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).

13 thoughts on “Responding on the Saints

  1. Barbara

    Thanks for clarifying all this. I know you’ve said it before, but for me it’s helpful to hear it again.

    I will say this: it’s a little hard to make the mental distinction between “a calendar of optional observances” and “an almost total loss of ferial days.” I think people are going to need time to adjust to this, if we ever can. Since the whole church is involved in this, via GC, it does seem, at first blush, that this is somehow an “official list of Episcopal Saints,” with a capital-E and a capital-S.

    I really like this “it’s all optional” approach, though, I think; it seems very much in keeping with what’s gone before, for one important thing. Not just for reasons of its being “traditional,” but also for the sake of internal consistency. And this all seems very Anglican, anyway.

    At the end, what we have is a sort of temporal devotional, really, which is very interesting when you think about it. And this seems to me to be how people were using HWHM anyway. It’s a bit of a mental adjustment, though. I think it will help if you keep repeating the word “optional.”

    This is all really quite impressive, I have to say, and I think it has the potential to be sort of “meta-catechetical,” if you see what I mean. Great work, once again! Looking forward to reading your collects…..

  2. Bob

    Would be a great help if the subtitle is: The Episcopal Church’s Book of the Dead.”

  3. David Sibley

    This is helpful. I’d add a couple of things, from the perspective of an on the ground parish priest, with a three-mass schedule per week – Two Sunday, One Wednesday:

    – While I’m in favor of Weekday Eucharistic Propers, one thing that is an issue with them is that they are designed to be used *every* day. If you’re in a parish that celebrates one weekday mass, they’re almost non-functional – because you’ll end up with readings that work on an office-like rationale – they’re semi-continuous – in fact, on a couple of occasions, they can often be office readings, only a couple of weeks removed. It practice, it means that parts of the narrative and context are missing from the readings – often so much so that you can’t catch up in the space of a short sermon. So, from a perspective on the ground, while I’m glad they’re published, they are effective only if you have daily mass.

    – The unfortunate reality on the ground is that many clergy use LFF, and HWHM – and, consequently, will use GCW – as “filler” for weekday masses. If you go to the rank-and-file parish, even though the commemorations are entirely optional, they sort of… aren’t. If you publish them, as the replacement for LFF, parishes, on the whole, will use them as filler for weekday Eucharists – because they’re there, and narratively and homiletically, they’re far more satisfying than the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary. As much as these are juridically optional, the de facto reality on the ground is that if you publish them, more often than not, they will be observed. Because the average clergy person walks into the sacristy on a Wednesday morning, looks at the published calendar, sees what’s listed, and uses it.

    Part of the concern over ferial days, I think, arises here. We have weekday propers for Advent, Christmas, Days after Epiphany leading to Baptism of Our Lord, Lent, and Easter. But more often than not, based on the reality I described above – clergy will use the LFF/HWHM/GCW propers simply because they are printed on the calendar they buy from Church Publishing, or Ashby, or whoever. And this does lead to the loss of ferial days, especially in the “strong” seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter. (And on the whole, those weekday propers are very preachable, unlike the Daily Lectionary.) No matter how optional they may be.

    We use Votive Masses in my current parish, in part because of my concern over calendar-stuffing. But on the whole, most clergy won’t – simply because it isn’t printed on the calendar that is hanging in the sacristy.

    I wonder if we’re trying to legislate around what is actually a need for education of the clergy. It’s unfortunate – that after three years of seminary and however many years of ministry – this need is out there, but clearly, it is. If that underlying problem was fixed, I’d have no problem with GCW. But until we address the reality that these commemorations are rubrically optional, but in the on the ground reality, aren’t – I’d rather see the educational need addressed before we create more and more and more resources…

    That’s is (a rather long) $.02….

    Thanks for your commentary on this, Derek. It’s very helpful…

    David Sibley

  4. Susan Snook

    Derek, thank you for your hard work on this. I think it is a great stride forward, and deeply appreciate the time and scholarship you have put in. I do have a question about one area. I know that the SCLM received a significant amount of feedback about the inclusion of non-Christians in the calendar, such as the Jewish chaplain on the Dorchester. Such inclusion seems to me to confuse heroic service with Christian witness. It also, in my view, fails to respect the integrity of the spiritual tradition followed by those non-Christians who are included. Yet the SCLM has not made any changes in this area that I can see. Can you tell us more about their treatment of this issue?

