Tangled Up in Blue: Liturgy and Music I
All three of you who are reading these blog posts might have noticed that I am skipping a couple of resolutions. My plan is to cover all the marriage material from the Blue Book in a future post. For today, we get to the resolutions coming from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. In a Groundhog Day moment, I feel like I’m rewriting what I wrote for the 2012 General Convention. We’ll look at the SCLM material over two or three posts, depending on my stamina. Let’s start with saints, or perhaps I should say, “saints.”
Since 2009, the SCLM has been keen to expand massively our calendar of commemorations. This is frustrating on any number of levels to lots of people. I’ve written about my issues many times, including “Holy women, holy men? Whatever.” and “Holy Women, Holy Men, Holy Cow.” You can read a time-warp version of today’s blog post from the 2012 “Blogging Blue” series here. But don’t just take my word for it. Derek Olsen has written about this extensively, including “So Great a Cloud of Memories” in The Living Church.
In case you didn’t bother to go read any of those links, 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.
Generally, I think the best approach would be to go back to the drawing board. Attempting to complete this particular trajectory does not seem helpful, and I thought the feedback last time at General Convention was pretty clear on that point. While we head back to the drawing board, we continue to have Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and any congregation can observe any saint it wants using the Common of Saints.
Let me repeat this, because I think it is a point of epic importance. If we end this whole project of radical expansion sanctoral super-sizing now, this is what the status quo looks like:
The official calendar of commemoration in our church is found in the Book of Common Prayer and in Lesser Feasts and Fasts. LFF is a wonderful (but not perfect) volume, chock full of solid commemorations. If your congregation wants to expand the list of people we remember, our prayer book already provides for this local use. Right there on page 18 of the BCP is this line about who you can commemorate in your church, “Other Commemorations, using the Common of Saints.” Check out the Common of Saints on pages 195ff. or 246ff. There are lovely sets of collects, prefaces, and lessons suitable for remembering all manner of holy women and holy men. We do not need HQ to allow us to pray for and to remember anyone of our choosing.
With that said, I want to move on to this batch of resolutions. Please do note that I am not repeating all sorts of things from previous posts. Go follow the links above if you want to read more (either because you think I’m not to something or because you think I’m a raving lunatic).
A055: Revise Liturgical Commemorations. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
This resolution removes 17 people from the trial use calendar in HWHM and adds six. While that sounds like a small step in the kind of calendar downsizing many of us have been asking for it, this needs to be read in the context of A057, which puts more than 50 (!) people on the way to being commemorated in our calendar.
First of all, General Convention should not be asked to add people to a calendar without a bit of background, including biographies. The temptation is to look at the list and vote yes, but that would be a mistake. For example, I have nothing against Hiram Hisanori Kano, but the date of death is 1986, in direct violation of the very criteria the SCLM proposed. Also, which of these six new people benefits from current local commemoration in several congregations? Are these six people exemplars of Christian discipleship?
Perhaps these six deserve a place on our calendar. Right now, anyone is free to pray to them and for them, and to remember them in our liturgies. Let’s hold off on adding people until we can take stock of our situation and start over on rethinking our calendar.
All that said, on a positive note, this resolution also includes approving, for trial use, a much better set of collects for the people in HWHM. If this whole sanctoral mega-calendar project is continued, I do hope we’ll approve and use the better collects. The change largely centers around a shift from biographical collects to ones that highlight virtue or charism, which point toward Christ’s light burning in these people’s lives.
A056: Authorize New Liturgical Resources: A Great Cloud of Witnesses; Weekday Eucharistic Propers. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
This resolution does several things. Chiefly, it authorizes for trial use A Great Cloud of Witnesses, the replacement for Holy Women, Holy Men, which was, in turn, a trial use replacement for Lesser Feasts and Fasts. (One more time: until we formally replace it, LFF is the calendar of the church.)
In any case, let’s start with Weekday Eucharistic Propers, also authorized for trial use by this resolution. WEP adds little to what is found in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the Book of Common Prayer. In other words, we don’t need to approve this, because the bulk of what’s there was already approved long ago. The primary new thing in WEP is a bunch of propers for various occasions (and commons) such as “Artists, Writers, and Composers” and “Prophetic Witness in Society.” I’m not totally opposed to these propers going into trial use, so if someone breaks that part of this resolution out, I would vote yes for it, largely because this supports us in the kind of local commemoration I mentioned above. That said, there’s a lot of material in these new propers, and I don’t sense any urgency from local communities demanding more than what we already have in the prayer book.
