Tracking Sanctity: Prayer Book Studies IX

In 1957 the Standing Liturgical Commission issued Prayer Book Studies IX: The Calendar (henceforth PBS9). This report had been in the works since 1945 and throughout that period three people had consistently been represented: Dr. Massey Shepherd, Dr. Bayard Jones, and the Rev. Morton Stone. Bayard died in April of 1957, shortly before the final publication of the work, but had read and approved most of it before his passing.

Massey notes in the Preface that the work as a whole was too long for it all to appear together; as a result, the propers would appear as a separate work later. At this point it was noted only that the Black Letter days listed in italics would receive full propers—the ones without italics would receive only a memorial collect. (For ease of reference, I am referring to the italicized items receiving full propers as “commemorations” and the items receiving only collects as “memorials.”)

Here are the contents:

 The Proposed Calendar (p. viii)

Part One: The History of Prayer Book Calendar Revision
I. The Reformation (p. 3)
II. Red and Black Letter Days (p. 8)
III. Recent Anglican Revisions (p. 12)

Part Two: Principles of Calendar Construction
I. The Development of Saints’ Days (p. 17)
II. The Problem of Modern Reconstruction (p. 24)
III. Recent Anglican Calendars (p. 28)

Part Three: Proposals for Revision
I. Principles of the Present Proposals (p. 35)
II. Changes Proposed in the Red Letter Days (p. 39)
III. Notes on the Black Letter Days (p. 42)

1. Comparative Tables of Anglican Calendars (p. 107)
2. The Proposed Calendar in Chronological and Topical Order (p. 120)
3. Notes on Certain Rejected Commemorations (p. 125)
4. General Bibliography (p. 128)
5. Alphabetical Index of Commemorations, with Special Bibliographies (p. 130)

The Proposed Calendar

The proposed calendar contains 118 entries with 117 named individuals. Of these entries, 26 are Red Letter Days, 40 are Black Letter commemorations (full propers), 52 are Black Letter memorials (collect only). Looking solely at the 92 Black Letter entries, there are 91 named individuals of whom there are:

  • 49 bishops (54%),
  • 16 priests (18%),
  • 4 deacons (4%),
  • 7 religious (8%),
  • 13 laity (14%), and
  • 1 unqualified collective (2%)

Sliced another way, there are:

  • 82 men (90%)
  • 9 women (10%)
  • 1 unqualified collective (>1%)

Along classical lines there are:

  • 22 Bishop/Confessors
  • 15 Male Confessors
  • 12 Bishop/Confessor/Doctors
  • 8 Hermit/Monastics
  • 7 Priest/Confessor/Doctors
  • 7 Bishop/Martyr
  • 5 Martyrs
  • 5 Multiple Martyrs
  • 3 Female Confessors
  • 2 Feasts of the BVM
  • 1 Virgin/Martyr
  • 1 Virgin/Abbess
  • 1 Apostle
  • 1 Multiple Bishops/Confessors

Denominationally, there are no surprises:

  • 54 are from the pre-Schism Great Church
  • 8 are pre-Reformation Western Catholic
  • 1 is pre-Reformation Eastern Orthodox
  • 26 are Anglican

By Century:


Obviously, the Patristic period gets the most commemorations with the 4th century scoring 14 entries total. Then there are spikes in the memorials for the 12/13th century renaissance of religious life with the friars et al., a jump up at the Reformation, then a massive ramp-up for the 19th century. Not surprisingly, this Calendar identifies the Late Early Medieval period and Late Medieval period as the nadirs of saintly existence!

Notes on History of PB Calendar Revision

One of the items that I had not heard before was that there was a study of the kalendar conducted in the run-up to the American 1928 BCP. In the first report of the Joint Commission of the Book of Common Prayer in 1916, it recommended the addition of 45 saints’ days to the calendar; this was increased to 54 in its third report in 1922 (p. 14). These days did not received propers, but a generic proper for saints was offered. Ironically, the days were all cut but the propers were accepted! These proposed days are provided in the Comparative Tables.

