Tag Archives: HWHM

Sanctoral Hash

Before we start talking about the legislation around the sanctoral calendar that occurred at General Convention, let me refer you once again to the brief history of the Episcopal Calendar that I wrote for the Liturgy Center at VTS.

There are two directions from which to approach the question of the sanctoral calendar.

The first is to approach it as a place are individuals are recognized. An individual is lifted up as a saint—however that gets defined and understood—and is put on the calendar because their life-story appears to fit the criteria used for judging saintliness. From this perspective, the question of whether a person belongs on the calendar or not is a matter of whether they tick all of the right boxes and none of the wrong ones.

The second direction is to approach the calendar as a set, a deliberate group. As a set, the balance of individuals says something about how the church as a whole understands sanctity and the various breakdown of roles and functions within the church as a living organism. To borrow the great Pauline metaphor, a proper sanctoral calendar ought to reflect the disposition of the various parts of the body that make up the whole. It can’t be all made up of “brain” or all made up of “foot” or you get a warped view of the Body of Christ and its constituent features. To say it more clearly, the composition of the whole needs to reflect that contemplative holiness, self-sacrificial martyrdom, theological brilliance, pastoral sensitivity, just social action, and more are all in the mix in terms of what sanctity looks like. Furthermore, other kinds of balance matter here, not just the theological. This is where issues of race, ethnicity, temporal period, and gender come in as well.

One of the classic instances of imbalance is the late 19th century Roman Catholic calendar which was dominated by French and Italian bishops. What it said was, if you want to be holy, be a French or Italian bishop. If you’re a married woman of color, you’re out of luck.

When you approach the calendar from this angle, the question isn’t just about the worthiness of a given individual; it also has to do with how many of a given sort are in the whole system. Balancing the competing theological criteria with race and gender concerns makes this a very complicated matter. But if we are trying to portray sanctity across a wide range of time, locations, and social classes, it’s an exercise worth doing. We are literally trying to image the full humanity of Christ by illustrating how instances from across the whole spectrum of human experience have communicated Christ in their time and place.

What the proposed LFF 2018 was trying to do was to attack the calendar from the second angle. It tried to create a balanced group of worthies. Because our previous calendars had been so badly skewed in terms of gender and ordination status, and theological role, the only way to accomplish balance was to take some people off and to add some new people on. Overwhelmingly, the people removed were 19th century American white (male) bishops. The people added were women from across time and space. This is how numbers and math work—you can either add more and more people to come up to your target figure (and the addition of commemorations itself was an issue), or you can remove some from an over-represented group which means you will not to add as many from your under-represented groups.

The reaction from convention on seeing LFF 2018 was to approach it from the first direction and to freak out about people not seen. The issue is not that those people were not properly saintly; the issue was one of representation and balance. Otherwise, we send the message that the best path to sanctity is to be a white American bishop.

Now. All of that having been said, here is the resolution that General Convention passed:

A065 Authorize Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 79th General Convention authorize the continued use of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006; and be it further

Resolved, commend the continued availability of Great Cloud of Witnesses 2015 for the 2018-2021 triennium; and be it further

Resolved, that the new commemorations in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 proposed by the SCLM be authorized for trial use and be included in the calendar for the 2018-2021 triennium, under Article X(b); and be it further

Resolved that the SCLM provide the 80th General Convention with a clear and unambiguous plan for a singular calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

The first resolve retains Lesser Feasts & Fast 2006 as the official Calendar of the Church.

The second resolve “retains” Great Cloud of Witnesses by extending its non-canonical status (?) as available. I’m not sure what this does. To me it signals that they still want to keep the Great Cloud/Holy Women, Holy Men material in the mix but—as we have been over a number of times—there are issues with this material with regard to which criteria the entries match and whether all entries meet all of the criteria.

The third resolve essentially misses the point of LFF 2018—i.e., the principle of re-balancing—and smooshes [technical term] the new entries into…what…LFF 2006?…thereby watering down the intent of re-balancing.