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.
What is confusing, and it is only tangentially related to the definition of saints, is which saints should be commemorated in our churchwide calendar. To put it another way, even General Convention does not have the power to make saints. That happens by the power of the Holy Spirit as people are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What General Convention does have the power to do is to commend certain saints to the whole church for prayer and commemoration.
And this gets to the heart of the issue: the ancient view of “who is a saint” very much squares with the baptismal theology in our prayer book. When we start mucking around with this ecosystem by, say, calling people saints who were never baptized, we undermine our baptismal theology (not to mention a couple of millennia of teaching and practice). Just like when you introduce a new plant into an ecosystem and unintended consequences frequently ensue, so it is with tampering with fundamentals of our theological ecosystem. Redefining sainthood would have deleterious effects on baptismal theology, ecclesiology, and eschatology, to name but a few.
Those our church commemorates are a subset of the saints. Any Christian, or any Christian community, can commemorate any saint as desired. We already have the mechanism for this, and our current mechanism reinforces rather than undermines baptismal theology. I’ll stop on WEP for now, lest I keep kicking the (unbaptized) dead horse.
This resolution also sets out new criteria for inclusion in the calendar. I do wish that SCLM followed their own criteria, but I’ve made that point. At first glance, this new set of criteria look pretty good. However, they have been altered from when we last saw them in 2012. As an example, let’s look at our current official criteria from LFF 2006, repeated in HWHM (2012):
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.
Compare that with what we find in A Great Cloud of Witnesses:
Christian Discipleship: The family story captured here is uniquely and identifiably a Christian story. This set of stories commemorates the ways particular Christians live out the promises of baptism. A worthy summary of these promises is captured in our Baptismal Covenant, including a commitment to the Triune God as captured in the Apostles’ Creed; continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers; resisting evil and repenting when necessary; proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons; and striving for justice and peace among all people. Rather than being an anachronistic checklist, these should be considered general guidelines for considering holistic Christian life and practice. There may be occasional exceptional cases where not all of these promises are successfully kept, or when the person in question is not a Christian, yet the person’s life and work still significantly impacts the ongoing life of the Church and contributes to our fuller understanding of the Gospel.
This criterion, as articulated here, suffers from an inability to distinguish a noble human being from a saint. You cannot be a saint without being baptized, and the Anglican understanding, found in in our prayer book, is that “Christians” and “saints” and “those who are baptized” are identical sets. I freely acknowledge that a person could be “not a Christian, yet the person’s life and work still significantly impacts the ongoing life of the Church.” But I do not think we should pretend such a person is in the communion of saints. In any case, before you vote for these new criteria (which would not replace our current ones yet, because the current set is in LFF, which is authorized), make sure you compare the new ones and the old ones. See what is changed, and ask yourself why.
A Great Cloud of Witnesses, as I understood it, was to be the middle section of a tripartite revision of the HWHM project. Firstly, we’d have a much smaller core calendar (Feasts of Our Lord and such). Secondly, we’d have an entirely optional set of commemorations to use (a slight tweak of our current situation). Thirdly, we’d expand the propers available for local commemoration and encourage that practice. I’m fully on board with the first and third of these projects.
However, A Great Cloud of Witnesses solves few problems of HWHM and introduces a bunch of new ones. It continues to be a massive list of people who make us feel good, people who did something first, people who fill niches, and some bona fide saints who meet the criteria we have adopted as a church. I’ll say it again: if the SCLM simply went through and followed the criteria they themselves set out in 2006, and applied that list to the people in HWHM or AGCW, I’d be happy as a clam. But as it is, we are claiming that a twentieth-century rabbi is a saint, etc., etc. How does that square with another SCLM project, teaching us about Christian Anti-Judiasm?
