Update, March 1, 2015: The Commission submitted its report to General Convention in December 2014, and it will be published in the Blue Book online on the General Convention website. The shape of the proposal remains as presented below. As we prepare for General Convention, we welcome additional reflections for the deputies and bishops who will vote on the proposal.
We first published this update in February 2014, and we received a lot of positive response. The commission is now preparing its report to the 2015 General Convention, and we invite additional comments. As we said in February, please read, consider, and discuss our proposal—then let us know what you think about it in the comments section of this blog post.
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 we have reviewed responses to Holy Women, Holy Men and reflected together, the SCLM is proposing a new approach to commemorations tentatively entitled A Great Cloud of Witnesses. Posted on the SCLM blog (liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com) is a document that explains what we are proposing and why. Because this is a matter of interest to the whole Church, we would like to get feedback from the Church concerning this direction we are taking. Please read, consider, and discuss our proposal—then let us know what you think about it in the comments section of the blog post where the document appears. Your comments will help determine whether we continue working in this new direction or whether we continue along the established model currently embodied in Holy Women, Holy Men. In the interest of moving forward in one direction or the other, we invite comments on the blog before February 22nd so they may be taken into account at our meeting the following week.
“A Great Cloud of Witnesses”: Introduction and Summary
This volume, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses,” is a further step in the development of liturgical commemorations within the life of The Episcopal Church. These developments fall under three categories. First, this volume presents a wide array of possible commemorations for individuals and congregations to observe. Recognizing that there are many perspectives on the identity and place of exemplary Christians in the life of the church, this volume proposes that the metaphor of a “family history” is a fitting way to describe who is included. As such the title of this volume is drawn from the Epistle to the Hebrews, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Those people found in this volume are not all definitively declared to be saints but are Christians who have inspired other Christians in different times and places.
Second, a refinement of the core calendar of commemoration is proposed. The core calendar of commemorations for the Episcopal Church will center on the feasts of our Lord and other major feasts listed on pages 16 and 17 of the Book of Common Prayer. The calendar in “A Great Calendar of Witnesses” does not purport to be a definitive collection of saints but rather an additional calendar of optional commemorations that represent the breadth of the Christian family story. Many of the commemorations from Holy Women, Holy Men will be included with the possibility of adding other figures, including women and people from under-represented communities.
Third, materials for weekday celebrations during seasons of the church will be placed in a separate volume, The Weekday Eucharist Book. Thus, the seasonal propers currently found in Holy Women, Holy Men would be in a separate volume with additional materials provided.
On Commemorations and the Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer proudly proclaims in the ecumenical Creeds and in our prayers its belief in the “communion of the saints.” We speak of the saints as “chosen vessels of [God’s] grace and the lights of the world in their generations.” The “obedience of [God’s] saints” offers the Church “an example of righteousness” and “their eternal joy” gives us “a glorious pledge of the hope of our calling.” The canticle Te Deum laudamus calls out some specific categories of saints in classical terms, contiguous with both the angels in heaven and the Church on earth, when it speaks of “the glorious company of apostles,” “the noble fellowship of prophets,” and “the white-robed army of martyrs.” Too, our prayers speak of the role of the saints within our baptismal community:
O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The saints encourage us; they pray for us; they strengthen us.
Despite these affirmations of the saints as constitutive members of our baptismal community, the prayer book shows a great reluctance to define the term or to make specific identifications. The Catechism touches on this issue only briefly, identifying the communion of the saints in broad relational terms: “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” In Christian language throughout the ages, “saint” has carried two referents, a general one that applies to the whole Church—which is the meaning invoked here—and a more specific one that applies to individuals who have been identified as “chosen vessels of [God’s] grace and the lights of the world in their generations” from among their fellows.
The Calendar in the prayer book contains a number of names. Of these, the term “saint” appears only a handful of times and always in connection to a limited set of people who appear in the New Testament: his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist, the apostles, the evangelists, Paul, and others such as Mary Magdalene, Stephen, James of Jerusalem, and Michael.
The state of additional persons not given the title of “saint” is ambiguous. These are the commemorations permitted within the Days of Optional Observance as described in the general rubrics of the Calendar (BCP, p.18). A clear definition of the status of these persons is absent.