  5. Will J. Abbott

    Derek, I’m new to the debates and struggles over the Episcopal sanctoral cycle, but what I’m seeing here is that there’s some confusion out in the parishes over what you’re trying to produce. It sounds like what people are trying to do is use a calendar, and what you’re trying to produce is a list of people to remember. I wonder if, aiming at GC 2018, some of the feedback can be incorporated and a version produced which has both a calendar and a list; the calendar is the handy dandy thing used in the sacristy, and the list gets brought in for local devotions, optional celebrations, and whatnot. (Perhaps dioceses can produce their own calendars, too?) The commemorations part can be formatted so as to NOT be used directly as a calendar. Accompanying the final document can be a kind of instructional essay on how to use the work and what the ideas behind it are.

  6. Melody

    It’s really interesting to read your “behind the scenes” here, Derek. Thanks for sharing. I’m also deeply grateful for your hard work and important voice in these difficult conversations.

    I find myself deeply confused about one point you make, and it is the point upon which this entire discussion hinges. You say that the official Sanctoral Calendar of the church in the one in the BCP, and that LFF is not a sanctoral calendar and never called its people saints. This seems problematic to me on a number of levels.
    1. The sanctoral calendar printed in the BCP on pp 19-30 is, in fact, the dates and commemorations established by LFF (and that Calendar changes as LFF is edited). So when you refer to the “sanctoral calendar of the Book of Common Prayer”, what do you mean by that? Are you including ONLY Principal Feasts, Feasts of our Lord, and other Major Feasts? While the Calendar of the BCP does seem to give primacy and precedence to those feasts, it also enumerates the long list of specific commemorations “in the Calendar” on the following pages. Those people seem to be given a certain status, even being listed among point 5 of the Calendar on the first line as “Commemorations listed in the Calendar”, separated from “Other Commemorations using the Common of Saints.” If the calendar in the BCP IS, in fact, our official sanctoral calendar, then who does it include? How can you limit it to “Major Feasts”? The Book of Common Prayer tells us which feasts take precedence, to be sure, but I don’t think that means that only the major feasts are the “sanctoral calendar”?
    2. You then say that LFF is not our sanctoral calendar and never called the people in it “saints.” Then how on earth are we meant to read the Preface to LFF? It talks about “biographies of saints in the calendar,” and repeatedly uses the word “saints.” On p. 476 LFF says that the Common of Saints can be used “at the commemoration of a saint listed in the calendar,” which seems to imply that ALL those named in the calendar are, in fact, saints. On page 493, among the guidelines, it refers to itself as “our sanctoral calendar.”
    If LFF is not our sanctoral calendar, then we need to do some re-education, and I would argue we need to edit our Book of Common Prayer to clarify this matter.

    If LFF (and the corresponding pages in the BCP which reflect LLF) is our sanctoral calendar, then the resolution about GCW becomes deeply problematic. Because GCW is named as being authorized in replacement of HWHM. And HWHM (in the resolution calling for it as well as the resolutions authorizing it for trial use) is named as a revision of LFF. Thus, whether we call it so or not, GCW would become our sanctoral calendar!
    (As an aside, LFF is explicitly named in our C&C, so if we are replacing it, or if it would “go away” somehow, we need to fix the corresponding canons).

    If GCW is not intended to be a sanctoral calendar, then I see no need to authorize it for use (even trial use) in the Episcopal Church. Publish it via one of our church publishing agencies, and let those who wish use it as a devotional aid, supplement, or whatever. But we would still need to clarify who IS on our sanctoral calendar. If GCW becomes, in ANY way, a replacement for our sanctoral calendar, then we have a lot more to talk about.