The fourth resolve is kind of a middle finger to the SCLM and folks who have been doing Calendar work over the past several years. Here’s the thing. Constructing a calendar that will be accepted by all Episcopalians is an inherent impossibility. Some of us believe in saints in the objective sense: that there are baptized Christian people who are physically dead who are participating in a closeness with God now that other physically dead people are not currently enjoying. Other Episcopalians fundamentally reject this notion and the theology that flows from it. A person who regards a sanctoral calendar as a roster of those actively praying for us now is going to have a different set of criteria and a different set of understandings about how that roster is made than someone who is looking for a list of inspirational figures who may or may not have been Episcopalian. In Great Cloud of Witnesses and in LFF 2018, we tried to put together a compromise list that would balance out competing Episcopal understandings of sanctity yet still have a list that people on both ends of the spectrum could live with.

Let me be blunt. There are people in Great Cloud of Witnesses that I do not regard as saints. Which is why Great Cloud was offered as a list from which local communities could identify those people they considered to be saints. That way we could have a list of inspirational people and yet not call them saints—because not all of them met that standard.

LFF 2018 was another attempt at a singular calendar that would address the concerns raised by the 2003 demand for attention to balance and representation. But Convention decided that wasn’t ok either.

At one point in 2013 or 2014, I listed out six different competing demands that a given calendar proposal would have to meet in order to satisfy all interested parties. Not all six can be met—something has to give. One of the major problems was the sheer volume of material in Holy Women, Holy Men/Great Cloud of Witnesses. Despite the fact that everyone in it is optional, there was tremendous push-back at GC 2012 that there were far too many names. Thus for a calendar to be accepted it must be smaller that HWHM/GCW. General Convention will not pass a lazy process of addition that just keeps adding on more and more names. Therefore if there is a “a clear and unambiguous plan for a singular calendar” there have to be winners and losers. We can’t do another compromise document. What the SCLM will have to propose is an actual sanctoral theology, and then follow that theology up with criteria and commemorations that meet those criteria.

They’ll be in my prayers…

Collecting the Saints: 2018 Edition

I know that there is great back and forth among those with strong opinions on the matter regarding the proposed Lesser Feasts & Fasts up for debate at General Convention. I had the opportunity to write a guest blog post for the Center for Liturgy & Music at Virginia Theological Seminary on a brief history of the Episcopal sanctoral calendar. In brief, I identified some major trends in how the calendar has been conceived and how it has or has not been representative of the church in the roughly fifty years that we have had a calendar. Too, I mentioned some ways that the proposed book is in continuity with some of the broad trends and how even some of the things that appear as novelties do have some antecedents.

I made a comment in that piece that I wasn’t going to talk about collects and readings because that topic was a complex one that deserved its own post. Well—this is that post…

I don’t plan for this to be deep and exhaustive, but merely to point out some key trends with the readings and collects. At the conclusion, I think you’ll agree that whatever you may think of the decisions around specific individuals in LFF 2018, you’ll see that it is superior to previous volumes in its poetry, literary artistry, and theological grounding.

There are three broad movements when it comes to a philosophy of sanctoral collects in the Episcopal Calendar: 1) Common(ish) Collects, 2) The Return of the Biographical Collect, and 3) The Theological Turn.

1) Common(ish) Collects

Prayer Book Studies XII

Let’s start at the beginning, which for this topic means Prayer Book Studies XII: The Propers for the Minor Holy Days, published in 1958. The table of contents for this volume breaks down like this:

  • The Collects
  • The Epistles and Gospels
  • Movable Octaves and Seasons
  • The Proposed Propers
  • Indices

Let me be clear on this… The first 35 pages of this work talk about the complex and important work of finding suitable collects for celebrating the black-letter days. The heading entitled “The Problem of Suitable Collects” includes some very quotable lines like these:

The writing of Collects for liturgical use is a most exacting discipline. One is tempted to say that it is an art possible only to a literary genius, who at the same time has a profound knowledge of theology and a rich experience of prayer. In any case, the best Collects are generally the work of individuals; they are rarely effective when produced by a committee. (PBS XII, 6-7).