This ambiguity is appropriate to the range of theologies around sainthood and holiness within the Episcopal Church. While some Episcopalians actively venerate the saints, others hold positions proceeding from Reformation desires to reform the cults of saints like those found in the 39 Articles. In other words, the ambiguity exists for the sake of inclusivity, and maintains the Anglican tradition of a comprehensive approach to questions not decisively settled by Scripture and the teaching of the received ecumenical councils.
In 2003, the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music to:
…undertake a revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2000, to reflect our increasing awareness of the importance of the ministry of all the people of God and of the cultural diversity of The Episcopal Church, of the wider Anglican Communion, of our ecumenical partners, and of our lively experience of sainthood in local communities.
And to also focus reflection upon
the significance of that experience of local sainthood in encouraging the living out of baptism.
That, in turn, led to study and discussion resulting in Holy Women, Holy Men, which has been in a state of trial use since 2009.
The reception of Holy Women, Holy Men and additional commemoration requests brought to General Convention since 2009 suggests that the breadth of sanctoral theologies (that is, theologies of sainthood) within the Church remains as broad as ever, resulting in disagreements concerning who does and does not belong in the Calendar. At the same time, many people have expressed appreciation for the expansion of the Calendar because it has broadened their knowledge of the Christian family story.
In order to maintain a comprehensive stance towards differing theologies of sainthood and to recognize the desire to remember people important to the Church without passing judgment on their sanctoral status or requiring them to fit within a particular mold of saintliness, we propose the creation of a resource tentatively titled “A Great Cloud of Witnesses: Praying with the Whole People of God.” “This resource will recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to our understanding of our calling as the Body of Christ within the complexities of the 21st century world without making a statement one way or another on their sanctity.” It would serve as a family history, identifying those people inside and outside the Episcopal / Anglican tradition who help us proclaim the Gospel in word, deed, and truth.
Holy Women, Holy Men, and before it Lesser Feasts and Fasts, also included liturgical material for weekday celebrations during the seasons of the church year. To streamline our liturgical resources, we propose to place this material in a separate volume, The Weekday Eucharist Book.
On the Making of Saints
While “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” does not intend to be a calendar that presents a definitive list of saints, there is no doubt that many of the people within it will be recognized as saints. In its call to revise Lesser Feasts and Fasts, General Convention emphasized the importance of the local recognition of sanctity. As we look across the Church’s broad history, this is, in fact, the predominant level on which sanctity has been identified. Local communities celebrated local heroes. Too, local communities gave special emphasis to those fellow, yet heroic, members of the Body of Christ with whom they shared a special bond—whether through a common occupation, a common circumstance, or through their physical presence in the form of relics.
Saints were declared by parishes and by dioceses. In most places and times, there was no formal set of criteria that had to be met. Instead, the local communities operated on a broad basic principle: that Christ was known more intimately through them, and that the holiness of the person was both evidence of their participation in the greater life of God and was an inspiration for those around them to act likewise.
The centralization of the process of declaring saints occurred within the Roman Catholic Church with the Decretals of Gregory IX in 1234, asserting that canonization could only occur with the authorization of the pope. This was part and parcel of the centralization of authority to the papal office in the high medieval period. Over the following centuries, bureaucratic regulations and a specific legal process were created to ensure a formal process. Only at this point were specific criteria drawn up including the famous requirement of two documented miracles. In other words, this curial, top-down, centralized approach to naming saints has only existed in one part of the Church for less than half of its existence. Conversely, some of the most beloved saints within the Roman Catholic Church such as Benedict of Nursia and Augustine of Hippo never went through this process!
The Calendar of the first American Book of Common Prayer, authorized in 1789, contained most of the feasts now recognized as Holy Days and no others. In this regard, it follows the example of the earliest Anglican prayer books. The same Calendar appeared—with a few additions like the Transfiguration in 1892—through the 1928 prayer book. While some had argued for the inclusion of post-biblical saints in the Calendar of the 1928 prayer book, this did not come to pass; however, a Common of Saints was provided, officially permitting the local Eucharistic celebration of saints, while still retaining an official Calendar obligating only the universally acknowledged saints of the Apostolic Age. The publication of the supplementary American Missal in 1931 by noted church musician and liturgist Winifred Douglas containing an expanded Calendar of saints demonstrates the local desire for such celebrations during this time; the official condemnation of this work by some thirty bishops of the day testify to the differences of opinion regarding the expanded Calendar as well as many other matters.
