Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Holy Women, Holy Men

In preparation for tomorrow's meeting of the Northern Indiana deputation to the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I have just spent a good deal of time examining the report of the Standing Comission on Liturgy and Music. It consumes pp. 185-582 of the "Blue" Book's (it's actually maroon) 807 pages, effectively half of the total. The SCLM's magnum opus this time around is a thorough revision, mandated by convention in 2003, of the volume Lesser Feasts & Fasts, which contains appointed propers (collects, psalms, readings) for the days in the Prayer Book calendar that are designated for "optional observance"--that is, the "black letter" days listed in the calendar in regular typeface (the "red letter" days, non-optional, being indicated by boldface type). The sanctoral calendar, of course (which is to say, the "calendar of saints") is, like the lectionary, not technically part of the Book of Common Prayer (which requires two successive General Conventions to revise), even though bound with it, and has been added to regularly by the last several conventions. (More recent editions of LF&F have added eucharistic propers for ferial weekdays as well as Sundays and Holy Days.)

When the liturgy of the English Church was reconfigured in the 16th century, there was an understandable reaction to the proliferation of saints' days and the observance thereof in medieval society. Only the apostles and evangelists and a handful of others (all found in the New Testament) were spared the editors' scissors. It wasn't until the long run-up to what became the present Prayer Book that the idea of a re-expanded calendar was explored in a concrete way. The first edition of LF&F appeared as a trial use document in 1964, and contained essentially the same observances one can spy in a "vintage" edition of the 1979 BCP. The emphasis was on biblical figures (e.g. Timothy & Titus, Mary & Martha), patristic-era saints recognized by both East and West (e.g Chrysostom, Ignatius of Antioch), medieval saints well-established in western Christianity (e.g. Benedict, Francis), with a particular focus on those who figure in the history of the faith in Britain (e.g. Augustine of Canterbury, Anselm); prominent figures in post-Reformation England (e.g. Lancelot Andrewes, Richard Hooker), and, finally, leading lights in the history of the Episcopal Church (e.g. Samuel Seabury, William White). 

During the '80s and '90s, many complained that the inhabitants of the 1979 calendar were disproportionately male and disporportionately clerical. Subsequent additions have sought systematically to redress this perceived imbalance. Hence, we now observe (or are permitted to observe, at local option) days for the likes of Sojourner Truth, Florence Nightingale (both not male) and C. S. Lewis (not ordained), among many others. 

The proposed volume is no mere revision of Lesser Feasts & Fasts; it is a replacement. In this light, it may be apt that the SCLM proposes dropping the cutomary name and adopting Holy Women, Holy Men (taken from the text of a Latin hymn that appears in H1982 at 238/239). It is a bad news/good news saga. The good news (on balance) is that nobody was dropped from the calendar; some dates have been shifted around, and some who enjoyed their own days now have to share (Hugh of Lincoln and Robert Grosseteste), but everyone made the cut. The bad news is that there are--wait for it and count 'em--112 proposed additions! If you think this leaves very few "open" days in the calendar, you are absolutely correct. There are even a few double-ups, creating "choices" for local communities, so we are told. We are well on our way back toward the status quo ante to which Cranmer and his minions reacted.

There is, as well, some good news in the criteria enunciated by the SCLM for deciding who gets in to this select company. They are worth looking at in their entirety:

Principles of Revision
1. Historicity: Christianity is a radically historical religion, so in almost every instance it is not theological realities or spiritual movements but exemplary witness to the Gospel of Christ in lives actually lived that is commemorated in the Calendar.
2. Christian Discipleship: The death of the saints, precious in God’s sight, is the ultimate witness to the power of the Resurrection. What is being commemorated, therefore, is the completion in death of a particular Christian’s living out of the promises of baptism. Baptism is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite for inclusion in the Calendar.
3. Significance: Those commemorated should have been in their lifetime extraordinary, even heroic servants of God and God’s people for the sake, and after the example, of Jesus Christ. In this way they have testified to the Lordship of Christ over all of history, and continue to inspire us as we carry forward God’s mission in the world.
4. Memorability: The Calendar should include those who, through their devotion to Christ and their joyful and loving participation in the community of the faithful, deserve to be remembered by The Episcopal Church today. However, in order to celebrate the whole history of salvation, it is important also to include those “whose memory may have faded in the shifting fashions of public concern, but whose witness is deemed important to the life and mission of the Church” (Thomas Talley).
5. Range of Inclusion: Particular attention should be paid to Episcopalians and other members of the Anglican Communion. Attention should also be paid to gender and race, to the inclusion of lay people (witnessing in this way to our baptismal understanding of the Church), and to ecumenical representation. In this way the Calendar will reflect the reality of our time: that instant communication and extensive travel are leading to an ever deeper international and ecumenical consciousness among Christian people.
6. Local Observance: Similarly, it should normatively be the case that significant commemoration of a particular person already exists at the local and regional levels before that person is included in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church as a whole.
7. Perspective: It should normatively be the case that a person be included in the Calendar only after two generations or fifty years have elapsed since that person’s death.
8. Levels of Commemoration: Principal Feasts, Sundays and Holy Days have primacy of place in the Church’s liturgical observance. It does not seem appropriate to distinguish between the various other commemorations by regarding some as having either a greater or a lesser claim on our observance of them. Each commemoration should be given equal weight as far as the provision of liturgical propers is concerned (including the listing of three lessons).
9. Combined Commemorations: Not all those included in the Calendar need to be commemorated “in isolation.” Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense (e.g., the Reformation martyrs—Latimer and Ridley; bishops of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste and Hugh).

This is, IMHO, a reasonable and well-thought out approach, though I might quibble with a point here or there. It clearly intends (or seems to, at any rate), t0 hold up for honor men and women who are examples of heroic holiness and consecrated living as intentional Christian disciples, examples that are worthy of recognition by the whole church. 

If only they had followed their own guidelines. Alas, they did not. So it's back to "bad news." What we have, in effect, is a roll that includes many people who are merely famous (or, more accurately, people who some think should be famous) based on signal accomplishments during their lives. So we have Copernicus and Kepler, Bach and Handel (along with Byrd and Tallis), John Muir (the naturalist closely associated with Yosemite), Durer (along with Grunwald and Cranach), Harriet Beecher Stowe, Christina Rosetti (the poet), and (for the top prize in implausibility) "William Mayo and Charles Menninger and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine". 

This is ... well ... embarrassing. But there's more. We are poised to canonize people who haven't even been raised to that status by the church they were part of in this world, like Pope John XXIII and Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. We are a church on brink of honoring the heroic Christian witness of people who with great intentionality left the church that now endeavors to so honor them, and did so because they felt compelled by their Christian conscience--Elizabeth Ann Seton, John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton (to say nothing of Francis Asbury!). And then there are those who never were Episcopalian or Anglican, and because of their evangelical convictions, would probably find it odd to now be asked to "come up higher"--the missionaries William Carey and Adoniram Judson come to mind. 

And are we really now to have a "saint's day" set aside for John Calvin? (What about Oliver Cromwell?) Karl Barth? Walter Rauchenbush? 

Alas, poor old and oft-maligned Charles Stuart, the only person actually canonized by the Church of England, still didn't make the team, despite the earnest prayers of the Society of St Charles, King & Martyr. But welcome back to St George, despite the fact that the Romans cut him loose for being of doubtful historicity. And surely somebody will rejoice that Kierkegaard is now a saint. 

And, despite the SCLM's averred intent to include only baptized persons, one slipped through the net: the Jewish chaplain who went down with his Christian (all non-Anglican) companions on the Dorchester after giving away their life vests. (Lt. Goode is eminently worthy of being remembered and honored, just not perhaps in a Christian calendar of saints.)

I fear we are making utter fools of ourselves, turning the sanctoral calendar into a flatbed truck to carry the freight of our collective neurotic guilt, trying desperately to demonstrate our inclusivity to an ecumenical community that will just chuckle softly as they shake their heads in bemused bewilderment. 