  7. Derek Olsen Post author

    Thanks, all, for your comments! A few things…

    David–you’re right about use. Many clergy I know just read the bio in place of a homily for the day and, for that reason, use LFF/HWHM because it provides a tidy package with the propers and a canned homily. This proposal would make them do a bit more work. Alternatively, if there were a publisher in the Episcopal Church that had an interest in the spiritual life of congregations, perhaps they could be persuaded to do a “book of homilies” keyed to the Propers for Various Occasions that could be used as an equal option. Just saying…

    Melody, you raise some excellent questions! The answer to your first question is in the material itself: the Official Sanctoral Calendar would be the sanctoral occasions in the Principal Feasts (i.e., All Saints) and the Holy Days/Major Feasts. How can we limit it to Major Feasts? Easy—because that’s what it has always been and what it is now. That is, these are the only feasts that the prayer book requires. All others are optional, and always have been. The answer to your second point is that the preface you mention is relatively new; it first appears in the 2000 edition of LFF. Most of my study has been in the earlier editions and I didn’t realize it had crept in. Because of the historical avoidance of the term in the earlier books, I think the inclusion of the term was actually an error on their part.

    I disagree with your logic about GCW becoming a sanctoral calendar by default. On the contrary, GCW defines what the official sanctoral calendar is and identifies that it is not it. Is this a change? Yes, it is. However, the 2003 resolution that mandated HWHM contained a hearty emphasis on local commemoration and a local understanding of sanctity. From what I can see, HWHM utterly failed on that count and said and did absolutely nothing in reference to this call. GCW, on the other hand, makes the changes that the originating resolution actually asks for.

    The reason why I believe it is important to distance the commemorations in GCW from “saints” and why we should not consider them saints simpliciter is for two main reasons. First, I want to retain what I understand to be a historic sensitivity to Evangelical/Low Church Anglicans who get very concerned with the use of the term “saint” in its non-generalized form. That’s not my perspective, of course, but if we’re going to call ourselves a big-tent then we need to act like it! Second, I have heard a lot of appreciation for the large number of people included. While there is a vocal group who criticizes the work because of the number of people in it, there is equally a vocal group who praised HWHM for the breadth of people in it. Now, many of the more catholic-minded folk I know–and myself personally–have concerns about the sanctity about some of the individuals included in the collection. I find it difficult to see some of the recent additions as equals as icons of spiritual maturity with some of the historic members of the list. Making the statement that these people are not officially recognized as saints but are important people who may be recognized as saints by local communities threads the needle by allowing and encourage breadth and diversity while addressing the theological issues and consciences of those who have a more stringent definition of sanctity.

    I hope that helps!

  8. Derek Olsen Post author

    Susuan, the Dorchester Chaplains issue deserves its own post—I’ll get there!

  9. Melody

    Thanks for the response; I am deeply grateful for your work on this.

    I ‘m still trying to understand the distinction that you are making in our (BCP) Calendar. Is it your contention that only required observances can constitute a sanctoral calendar, and all optional observances would, by necessity, be something else? Isn’t this how sanctoral calendars operate in other traditions? I thought I understood that other calendars, such as the Roman Rite, include both obligatory and optional saints?

    I guess I have always read the entirety of the Calendar as the sanctoral calendar- inclusive of both obligatory and optional observances. I understood the numbers within the Calendar to designate primacy, leading us from most important (obligatory) to least important (optional). That order, for instance, would help us to understand that, if we had to displace one of the “Lesser Feasts” because of Major Feast, we were not then obligated to move that Lesser Feast, as it was optional and did not have to be celebrated. That, in my mind, never meant that the Feast was not a Feast, or the Saint not a Saint, but simply acknowledged some as more central, giving them primacy by obligation.

    In a sense, I understood our Lesser Feasts to operate like confession in our tradition. It is optional, which achieves the “big tent” feeling that you mention. No one must take part in the Rite of Reconciliation– it is purely optional– but it is a sacramental rite in our church all the same, there for those who want or need that expression of piety. I’ve always viewed our sanctoral calendar (in my understanding ALL of the pages of our calendar) in the same way. No one is compelled to observe the feasts of these saints, but these are those our church has, on the large scale, agreed are worthy of commemoration as saints, should you want or need that expression of piety.