In the first stages of revision for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Standing Liturgical Commission appointed a Calendar committee headed by the Rev. Massey Shepherd to study the issue of the Calendar once again. The process of additions to the Calendar has been of a piece of the broader development of the Book of Common Prayer. Additions to the Calendar typically begin with recommendations from individuals and dioceses, reflective of local commemoration practices, made to General Convention, which then asks the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to review the proposals and make a recommendation to the next convention. This process of proposal based on local commemorations and affirmation by General Convention represents the baptismal ecclesiology of the Book of Common Prayer in which constituent members of the Church contribute to the wider vitality and mission of the Church.
In responding to the diversity of theology of sainthood in The Episcopal Church, it seems best to identify two calendars: a core calendar of commemorations around which there is general consensus and a long tradition of observation and a broader calendar of commemorations that represents a wider family history that people and congregations will engage. The first, a core Calendar of the whole Episcopal Church is defined as those Holy Days bearing the title of “Saint” within the authorized prayer book:
- All days bearing the title “Saint”
- All feasts of Apostles
- All feasts of Evangelists
- Saint Stephen
- The Holy Innocents
- Saint Joseph
- Saint John the Baptist
- Saint Mary Magdalene
- Saint Mary the Virgin
- Saint Michael and All Angels
- Saint James of Jerusalem
“A Great Cloud of Witnesses” represents the desire of General Convention for a revision of the calendar of the Church that reflects the lively experience of sainthood, especially on the level of the local community. In this way, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” is a tool for learning about the history of the Church and identifying those who have inspired us and challenged us from the time of the New Testament down to the present moment. Some of the individuals within it are recognized as saints in many parts of the Church Universal today. Others are not. Some present special challenges—whether that be from their mode of life, what we now perceive as misunderstandings of the Gospel call, a lack of charity towards others, or other reasons. We intend “A Great Cloud of Witness” to serve several purposes. First, it is a catechetical tool to educate the faithful about the breadth of witness to the transforming work of God in Christ Jesus. Second, it is a collection that provides a range of options for commemorations in the form of Eucharistic celebrations, prayer offices, or individual devotions.
Following the broad stream of Christian tradition, there are no formal criteria for defining saints. Rather, sanctity is celebrated locally by a decision that individuals so honored shine forth Christ to the world. They illuminate different facets of Christian maturity to spur us on to an adult faith in the Risen Christ and the life of the Spirit he offers. As illustrations, they mirror the myriad virtues of Christ in order that, in their examples, we might recognize those same virtues and features of holiness in people closer to our own times and stations and neighborhoods. And, seeing them in those around us, we may be more able to cultivate these virtues and forms of holiness—through grace—as we strive to imitate Christ as well.
Contents of “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” and “The Weekday Eucharist Book”
Following in the tradition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts/Holy Women, Holy Men, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” will contain all of those people authorized for the Calendar by General Convention through 2006. The majority of individuals submitted in 2009 and those approved at the 2012 General Convention will also be included. Criteria for the inclusion of additional names are laid out in detail below. As in previous works, names will be organized by date of traditional commemoration, usually the date of death.
Each entry will include a biographical narrative giving a sense of the person or event, and how their life and witness has contributed to who we are today. A devotional collect in both traditional and contemporary language is also included. New to this resource is a set of indexing “tags” that will contribute to a better understanding of how the entry fits into the broader scope of Church history. These will identify main spheres of influence, how they are commemorated (if at all) in their home church and in churches across the Anglican Communion, and will identify Commons of Various Occasions and Commons of Saints related to the life, work, or impact of the occasion. Should a local community identify an entry for celebration as a saint, the Commons of Saints indicated will provide appropriate propers. Alternatively, a Eucharist celebrating a related Various Occasion might include the devotional collect within the conclusion to the Prayers of the People. The current Commons will be enriched, particularly through the addition of more options for biblical readings that will allow a celebrant to more closely tailor the set of readings to the witness of the saint celebrated. Most of these Commons will be drawn from Holy Women, Holy Men with some revisions reflective of the feedback process following the 2009 General Convention.