The silver lining is that some real worthies actually did get in: Joan of Arc, St Cecilia, Margery Kempe, Charles Grafton (I Bishop of Fond du Lac), Innocent of Alaska. But why not some of the 19th century London "slum priests": Charles Lowder, Alexander Mackonohie, inter alia--now these were some exemplars of heroic witness and sanctity)?

But I've saved the worst for last. Aside from the obvious deficiencies in the proposed revision to our calendar, there is a Trojan Horse in the mix. Holy Women, Holy Men is being used as a vehicle to promote elements of a radical liturgical language agenda (as has every other publication of the SCLM for most of the last three decades). From earliest times, formal Christian prayer has normatively concluded per dominum Jesum Christum--through Jesus Christ our Lord. Not exclusively, but normatively. More recently, however, the use of the word "Lord" has been deemed suspect because of percieved patriarchal connotations, and there has been a steady pressure to subvert the long-standing norm. Indeed, this is one of the motivating concerns that underlies the entire project known as Enriching Our Worship

Since there are 112 new observance proposed for the calendar, this means that there are 112 new collects that have been written. Of this number, how many include the formua "through Jesus Christ our Lord"? 

Exactly two.

The rest either substitute something like Savior (the most common by far), or Redeemer, or Good Shepherd, or simply nothing (as in "through Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns...). 

This is infinitely more important than any concern about who made the list or who got left off. The fundamental (and earliest) Christian creed consists simply of two Greek words which take three English words to translate: Jesus is Lord. It's not an option, one alternative among many. It's not a metaphor, one image among many. It is a basic Christian confession. If you can't make that confession, full-throatedly and with uncrossed fingers, you can't be a Christian. So there's nothing particularly wrong on this account with any single given collect of the 112 proposed additional observances. It's the trend that is cause for alarm. It bespeaks a church that talks a good talk about its theological moorings in Catholic Christianity, but is in the process of weighing anchor, throwing the rope back on the dock, and drifting out on the tide of distorted perceptions of oppressive language. 

Morever, the SCLM needs to be called on their subversive tactics. For decades now they've just been sneaking in this Trojan Horse under the guise of other agendas--this time the calendar (as well as pastoral rites for issues surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, which I'm not dealing with in this post). People are naturally curious about the "presented" topic, and the "akyrial" (did I just coin a Greek word?) theology in the proposed prayers doesn't register on their screens. It would be much healthier to have the discussion about liturgical language out in the open, as its own topic, rather than just sneak it in covertly. 

Those who have the ability to rake muck, now's the time.


Ralinda said...

Not to mention John Muir appears to have rejected the Christian faith of his childhood!

Thank you for weighing in on this and explaining all the ways it is a trojan horse.

Walt Knowles said...

I think you are looking so hard for a trojan horse that you fail to notice that HWHM is of a different species, and that may be the more important issue. My read of HMHW is that it is following two major trends:

* A change in the doctrines surrounding sanctification: We Anglicans, from a fourth-century brit onwards really want to take credit for our own relationship with God. By including many "heros" HMHW leads us to focus on their effort rather on God's grace in their lives.

* The relationship between teaching and worship continues to be inverted. As a result of Sacrosanctum concilium's insistence on "self-interpreting" liturgy, worship tends toward being about our learning rather than about the God in whose presence we are.

Once you grant those two goals, your objections to HWHM really are moot, for within that perspective, you don't have a leg to stand on. There really is no valid objection to the Dorchester chaplains, John Muir, or Florence Nightengale once you have granted the soteriological and catechetical points.

Frair John said...

I was amazed over the sheer lenth and complicated nature of the revisions. The massive number of additions and alterations is simply awe inspiring.

What struck me is that there seems to be so little thought as they tossed this together. John of the Cross is on the wrong date, and the prayer is a bit off. The Barth prayer (I have no problems with including Barth BTW) makes him into an anti-Nazi only. The prayer for Calvin's day is spot on, but I question why he would be added.
Not adding Charles is a simple matter of biggotry, realy. I'm just suprrised that they didn't put someone on the date just to try and end the debate.