    As it regards LFF, I will admit that I am not as familiar with the earlier versions. I would be interested to hear from those involved in the 1979 prayer book reform and the development of LFF how that understanding of sainthood evolved and was articulated. The guidelines for inclusion, from 1994, imply that we are talking about saints. And the report from the SCLM in 1982 calls those included “so-called black letter saints.” We have repeatedly authorized editions of LFF that include both that Preface and the guidelines. Was that deliberate or accidental? That is to say, does it accurately reflect an evolution in our church’s piety towards (at least the option of) inclusion of saints, or do we want to say that the wider church has never understood those contained within LFF as “saints”, per se?

    I suppose, should we authorize GCW and thusly de-authorize LFF, you could argue that it is not a sanctoral calendar (would we remove those pages from the Book of Common Prayer?). But I still think that GCW looks and acts a great deal like a sanctoral calendar in some other clothing. In fact, the very name, a Great Cloud of Witnesses, (a great name, by the way), is the phrase used to describe saints in our collect for the common of saints. By virtue of avoiding naming any saints (beyond the apostles), I think it would, in practice, name either all of those included saints or none of them. If we truly limit our sanctoral calendar to the Major Feasts, I’d be deeply sad to lose Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and many other worthies as particular, named, recognized Saints in our church’s tradition, instead relegating them to merely a part of my “family history.”

  10. Derek Olsen Post author

    I agree that GCW does look like a sanctoral calendar, and that some may use it flatly as one. The point, though, is that people are being continually added to the corporate calendar by General Convention who are not saints by any classical definition and by very few modern definitions. As I have stated before “first-ness” is not a theological category. Someone does not embody the holiness of God in Christ because they were the “first” bishop of something or other. And yet, we have recent commemorations like Virginia Dare added by Convention. What does Virginia Dare teach us about Christian maturity? Well—we don’t know because history lost track of her with the rest of the Roanoke colony! All we know of her is the fact of her baptism. Is she therefore an example and model of Christian maturity and of God’s light to the world?

    My argument around LFF is that the Episcopal Church has been reticent in the past to say whether the individuals commemorated are saints. This was partly done due to internal politics and the evangelical concern with the concept of saints. I see a different problem now: the failure of the ability to distinguish between “importance/significance” and “holiness”. The two are not the same yet I have seen, heard, and been in heated discussions with senior church figures and bishops who either do not see or acknowledge a difference between the two.

    As I see it, GCW is a reality check that acknowledges the situation on the ground—we do not have a coherent or consistent theology of sanctity.

    Will the “black letter” commemorations be lost with GCW? No, I don’t think so. In fact, most of the current use of LFF/HWHM that I see fits far more with a “family history” model than the “eucharistic connection with an eschatological companion” model that has grounded classic understandings of sanctity.

  11. Jack Zamboni

    Derek — I’m a Deputy to GC, on Committee 11 and it’s Calendar subcommittee. I’m finding the distinction between “importance/significance” and “holiness” and your explanation of the intent of GCW very helpful. Like others upstream, however, I wonder very much how well the larger church will get that distinction in how it might understand/use GCW. I’ve shared the link to your post above with my subcommittee. I’m also very much hoping you will be in SLC and able to testify/explain all this to Committee 11 and our subcommittee when we meet.

  12. Derek Olsen Post author

    Hi Jack–regretably I won’t be in SLC. (And as an aside, yes, this is more on-the-ground proof that our current convention model disenfranchises: as a corporate employee, a two-week vacation for GC leaves bloody little for vacation with my wife & kids!)

    You have put your finger on my chief concern: I think that most people simply won’t “get it” and understand the shift in approach. Of course, in the best of all possible worlds, we wouldn’t have tried to do a retread of a retread; we would have started from scratch and said, “Ok–what is a theology of sanctity that is grounded in baptismal ecclesiology?” and proceed from there. However, we were faced with doing a limited makeover of HWHM which was itself simply an expansion of LFF rather than the kind of reconception that I think 2003-A100 truly intended.

    I will be happy to answer questions with the usual caveats that I speak for myself and that not all members of the SCLM will necessarily agree with what I say or write…

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