Two members of the group—unnamed, but I’d bet cash money that it was Bayard Jones and Massey Shepherd—got together, worked on possible collects “for a number of years”, and sent them out for testing. The results of their test are worth citing in full:

The aim of our subcommittee was to provide Collects of a biographical character, comparable to those of the Apostles and Evangelists in the [American 1928] Prayer Book. A complete schedule of Collects was finally prepared and sent to a number of persons skilled in these matters for criticism; and the results of these endeavors was used experimentally in a few of our seminaries and in certain private chapels. The ensuing comments after this trial use were not encouraging. Too many of these Collects gave the effect of being overly contrived and erudite. To place them in the Prayer Book would demand an annotated commentary for the benefit of those lay people who did not have an extensive knowledge of Church History and were therefore unable to appreciate the subtle allusions in these Collects. However admirable most of these Collects might be for personal, devotional use, they lacked that quality of universal application that is needed in a formulary for corporate, liturgical use. (PBS XII, 9)

In short, the biographical collect, although seen as desirable, was deemed a failure by the best liturgical minds of the time.

Instead, they decided to go with a set of Common(ish) collects. That is, having Commons for readily identifiable groups of similar saints was seen as a good idea. However, a certain variety was still necessary and helpful to avoid monotony:

For…the ninety-two Black Letter commemorations, we are offering a total of thirty-six collects, of which seventeen are appointed for one occasion only, the others for two or more occasions. But none of them are listed for more than six commemorations; and of these, an effort has been made to avoid using the same Collect twice over within the space of one month. However, there are one or two exceptions to this latter usage. By such a distribution, it is hoped that tedium may be lessened, and thus the devout attention of worshippers encouraged.  (PBS XII, 10)

The way that this worked out in practice is that certain key people had unique collects (Gregory the Great, Francis of Assisi, Irenaeus, the BVM and Mary Magdalene [remember, these last two were still black letter days at this point, not Holy Days]). Then—for instance—the 12 commemorations of martyrs were grouped into four categories by affinity and four collects were used, one for each group. Hence, the “early women martyrs”  (Agnes, Perpetua & Felicitas, and the Martyrs of Lyon) shared a collect, “early male martyrs” (Ignatius, Alban, and Laurence) shared a collect, “early church leader martyrs” (Polycarp, Justin, and Cyprian [Ignatius could have been in this group but wasn’t]) shared a collect, and “missionary martyrs” (Boniface, Patteson, and Hannington”) shared a collect. The Just-missionaries-not-martyrs-or-teachers group of 12 names was simply divided into two groups, each group sharing a collect. Thus:

We have attempted not to be arbitrary in the use of Collects for more than one worthy, and to find what might be termed obvious or natural groupings. The three monarchs: Louis, Alfred, and Margaret, share the same Collect as do five early Fathers who gave great contributions to the shaping of the dogma of the Incarnation–Hilary, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Leo. It was readily evident that modern leaders in Christian humanitarianism such as Maurice and Wilberforce could be classed under the same Collect, but their predecessors of earlier times, such as Nicholas and Elizabeth of Hungary, were better served by other memorials. (PBS XII, 13-4)

Now let me give you an example of the actual collects and the discussion around them. Let’s follow two commemorations, Perpetua & Felicitas and Dominic, and see what we’ve got for their collects…

Agnes (January 21)
Perpetua and her Companions (March 7)
The Martyrs of Lyon (June 2)

Almighty and everlasting God, with whom thy meek ones go forth as the mighty: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy blessed martyr(s) ——-, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect was based upon one for St. Agnes’ feast in the Gregorian Sacramentary. But in place of the original clause “who dost choose the weak things of the world to confound the the things which are mighty,” the Commission has drawn from a phrase used by William Bright in his Collect “For all who do the Work of the Church” (Ancient Collects, p. 237): “with whom thy little ones go forth as the mighty.” Both phrases are well-suited to describe the heroines who are the chief subjects of these commemorations. However, the Pauline expression, “weak things of the world” might not convey to the modern congregation the exact notion that is desired, hence the change of the word “weak” to “meek.” (PBS XII, 25)

And now Dominic:

Thomas Ken (March 20).
William Law (April 6).
Benedict (July 11).
Dominic (August 4).
Sergius (September 25).
Hilda (November 17).