The Weekday Eucharist Book will contain all propers needed for celebrations of the Eucharist on day for which a commemoration is not observed. Materials for the weekdays during the seasons of the church year will be collected together in their appropriate seasonal sequence, thus presenting a central resource for the church seasons. The Common of Various Occasions will follow. Despite their inclusion in the Book of Common Prayer, these commons have not seen widespread use. Giving them their due visibility, a more complete explanation of their function, and assigning them expanded biblical readings should help them become more widely known.
Criteria for Additions to “A Great Cloud of Witnesses”
As indicated above, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” offers a wide and diverse collection of people from across Christian history and the Episcopal story. As our common life continues to unfold, new names will need to be added. These criteria provide guidelines for how these additions will be considered.
It should be noted at the outset that there is a certain necessary tension between criteria 4 and 5 that also existed in the criteria in Holy Women, Holy Men; criterion 4 notes that some people need to be remembered who have been forgotten. Those who have been forgotten will have difficulty meeting criterion 5, and its call for a widespread remembrance. Not all of the selections included within “A Great Cloud of Witness” will meet criterion 5 at the current time because the committee judged that the desire to create a more inclusive resource outweighed the need for broad commemoration in every case. However, going forward, names recovered from our collective memories should grow to the level of regional commemoration before being submitted for inclusion in “A Great Cloud of Witnesses.”
The criterion requiring an individual to have been deceased for at least fifty years has also been dropped. While that provision is useful for gaining appropriate perspective regarding the deceased, it has not been a universally observed rule in Christian history and practice. This requirement has been removed as a reflection of the need to retain some people with the collective memory of the church prior to fifty years since that person’s death. In light of this, criterion 6 speaks of a “reasonable period of time” elapsing.
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 remembered in our family story. Like all families, however, our family includes important matriarchs and patriarchs about whom little verifiable is known yet whose names and influence still exert influence on how we understand ourselves in relation to them.
2. 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 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.
3. Significance: Those remembered 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. They may also be people whose creative work or whose manner of life has glorified God, enriched the life of the Church, or led others to a deeper understanding of God. In their varied ways, those remembered have revealed Christ’s presence in, and Lordship over, all of history; and continue to inspire us as we carry forward God’s mission in the world.
4. 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 partners and people who have had their own distinctive influence upon us. In addition to the better known, 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. Local Observance: Similarly, it should normatively be the case that significant remembrance of a particular person already exists within the Church at the local and regional levels before that person is included in the Church’s larger story.
6. Perspective: The introduction of new names should be done with a certain economy lest the balance of the whole be overwhelmed. In the cases of the recently departed—particularly in the case of controversial names—care should be given to seeing them from the perspective of history. Names added should show a broad influence upon the church and result from a wide-spread desire expressed across the Church over a reasonable period of time.
7. Combined Remembrances: Not all those included need to be remembered “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).
 Preface for a Saint (1), BCP, p. 348/380.
 Preface for a Saint(2), BCP, p. 348/380.
 BCP, p. 95. Cf. p. 53 for slightly different wording expressing the same content.
 BCP, p. 504. Cf. the Rite I version on p. 489.
 BCP, p. 862.
 General Convention resolution 2003-A100.
 While this title does not technically contain the name “Saint,” the term “Holy” is directly equivalent.
 To name one challenge, the anti-Semitism/anti-Judaism of some writers and teachers is a significant stumbling-block to celebrating them as saints.
 [The subcommittee is of two minds on the nature of these collects. On one hand, we’d like to offer proper collects for each individual, but given the push-back on the previous collection, all of the collects would need to be reviewed and most rewritten. The other option is to go back to the use of a Common—but whether these would be adapted from the Common of Saints, the Common of Various Occasions, or a combination of the two is an open question. It should be noted that the idea of a biographical collect was first floated in the initial stages of Calendar creation and was deemed unedifying as recorded in Prayer Book Studies XII, p. 9. Their solution was an adapted Common. This approach was discarded in 1980 with the return of the biographical collect (LFF 1980, p. iv-v). It appears to be an issue again.]