Commons and Saints

Over the weekend, I’ve been working on the Commons of the Saints for the Breviary. I started early Saturday morning  then, when I went out for an easy 5-miler in the afternoon, I had an epiphany that will result in a complete overhaul in the way the breviary does sanctoral kalendars. More on this anon.

In working through the Commons of Saints, though, what I keep running up against is the sheer difference between the “old” system and the “new” system. That is, in the Old system things were pretty clear-cut; if you were a saint, you were either:

  • Apostle
  • Evangelist
  • Martyr
  • Confessor
  • Virgin (or Monastic—some early medieval sermons I have in mind group monks and hermits with virgins; other sources lump them into confessors.)

But what do we have now with Holy Women, Holy Men? We have things like:

  • Witness to the Faith
  • Prophetic Witness
  • Missionary
  • Priest and Theologian
  • Monk and Iconographer
  • Hymnwriter
  • Priest and “Friend of the Poor”

Now–I’m not saying any of the above are bad things, mind you. The two issues I’m rolling around are these:

  1. There’s no coherent system of classifications inherent in these labels. That may not matter much if all you’re doing is using a Collect to liturgically remember someone. But what if you’re trying to fit hymns, versicles & responses, and a gospel antiphon to it? Your best option is to fall back to the old categories at which point you realize just how many of the folks in HWHM fall simply into “Confessor”
  2. These two lists are fundamentally different in kind. They’re two entirely different ways of conceiving of people. The second is fairly clear—they’re being grouped by occupation; this is most evident when several people get lumped together based on their profession. Case in point is November 21nd: “William Byrd, 1623, John Merbecke, 1585, and Thomas Tallis, 1585, Musicians.” But the first category has nothing to do with occupations. It’s not quite as easy to wrap your head around but if I had to define the system of classification, it would be one based on how much people are willing to give up for the Gospel. That’s not quite it….but it’s something like that. Whatever it is, it’s very different from what the saints did for a living. On one hand I can see the New system connecting into how modern society measures personal worth and status; on the other it seems that we may have lost something profound that I can’t quite put my finger on…

11 thoughts on “Commons and Saints

  1. Michelle

    We have lost martyr? Witness to the faith can be short of martyrdom.

    Who are they considering a prophetic witness?

    The new categories in theory could eventually lend to better fitting selections.

    I wonder why they replaced evangelist with missionary?

  2. Michelle

    I have to say that I don’t care for common collects. Doesn’t HWHM give specific collects for each day/memorial? I’ve written my own for a lot of my personal calendar.

  3. Derek the Ænglican

    Michelle, those are just a few examples and aren’t comprehensive. Thus we have both “evangelist” and “missionary” on different people.

    HWHM has stayed away from common collects. Everybody gets one just for them. But the Commons that I’ve been putting together are the Commons outside of Collects used for the Office: Psalm Antiphons, Hymns, V/R, and Gospel Antiphons. All are permitted—none are appointed.

  4. BillyD

    As I recall, HWHM also uses the new labels somewhat arbitrarily. These labels aren’t necessarily the first thing that pops into your head when you think of the person. I would find it online and give an example, but I’m pretending that HWHM was never published and doesn’t exist…

  5. Ann

    We never designated them as “Saints” — other than that all Christians are called saints in the Bible — Lesser Feasts and Fasts (the old book) named many we wished to remember for various attributes of holiness and witness.

  6. Christopher


    You may need to look at Eastern classification systems. Hymnwriters, iconographers, and musicians, for example, would fall under perhaps Theologian.

  7. Derek the Ænglican

    That’s a very good point, Ann. As a faithful Episcopalian, I completely understand that and acknowledge that our current practice even falls within the bounds of Article 22 and its source in Augsburg Confession Article 21. I even avoided referring to the people liturgically remembered as “saints”…

    As a faithful Anglo-Catholic within the Episcopal Church, however, I see this as a poverty of eschatology and a deficient understanding of the nature and boundaries of life-in-Christ.

    Perhaps, Christopher, I do not know how the East formulates its sanctoral categories or the liturgical materials that accompany these.

  8. BillyD

    Derek and Ann, I’m not so sure that this is the case. We don’t call them Saints (except for Charles I, who I *have* seen so called) we use synonyms like “Blessed” and — in the new scheme, even “Holy,” as in HWHM. I think it’s a distinction without much of a difference.

  9. Michelle

    There are still quite a few who have the title saint in popular usage as well: St Benedict, St Francis, St Patrick, St Nicholas, St Clare. Besides we still use St in naming our churches etc.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the English still use the title saint pretty freely? (As in the efforts for Charles I to be recognized a saint).

  10. David Cobb

    I might have missed part of the conversation explaining the rational here, but isn’t using propers for minor commemorations and commons at the daily offices a departure from Prayer Book tradition? The logic of the office lectionary seems to suggest that it is only interrupted by major festivals (BCP p.996-1000) and a very few events crucial to a parish’s life and history (p. 1000-10001). Even the Lesser Feasts and Fasts calendar would have interrupted the flow of “in course” readings and dislodged the psalms from their connection to the days of the week, but the new system of HWHM would overwhelm it completely it seems to me.

  11. Derek the Ænglican

    David, you’re quite right about the Office lectionary. Indeed a significant piece of our liturgical heritage is the objection in Cranmer’s preface to the 1549 book against a sanctorale that disrupts the flow of the readings. What we’re discussing here is a little different, however.

    Taking our cue from the Roman pre-conciliar Offices, the Office has essential items and accidentals. (For more detail on this see p. xxvii of the Anglican Breviary.) In our current system, the essentials would include the psalms and readings for the day. Most of the accidentals no longer formally appear in the BCP, with the exception of the Collect—but the others are permitted by the rubrics. The accidents would be the psalm antiphons, the hymn, the traditional brief verse and response after the hymn and the antiphons on the Gospel Canticles. All of these are entirely permitted given the note in the second paragraph on p. 935.

    Thus, these sanctoral materials are supplements to the Office and do nothing whatsoever to disrupt the usual flow of either the psalms or the readings.

Comments are closed.