Almighty and everlasting God, we give thee thanks for the purity and strength with which thou didst endow thy servant ——; and we pray that by thy grace we may have a like power to hallow and conform our souls and bodies to the purpose of thy most holy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The basis for this Collect was taken by the Commission from the Reverend E. A. L. Clarke’s The People’s Missal, where it appears for the Common of a Virgin-Martyr. It seems to be admirably suited to the varied “ascetical” gifts of the group of worthies here listed from all periods of the Church’s history. (PBS XII, 33)

I want you to notice a couple of key things here… First, collects are shared amongst similar kinds of saints—sorry, “worthies”—who are put together in relatively loose and arbitrary although reasonable groupings. Second, all of these collects have sources! Not only that, alterations were also made with reference to other collects as well as Scripture. There was not just thought but history and continuity behind what was being done here.

For selecting Scriptural readings, they didn’t start from scratch either, but looked at the old Roman Catholic Commons for the various categories of saints. Hence, Perpetua & Companions got the Epistle and Gospel from one of the 12 Commons of Marytrs—but not the one assigned to her day by Rome, rather from Salus autem: Hebrews 10:32-39 and Matthew 24:9-14a. Dominic doesn’t actually get a Scripture reading; in the two-tiered system of this book, Dominic is on tier 2 and hence only gets a collect, no Scripture.

Prayer Book Studies XVI/Lesser Feasts & Fasts (1st Ed.)

The material in Prayer Book Studies IX and XII were reworked to become Prayer Book Studies XVI which was itself adapted slightly to become the first edition of Lesser Feasts & Fasts. There was more change in the formatting than in the texts. Now the collects and Scriptural readings are grouped together. However, the brief biographies are still located in a separate part of the resource.

There is no change in the texts of either the collects or the Scripture for the two saints we’re following. However, there are signs of a shift on the horizon… At the end of the book are included one common each for the major categories of saints: martyrs, missionaries, monastics, etc.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts (Revised Ed. [1973])

Prayer Book Studies 19: The Church Year (1970) made some major forward strides in terms of thinking about a new way of doing the Calendar for a new prayer book that was now on the horizon. In particular, it re-aligned thinking on the Calendar in light of what Rome did with Vatican II. Nevertheless, this resource doesn’t address the Lesser Feasts. The Revised edition of Lesser Feasts & Fasts wouldn’t come out until 1973. What we see here is a Calendar very much under the sway of the coming ’79 Book of Common Prayer. The short Preface notes some changes that have taken place:

1. The Collects of the earlier edition have been carefully revised, and several new ones have been included. They are provided in both traditional and contemporary language, as in Services for Trial Use.

3. Commemorations which hitherto had only a Collect are now assigned Psalms and Lessons, either individually or by reference to the Common of Saints. (LFF 1973, vii, viii)

In this work we start seeing propers being conformed to the Commons that have been established for the forthcoming ’79 BCP. This shows up in both collects and in the appointed Scripture readings. Thus there is a certain work of norming the calendar and solidifying the previously rather fluid groups that had existed before. There is also a leveling of occasions and a move away from the original two-tiered system.

There is no change to the collect or lessons for Perpetua and her Companions except for getting the longer ending of the collect “…who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, in glory everlasting. Amen.” There is now a contemporary Rite II collect as well. This same collect is used but for a change of names for Agnes, but the Martyrs of Lyon now have a new collect that highlights Blandina and focuses less on meekness and more on the endurance of suffering. (I really need to do a post on JBob’s fascination with Blandina…)

Dominic’s collect is different and he now has lessons assigned to him (going forward, I’ll just provide the Rite II texts):

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Dominic to be a light in the world: Shine, we, pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praises, who have called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

This is a new template which will become the second Common for Missionaries. Here Dominic’s grouping has been rethought from “ascetic” to “missionary” and a new common assigned accordingly. If we look back  at Dominic’s original group, we’ll find that they have been dispersed into other Commons and assigned those collects; the only exception is Benedict who keeps the original collect with a minor change—“purity” becomes “humility” in recognition of the importance of that concept in the Rule.