Notes on Principles of Calendar Construction


After noting the rise of the cult of martyrs, the study summarizes the initial period in this way:

Thus by the close of the ancient period of the Church’s history, the Calendars of the several churches contained a variety of types of commemoration, of which the chief ones were these:

  1. Anniversaries of the death of martyrs.
  2. Anniversaries of the death of saints, not martyrs.
  3. Dates of the translation of relics of martyrs and saints.
  4. Dates of the dedication of churches and edifices of cult in honor of martyrs and saints.
  5. Dates of the invention [finding] of relics of martyrs and saints (including the Apostles and Evangelists).

Yet in all this elaboration of the cult of saints, one basic principle unites all its varied forms of commemoration. It was the celebration of the fulfillment of a holy life, not its temporal beginning, but its earthly end. The conception of “death and resurrection” was inherent in all of these anniversaries. (p. 20)

A bit before this section had been called out the qualities of non-martyr saints sought in the 4th century: “lives [that] were outstanding examples of courageous witness for the faith against heresy, of monastic virtues of worldly renunciation, or of conspicuous charity and service” (ibid.). These sections are our first glimmers of a modern Episcopal theology of sanctity.

Then they move on to the medieval period which is worth citing at some length:

The medieval Church built its Calendars upon the basic principles of the earlier period. Martyrdom was still the supreme testimony to sanctity, though the occasion for such testimony was not so constant. Particularly notable in the medieval outlook was the emphasis upon the miraculous as evidence of a holy life. The early Church, of course, had not overlooked this aspect of supernatural grace in the lives of the saints. But the medieval churchmen came to regard miracles as the primary proof of sanctity—whether the miracles were performed during the course of the saint’s earthly life, or after his death. This emphasis upon miracles still obtains in the Latin Church’s weighing of evidence for official canonization.

The medievalists were not, however, so superstitious about the miraculous as to forget the importance of character, or the variety of ways whereby the grace of sanctity was made effectual in the Church. The roster of medieval saints includes all kinds of distinguished service: missionaries and founders of churches and monasteries, eminent scholars and theologians, masters of the discipline of contemplation and life of prayer, and ministers of charity and works of mercy. Special mention should also be made of the deep impression made upon the medieval mind by unselfish, Christian statemanship in the arena of politics. It has been said that medieval saints tend to fall into one of three categories: royal, episcopal, or monastic. But these [p. 22]were precisely the chief avenues , given the structure of medieval society, by which men and women were drawn into ways of constructive and outstanding leadership, paths that tested to the full the qualities of humility, courage, and charity. (pp. 21-2)

Ok—a couple of interesting things here… First, miracles are essentially raised only to be dismissed. The study noted that they were used as evidence of sanctity but doesn’t go into why. It does use in passing the phrase “supernatural grace” but doesn’t do anything with it or consider it further. Second, it’s interesting to note the take on “episcopal, royal, monastic.” The tack taken puts an emphasis on public leadership. We’re not just looking for holy people—we’re looking more for holy people who have made a measurable social impact. Thus, the royal saint gets a better shot at recognition than the peasant contemplative.

Moving to the Reformation, the study notes that the Reformers cut the kalendars of the first authorized prayer books back to the strictly Scriptural, admitting: “that in the matter of holy days the Reformers set up a new principle of selection, unknown hitherto in the tradition of the Church” (p. 23). No mention is made here of the process or significance of the addition of Black Letter days in the 1561 revision. In the historical section it had only been noted that this influx of saints occurred but they were seen as a change to the almanac rather than the rite as no propers had been assigned to them. While that may be, their omission here is not entirely explained away so easily.

Modern Reconstruction

Moving to the present and current, the study notes that General Convention is the only group now authorized to alter the kalendar. Therefore, “A revision of the Prayer Book Calendar that has any chance of being adopted by the General Convention, must be based on principles that are consistent with and agreeable to the various perspectives on the problem that are widely held throughout the Church” (p. 24). Two broad positions are sketched. The first is the (catholic-leaning) traditionalist: “it would build the Church’s Calendar upon the basis of those holy days that were of widespread observance in the Western Church at the time of the Reformation” (p. 25). The second are the modernists who are “less moved by considerations of tradition than by the evaluations of modern historiography. . . . They would see the Calendar in terms of its teaching value, a list of heroes in the long life of the Church, whose lives and accomplish-[p. 26] ments continue to be a living inspiration to modern churchmen. Not only would they stress the importance of authentic information about the life and death of each saint commemorated—that is, a ‘true story’ that is inspiring and edifying—but they would be ‘ecumenical’ in selection. Less concerned with the orthodoxy of the saint, they are more interested in his achievement and his impact upon the on-going life of Christendom” (pp. 24-5).