AGCW is confusing, and not just theologically. To pick a person at random, Martin Luther King, Jr., is remembered here. This is fantastic (and I’m glad he’s in LFF, so even if my suggestion that we send AGCW back to the drawing board is heeded, we still commemorate Dr. King). However, in AGCW, a congregation is faced with a choice of propers to use, “[Common of a Martyr] [Common of a Prophetic Witness] [Common of a Pastor] [Of the Holy Cross] [For Prophetic Witness in Society] [For Reconciliation and Forgiveness].” Why do we need six choices? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to pick one as a norm, and then in the preface add a note that any suitable proper from the list may be used? I for one am grateful for all the hard work that went into LFF choosing lessons and so forth, so that when we commemorate Dr. King, we have appropriate lessons. Also, on many days, there are two different commemorations listed. Why is this? In other words, the resource simply isn’t usable by the average parish priest or lay worship leader, who won’t have time to investigate myriad options to decide which one is best. The resource would be more user-friendly with a preferred option, and, if it seems necessary, some latitude for flexibility.
Lastly on AGCW, for this post, lest it become a book, I object to the inclusion of about 25 people (starting page 204 in the SCLM supplement to the Blue Book) “who do not qualify” for inclusion. The SCLM writes, “We believe that these people should remain in the Church’s memory even though they do not currently meet all of the criteria for additions. We hope that they will be given serious consideration in the future…” Why must we keep adding people, dozens at a time, in a top-down manner? If a number of congregations are commemorating “Allen Crite, artist” who died in 2007 when we get to General Convention 2057, then let’s by all means give due consideration. Why this list of people that we are supposed to remember for an unclear reason until an uncertain time? Are we going to add every possible person who we might someday want to remember to this list? Why must we keep such a list?
This gets back to one of my earlier, tired, points. If the SCLM simply attended to local commemoration already happening, we’d save ourselves a lot of angst. That’s how the church has worked for most of its history. Let’s get back to that way of doing things.
Alas, for you, dear reader, we have a couple more resolutions to look at.
A057: Create Additional Liturgical Commemorations. Full text. Likely vote: NO.
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…?
If I counted correctly, this resolution asks us to start 55 (!) people on the way to being commemorated. These are all women, and this is part of an effort to balance out our calendar. Now, I’m not inherently opposed to this, and I do support the “Range of Inclusion” part of our current criteria. However, we simply lack the bandwidth to process 55 people at once. Moreover, if we followed the rest of our criteria, we’d wait to see who is being commemorated by several local congregations and add those women (or men) to the calendar.
So as we’re mindfully adding people to our calendar, based on widespread local commemoration, let’s certainly make sure our calendar doesn’t look like the walls of portraits of dead white guys that I used to see at Yale. That’s not good for anyone. But there’s a right way to open things up, and let’s take care to make sure that we’re adding, you know, Christians, to our calendar.
Two final notes. I promise you we’re almost done.
I’m really surprised at one bit of disregard for the deliberative process evidenced by the SCLM. In A055, as I mentioned above, the SCLM proposes the addition of six people to the trial use calendar. Because General Convention has not yet even begun, and this resolution is not concurred, these people are not (yet) on our trial use calendar. And yet when you look at AGCW, there they are! This is not how it’s supposed to work. The General Convention should vote on A055. If it passes, then the finial, published edition of AGCW, if that passes, could include the six people. But if A055 is rejected, then AGCW should not include them. See? Either or both of those resolutions may be concurred or rejected, and we shouldn’t assume otherwise.
Lastly, I continue to find it vexing that throughout their material, the SCLM keeps saying, “General Convention asked us to…” or “We were tasked by General Convention…” On one level, that’s true. But more fundamentally, General Convention didn’t just think this stuff up on its own. SCLM proposed resolutions, and General Convention agreed. So let’s be honest and describe all this stuff as projects of the SCLM. And this is one of my central concerns. I’d like to see the SCLM more responsive to what’s happening widely in local congregations. Are people remembering St. Charles, King and Martyr? Then let’s add him to the calendar. Are people demanding prayers for young people headed off to college? Then let’s add some! Are people crying out to pray for fungus? Let’s write some prayers! Shifting to a grassroots-led approach to our sanctoral calendar and our common liturgical life would move us toward a level of theological coherence and alignment with ancient custom that would be welcome to this priest and deputy.
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?