Scripture-wise, Dominic will share 1 Corinthians 2 with Basil the Great, but Dominic alone gets the Romans 10 option and the Gospel, John 7:16-18. Glancing through the Scripture index, there is occasional overlap between the Scripture lessons that shows that a diversity of readings is the goal, but that they are falling back on Commons where it seems to make sense.

Broadly speaking, this era of Common(ish) Collects relied heavily on quality collects from the past. The authors mined the collect collections found in Bright, Frere, Souter, and a variety of Anglican missals as well as the Gregorian/Hadrianum material of the ancient Western sacramentaries. These were then adapted to serve for several people who fell into a coherent category, categories that became more formalized as we moved towards the ’79 BCP with its set classes of saints.

Because of the generalities needed (and the theological proclivities of its authors), these collects focused on the saints as exemplars in that their lives showed certain theological gifts or virtues—“witness through meekness,” “purity and strength,” “spread God’s light.” There were not usually specific details given because of the generalities of the Commons. However, some saints did get individualized collects and some Commons did get tailored at points (like the change to “humility” in Benedict’s).

2) The Return of the Biographical Collect

After being tried and rejected in the original tests for the Calendar, the biographical collect returned with a vengeance in 1980. There is a certain irony here. The ’79 BCP provided two or three collects for each Commons of the saints. The Revised Edition of LFF in ’73 utilized these commons for the Calendar. And yet, the edition of LFF released to accompany the New Prayer Book (you know, at the time when it actually was new…)  went in a completely different direction.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts (Third edition [1980])

The preface states “The purpose of the revision of the Collects for the Lesser Feasts was to ensure that each Collect be distinctive of the person commemorated, or of that aspect of the Church’s life to which that person contributed most significantly” (LFF 1980, iv). It then identifies several changes where collects were personalized for several individuals. This occurred at the hands of the Rev. Canon Charles M. Guilbert, Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer with the assistance of the Rev. Eric Jackson and Mr. Patrick Russell. (I’d dearly love to know if they looked at or used any of the material that Jones & Shepherd had compiled in their first go-around…)

In other words, the biographical collect was back—and it would be back to stay for quite a while.

While the Scripture lessons remained the same, we got a new collect for Perpetua and her Companions:

O God the King of saints, you strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And a new one for Dominic too:

O God of the Prophets, you opened the eyes of your servant Dominic to perceive a famine of hearing the word of the Lord and moved him, and those he drew about him, to satisfy that hunger with sound preaching and fervent devotion: Make your Church, dear Lord, in this and every age attentive to the hungers of the world, and quick to respond in love to those who are perishing; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

So—quite different and tailored to the occasion. A collect is one long sentence; these strain to the point of being run-ons. Truthfully, there’s a biographical first sentence about the saints, then a second sentence about us. What was classically a relative clause that said something about God pertinent for the rest of the prayer has become an opportunity to talk about the person. In theory we are thanking God for a specific gift or set of gifts given, but that ends up too often coming off like a rhetorical ploy than a focus on gifts and charisms. It’s a one-sentence biography, then the abstraction of idea or concept from that biography to be applied to us/the current church.

Needless to say, there are no classical sources being drawn on here. No doubt that was seen as a bonus. What has developed here is a new kind of prayer modeled on the collect but different.

This model would continue to be the regnant model as new names were added to the Calendar by General Convention.

With the arrival of Holy Women, Holy Men this kind of collect was pushed almost to the point of parody—particularly in the new additions. I’ve ranted about this before and will spare you the speech now. However, there was some reworking of the older biographical collects as well. While there was no change in Perpetua & her Companions, there was a new version of the Dominic collect:

Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

For all that I may not like the style,  this is a better prayer than the previous one. It is less allusive and more direct. It’s a better biography. Also, the request is more closely tied to the bio: “Dominic established an order of preachers: help us preach Jesus.”  This is better than “help us connect with hungers”—because Dominic was about preaching Jesus and doing it well!