What they’re after, then, is the overlap between the two groups. And, in discussing it, they put quite a bit of weight on the burden of proof for sanctity—what must be met for acceptability:

Neither the pre-Reformation test of miracle nor the Reformation norm of Scripture carries much merit in the Church any longer. The common basis of all judgment is the effect upon edification, the moral and spiritual influence of devotion to the memory of the saints. This is, in effect, a pragmatic norm, and difficult to apply with assured objectivity. It is undoubtedly colored by our unconscious ‘American’ way of evaluating heroism in all spheres of life. It is our way of knowing men ‘by their fruits.’ It is unlikely that any saint will be admitted to the Calendar of the American Church, by vote of General Convention, unless it can be shown that the candidate for such an honor is ‘worthy’ of emulation of his life and example, irrespective of his ancient record of cult in the Calendars of past generations. By the same token, it is unlikely that any saint will be ‘canonized’ by the General Convention without considerable evidence, by official cult or otherwise, of widespread agreement as to his merits. (p. 26)

The assumption here is that a straight-up ancient kalendar won’t be accepted. GC would be too critical for that. I must say, reading this passage over the past 55 years of Episcopal history, I think some things have changed and that General Convention operates on different principles of discernment now than it did then.

At this point, the study talks about Frere’s work that I mentioned the other day. At this point it only notes that the non-Prayer Book saints to whom things are dedicated in America are different from those in England identified by Frere, but that the number had been growing of late.

Recent Anglican Calendars

The study then surveys the significant Anglican Calendars revised since the opening of the 20th century. From this survey it draws 5 points:

  1. There is a clear distinction between Red and Black Letter days—only the Red must be observed; Black are always optional. Too, none of the books provide full propers for all Black Letter days.
  2. There is greater agreement about saints of the ancient church than the medieval.
  3. There’s no agreement on when certain observations should be placed that don’t appear in the 1662 book.
  4. Most Anglican Calendars avoid having more than one entry on a day.
  5. All of the Calendars include descriptive notes on the saint, their life, work, and death.

Proposals for Revision

Principles of the Present Proposals

I was very interested to learn what is stated at the outset of this section:

For the past ten years, the Standing Liturgical Commission has devoted time at each of its meetings in discussing the materials of this study. With each change in personnel of the Commission the tentative list of Calendar changes, first drawn up in 1945, has been reviewed and revised. . . . The changes and additions herewith have with but few exceptions been unanimously approved throughout the long period of study and discussion. Where the Commission has been sharply divided over particular proposals for inclusion, and has been unable to come to a solution satisfactory to most, if not all, of the members, the proposed entry has been omitted. Thus, some of the prolonged and difficult work of the Commission on this Calendar has led, seemingly, to negative results. But the Commission believes that the energy spent on this disputed and unresolved problems has by no means been wasted. We believe that the concrete result of our labors probably represents the type of Calendar that will be acceptable to the vast majority of the Church’s membership. (p. 35)

Disagreement on the Commission about the kalendar is not new!

A fundamental necessity is historicity. It states in no uncertain terms that a person must be historically verifiable in order to appear on the list. The premiere case in point is St. George:

The fact that he has become a patron saint of England does not make him any the more real; nor does it necessitate making him a saint of the American Church. Fairy-book tales may indeed be edifying. When they become part of the folklore and tradition of a great nation they can become stirring symbols. But it is asking too much of the majority of our American Church membership, who have no such traditional and patriotic associations with the name, to respond with mature devotion to a saint of whom it can only be said, “He may have existed, sometime, somewhere.” (p. 36)

(At a later date we’ll check in on pp. 338-9 of HWHM…) They note that the Feast of All Saints with its octave have been provided for the celebration of the saints not otherwise remembered by the church with the implication that if George were a real saint, he would be properly provided for there.

