Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Calendar of Saints: An Interesting Proposal

Father Alexander, over at Videtur Quod, has come up with an interesting liturgical compromise for how to deal with the rather bizarre hodge podge list of Saints for the Liturgical Calendar that the Episcopal Church floated and passed on trial at the last General Convention.

I've said for years that the way the Episcopal Church chooses saints for commemoration on our Church calendar was muddled at best. The way it used to work was someone at General Convention would get a resolution passed through the liturgical committee to make a motion on the floor of General Convention to get a saint added to the calendar. In essence, it was "Make your own saint by majority vote" model. I was never really comfortable with the theological inquiry and legwork in such a system, but at least such a method was open to debate and had to pass 2 consecutive General Conventions to become permanent. That would seem to partially undercut "fad" editions to the Calendar of minor saints, or what we used to call Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

At the Last General convention, all that changed in a way I was wholly uncomfortable with. The Standing Liturgical Committee revised the Lesser Feast and Fasts calendar with this massive addition of saints called Holy Women, Holy Men. Some of the additions were, I think, good additions. Saints that a majority of Catholic Christians East and West recognize and commemorate in some way. But there were also several bizarre additions that I would not be comfortable commemorating at a Mass. The whole list is here.
(For example: Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Prophetic Witness? Frances Perkins, Public Servant and Prophetic Witness? John Muir, Naturalist and Writer?)

Regardless of what one thinks of some of these characters, I had issue with the way the whole thing was presented in a take it or leave it buckshot method of passage. Given the Liturgical Commission's penchant for political correctness and lack of clear theology on anything in the last 10 years, I was dubious of the way this was handled at General Convention. I think, at the very least, each addition of a saint needed its own independent debate and scrutiny.

I think part of my Anglo-catholic frustration is a lack of theological clarity on what exactly the Episcopal Church means with "Commemorations" of lesser saints. Reading through the Holy Women, Holy Men commentary and other info that came out in the General Convention Blue Book, it came off to me as little more than Liturgical pint raising and Anglican chanting of "For he(she) was a jolly good fellow!" The rubrics as I understood them when Holy Women, Holy Men got pounded through General Convention, like so many of the other mountains of worthless resolutions, position statements, and finger waggings that got steamrolled through General Convention, all this Holy Women, Holy Men business was optional anyway.

For lack of better clarity, I've continued using the Lesser Feasts and Fasts for daily Masses. I like the way Father Stephen has theologically come up with a more palatable and theologically coherent compromise. In his words:

"Beyond the Principal Feasts and Major Feasts specified in the Prayer Book Calendar, however, for purposes of what used to be called "Lesser Feasts," we have adopted the approach of such calendars as that of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England in distinguishing two levels of such feasts. These are called in the Roman Calendar “Memorials” and “Optional Memorials”; and in C of E's Common Worship

Thus, we have four levels of feasts: Principal Feasts, Major Feasts, Commemorations, and Optional Commemorations (corresponding roughly to the Roman fourfold classification of Solemnities, Feasts, Memorials, and Optional Memorials, and to Common Worship’s fourfold classification of Principal Feasts, Festivals, Lesser Festivals, and Commemorations)."
“Lesser Festivals” and “Commemorations.” Here, we adopt the terminology “Commemorations” and “Optional Commemorations.”

I don't know what I make of his parish coming up with their own calendar. I like the calendar, but I am likewise somewhat uncomfortable with that precedent of just going rogue and doing my own thing. To my mind, that has a hint of Protestant thinking and action, though it is very Anglican in a Via Media sort of way.

I'm going to have to ponder that. Any thoughts?

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