The biographical collect stops being one sentence about God, who God is, and what we request of God based on who God is. Instead, it’s a sentence about a person—a human—and then a sentence about what we think we should ask as a result of that person. At it’s best it’s asking for a gift like what that person had; at it’s worst, it’s asking that we can do the same kind of job as that person. To my eyes, the focus is on humanity—an exemplary person and what we can learn from them—rather than on the God who has been in relationship with us and the gifts and charisms given by the Spirit that share in the virtues of Jesus Christ.

3) The Theological Turn

Great Cloud of Witnesses

HWHM was quite a thing to inherit—which I did when I became head of the Calendar Subcommittee in 2013. My initial attempt was to do what LFF 2018 is doing: move some names to more of a “remembrance list” and better balance the names that remains. This approach was rejected by the SCLM as it was composed then. Great Cloud was a compromise that attempted to maintain inclusivity, but address the theological issue of folks on the Calendars whom all could not receive as saints. You can read through all of the travails of that process in the back catalog here, so I won’t dwell on it.

Over all, GCW didn’t achieve what I had hoped that it would, and it was not accepted by the church.  Despite its shortcomings, I think the best work that went into it was the beginning of revision on the collects. As you can probably tell by now, I’m not a fan of the biographical collect. What I attempt to do was to think about how these collects are supposed to function and—in particular—to tie them into the concept of the Baptismal Covenant. How were these people living out the Covenant and what were the baptismal gifts and, graces, and charisms that they inhabit? Which of the virtues of Christ did they put most prominently on display?

Here’s a post where I discuss the specific revision of one collect (St Bede’s) along these lines. (And I see that I did a mini-version of the above post there too so it may be a teensy bit repetitive at points.) Here’s another that’s not as specific where I call out the relative clause problems in particular.

Looking back, I didn’t make any changes to either of these collects. They weren’t as bad as some others (Bede, Alcuin…) so I left them alone.

I must say, that was my biggest disappointment in the side-lining of GCW—the revised collects did not get much circulation.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018

Now we get to the new proposal on the table. It starts with what had been done in GCW but goes further and does more, particularly in the trimming of unnecessary relative clauses. Let’s compare the one’s we’ve been looking at side by side:

Old Collect New Collect
O God the King of saints, you strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. O God, the King of Saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions to make a good confession and to encourage one another in the time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Almighty God, Grant unto all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share your Gospel, that like your servant Dominic we might labor to bring the whole world to the knowledge and love of you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

To my eyes and tongue, the revisions here make objectively better prayers—prayers that can actually claim the name “collect” again! The content has not been completely overhauled, you can still see the bones that they’re working with, but the trimming of material has re-balanced the focus of the collect. The virtues, the charisms, the gifts are more in focus than before.

These two commemorations are just examples that I picked pretty much at random. As I flip through LLF 2018, I can see a host of improvements along these lines. Prayers are tightened up, the collect form is restored, some have been overhauled.

Is LFF 2018 a prefect document? No, of course not. But I see it as much improved step over what I did, certainly, and over what we have been working with over the past many years. We celebrate the saints because they show us what “the full stature of Christ” looks like in human form. They show us what the virtues of Christ look and act like in myriad different times and places and societies. They show us where a sacramental path of discipleship leads. They illustrate a Baptismal Covenant fully embraced. And the prayers with which we fete them ought to represent that truth too. This volume does that in ways we haven’t seen in a long time.

Please—let’s pass this one.

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).


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…

Calendar Subcommittee Recommendations Up for Comment

The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) is now making public an interim update on the Calendar. The proposal is located here. It recommends splitting the current material into two parts (whether physically located in two volumes or not—that’s still under discussion): “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” which is cast as a “family history” rather than a sanctoral calendar and “Weekday Eucharist Book” (which needs a better name) for collecting the material for weekday Eucharistic celebrations into meaningful groups.

This is the result of much consultation, much thought, and several contentious meetings. It’s not perfect, it still has some unknowns, and it has some weaknesses, but overall I think it’s a stronger way forward than Holy Women, Holy Men.  At this point, we’re essentially putting it up for public vote. While adding nuance might be nice, chances are this is going to be a up or down decision—HWHM or GCW—based on the feedback left on the blog.

I’m working on a post to provide some of the context for some of the choices that might seem odd. I thought I’d have it up by now, but life has intervened. Hopefully later today!