The official statement on criteria is this:

The choice of commemorations in the proposed Calendar has been made primarily on the basis of selecting men and women of outstanding holiness, heroism, and teaching in the cause of Christ, whose lives and deaths have been a continuing, conscious influence upon the on-going life of the Church in notable and well-recognized ways. There are included martyrs, theologians, statesmen, missionaries, reformers, mystics, and exemplars of prayer and charitable service. In every instance care has been taken to list persons whose life and work are capable of interpretation in terms morally and spiritually edifying to the Church of our own generation. In addition, a few festivals commemorating events of particular importance in the heritage of our own Communion have been included, such as the memorial of the First Prayer Book and the bestowal of the American Episcopate. (p. 37)

It goes on to comment on matters of denomination. Only Anglicans are named post-Reformation. This is due to “a lack of sufficient unanimity” regarding proper selection. “The Commission does believe very strongly, however, that any extension of the present Prayer Book Calendar should give recognition to the fact that our Anglican tradition has produced, and continues to produce saintliness” (ibid.).

Concluding Thoughts

It’s quite fascinating to look over this work at this point in our history. The assumptions that it takes for granted are no longer the case. Ideology plays a much larger explicit role in church politics now than it did then. The mechanisms too for making and continuing change have altered.

A key point that I want to note is the focus on the historical and the historic.  In the push to ensure the historicity of the entries included, the eschatological is being pushed to the margin. Spiritual lives are still considered a critical component, but the relation of the miraculous to the eschatological life isnot present, or do we see anything like the question, “Can I see this person participating in the great chorus of heaven?” Moral and spiritual conduct are the key arbiters. While criteria for what that conduct looks like appears, it is not codified, and is not given an explicit theological foundation either. This is primarily a pragmatic document, not a theological one: there is no theology of the saints here.

The closest we come to theology is, actually, explicitly not theological. The “Principles for the Present Proposals” section ends in this way:

It has often been remarked that the Prayer Book provides the parish priest with an excellent teaching manual for the study of the Bible, the doctrine and ethics of the Church, and, of course, the principles and practices of worship and prayer. It has lacked but one thing, an adequate instrument for teaching the history of the Church. The present proposal should do much to meet this need. With the names on this Calendar arranged in a historical, or, topical order, the parish priest will have a convenient guide and outline of Church History from its beginnings to the present time. Such a study should greatly reinforce the other teachings of the Prayer Book, as they are exemplified in the lives of the saints. (p. 38)

The intent here is to say that a solid kalendar will complete the teaching value of the Prayer Book. And that’s true. But what bothers me—especially given the vantage of major hindsight—is the way this passage connects the saints and Church History without offering explicit integration into church doctrine. The last line is helpful, but is too little, too late. The saints aren’t just historical figures! The question of sanctity is intimately bound with the nature of discipleship, of Christology, and of the sacraments. The saints show us what Christian maturity looks like—not just the scope of Church History! And yet, the historical dimension of the Episcopal Calendar has increasingly been highlighted to the exclusion of the spiritual, sacramental, and eschatological dimensions. This study doesn’t do that—but it doesn’t say much against it, and it leaves a theological vacuum in its wake…

5 thoughts on “Tracking Sanctity: Prayer Book Studies IX

  1. Matthew

    I know, Dr. Olsen, that your work focuses on the peculiarities of TEC’s calendar, but your closing paragraph made me want to share with you a resource from your northern cousins. In his introduction to _For All the Saints_, the book which is roughly equivalent to your _Lesser Feasts and Fasts_ though more fulsome, the Reverend Dr. Stephen Reynolds offers an elegant and simple overview that covers both the historical and the spiritual, sacramental, and eschatological dimensions. It might be a useful reference point; much of the book (minus its extended readings), including the introduction, may be found via the Anglican Church of Canada at

  2. bls

    All very interesting. Thanks very much for taking the time to post all of this stuff we’d never know unless you did…. ;-)

  3. Geoff McLarney

    Ease of reference aside, this usage seems to invert the way these terms are now used, with “memorials” outranking mere “commemorations” (a distinction which blessed Stephen Reynold’s volume undoubtedly analyses better than I can).

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