Mark Harris said...

Dan... thanks for writing this. I have referenced it over at Preludium and hope people will get over to Confessions to read what you wrote. Although we disagree on some bits and pieces, I do agree with you mostly. Question.... so how will you vote? I'll see you on the floor and be looking for your good advice.

Unknown said...

Fr. Dan,

Thanks for your frank comments about ENRICHING OUR WORSHIP (I call it Empoverishing Our Worship). When I objected to my former rector about use of a EOW Eucharist -- and the loss of the use LORD -- he first pooh-poohed my objection, and then launched some elaborate explanation that use of LORD was confusing between the OT translation LORD GOD and the Lord Jesus. He refused to acknowledge the issue. And I cannot find any discussion of the removal of LORD in the prefatory material in EOW, so there seems an element of prevarication here. I have taken on the issue and raise it where appropriate.

More recently, I objected to use of an EOW Eucharist rite in planning for a diocesan event, for the same reason, and you would have thought I was a skunk at a picnic. But we went back to the BCP usage.

As we pray, so we believe.

Thanks again. Dick Mitchell

Caminante said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking essay... I need to chew on it more. If only we could say Kurios... my tongue gets all hung up on the R in Lord and turns it into a most inelegant drawn-out consonant.

Ben said...

Very thorough look at HMHW. It appears that the Holy Spirit may be departing TEC (1 Corinthians 12:3). You are correct that this most basic and ancient confession is not optional. So, I've decided that, during GC, I am going to drink water from plastic bottles held in one of those foam insulation sleeves with the words "THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD," printed in bold letters.

Ron, BSG said...

While I don't always agree with what Dan+ writes, I certainly agree with him on this one. Take a look at the Contemporary Collects in your BCP - it's quite consistent with using "through Jesus Christ our Lord." I've experienced HWHM, and would have much preferred adding a few to LFF. Thanks for your good post, Fr Dan.

Ecgbert said...

Good points especially regarding revisionism. Rather reminds me of Mormons posthumously baptising the dead by proxy!

Yes, you've got to love the irony of King Charles being excluded.

To be fair, as most of these observances are optional it's not a return to a cluttered kalendar where the liturgical seasons are interrupted too much.

Also... I don't think Rome exactly 'cut St George loose' but made the observance of his day optional/local, de-listing him from the Universal Kalendar of the Roman Rite. This is commonly misunderstood. Such people weren't 'de-sainted'. Routinely cleaning up kalendars for the reason given above is not just for Protestants (of course they did it because they were wrong about the communion of saints and their invocation): 400 years ago Popes did it!

Orthodoxy muddles along nicely not only without a Rome but without even a Lambeth, yet with more liturgical uniformity than Rome along with a happy hotchpotch of local saints to choose from.

Ecgbert said...

P.S. A liturgical uniformity that's old-school not like that of the Novus Ordo or US 1979.

Anonymous said...

It's a nice thing that someone cares about TEC's revision of their calendar of commemorations, I guess. Its evolution seems to chronicle TEC's decline into laughable irrelevancy with particular accuracy. However, long ago my own congregation decided it was was unworthy of liturgical notice and substituted it with the medieval English calendar which, with a little judicious exercise of historical discernment serves nicely for weekday worship.

Steve said...

Thanks for the information you included on the requirements that are necessary for inclusion with your own specific day. I am in the process of looking through these changes and your information has helped me to look at these changes with clearer eyes.

Josh Indiana said...

My, what a nasty tone you take.

RevJesse said...

Dan, Thanks for clarifying what HWHM is and how it is related to LFF. For all its drawbacks, I am just glad that we now have Commons for the Blessed Virgin Mary, though with all its additions, it failed to add back that feasts that Queen Elizabeth I made sure were put back on in 1561 and which remain on the calendar of the C of E and many other Anglican Provinces, among them St. Lucy, St. George, The Nativity of Mary, and the Conception of Mary.

women4thelord said...


Could you put some links to the SCLM to help this post? Thanks!