The Calendar Subcommittee of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has published a report on its continuing work on the calendar. It is to be commended for its hard work in developing principles for inclusion in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. Committee work of this sort can be very tedious and fraught with the challenge of keeping people in relationships that are tested by personal biases and pet peeves.
The blog post of this subcommittee states its remit as: “At the last General Convention, the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music was directed to continue revising Holy Women, Holy Men with particular attention to the 2006 guidelines, renewed attention to the form, poetry, and seasons of liturgical life inherent in the Book of Common Prayer and to continue to seek responses from the wider Church.” As a result of lots of feedback, the subcommittee went back to the drawing board, sort of, and is proposing a new set of guidelines for commemorations. This was hard work, and they are to be commended.
They give three proposals:
- They are proposing to change the name of the major volume of commemorations to A Great Cloud of Witnesses. This is a change — an improvement — from Holy Women, Holy Men. There is biblical warrant for this new title. Evidently they did not believe they could cut down on the number of people worthy to be commemorated in the volume, which is to be lamented.
- They are proposing the separation of the core calendar from the multitude of saints to be commended for commemoration but not a part of the core calendar. The problem with the large number of people added in Holy Women, Holy Men is two-fold: one, there were simply too many of them. This reversed the principle that Thomas Cranmer applied in ridding the calendar of a multiplicity of superfluous saints in order to allow for and encourage the daily reading of the Bible through the Daily Office; and, two, the criteria for inclusion in this list was either not clear or ignored. Consequently, everybody got lost in the multiplication of saints. In moving to this new set of recommendations, they are seeming to straddle the fence between the full inclusion of “everyone and his dog” in Holy Women, Holy Men to a recognition that we can’t go on filling the calendar with people.
- They are moving the materials for weekday celebrations of the Eucharist to a separate volume.
The subcommittee is to be applauded for honoring the “core calendar” from the Book of Common Prayer. This emphasizes the larger picture of commemorations in the calendar. It allows the commonly recognized saints to be given a special place of significance in our common worship life. This ought to be a really hard club to join. One of the problems with Holy Women, Holy Men, in my view, was that in making everyone important enough to be remembered, nobody was really important enough to stand out. It seemed that the criterion for inclusion in that volume was more popularity than significance in the Kingdom of God. This is a needed remedy.
I also appreciate the committee’s separation of the core calendar of commemorations from the much larger body of commemorations. This also gives the “core saints” a needed and worthy prominence.
I further appreciate the separation of commemoration materials from daily Eucharistic materials. The daily Eucharistic materials make the already overlarge Holy Women, Holy Men even more overlarger (yes, I know it’s not a proper word, but it makes sense in this context) and more cumbersome. For those churches that do not use the daily Eucharistic Lectionary, that is an expense and a destruction of trees that is not necessary.
What ongoing recommendations do I have for the Calendar Subcommittee?
First, I would eliminate all the readings for the non-core commemorations. Having no readings for these regular daily commemorations emphasizes the daily reading of scripture from chapter to chapter that Thomas Cranmer encouraged. Inclusion of a collect, however, draws our attention to the daily commemorations in our prayers. This is an ancient method of dealing with core and non-core saints in their relation to the calendar.
Second, I would radically reduce the number of commemorations from Holy Women, Holy Men. The subcommittee should consider posting an online survey that gives people a limited number of votes for inclusion in the new volume, say 36 (three per month). I would determine that a minimum number of votes would be required for inclusion and then include only those receiving that minimum number of votes. There is always the option of local celebration to remedy the exclusion of a personally beloved person.
Third, I would establish a principle that only three persons can be added to the list of commemorations during each triennium. I would again conduct these surveys online and allow deputies to vote on this apart from General Convention. The larger church is looking for ways to streamline the work of General Convention. This body usually includes everybody recommended by the SCLM, while the committee hearings usually have some conflict over someone recommended by SCLM for inclusion, but I doubt anyone has ever not gotten in.
Fourth, I would place a specific time limit of waiting fifty years after a person’s death before being eligible for inclusion in A Great Cloud of Witnesses. History ought to have time to deliberate on people being raised up as exemplars. Some might not be included as a result of the careful reflection of time.
Overall, I commend the Calendar Subcommittee for its good and hard work and a step forward from the undisciplined and unreflective practice of including so many extra people in Holy Women, Holy Men.
The image above is “Saints” (27 March 2011) by Quinn Dombrowski. It is licensed under Creative Commons.