoring eucharistically as saints. However, I think many of them could be illustrations at votive masses for, say, “Artists & Writers” (HWHM, 728) or “Care of God’s Creation” (HWHM, 731), or “Social Justice” (BCP, 209/260). What if an almanac section—apart from the HWHM section—were to collect them and unite them with particularly appropriate votive occasions? The individuals in question would be remembered and commemorated, and the Church would only have to demonstrate “importance” or “significance” rather than the higher bar of “sanctity.” Perhaps this would give us the mechanism for remembering those figures of the past concerning whom we can’t render a full decision now but whom we do not wish to forget, or those who come close to the sanctoral criteria but fail on just a few.
What do you think?