Calendar: rationale and changes

Rationale, or, thank the Lord for Philip Pfatteicher

The Revd Dr Philip H. Pfatteicher’s book, the New Book of Festivals and Commemorations bears the subtitle, “A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints”.  Dr Pfatteicher intended the book to serve the needs of Episcopalians and Lutherans, to provide “in a modest way”, a draft of a common calendar that not only reflected the present Lutheran and Episcopal calendars, but that also moved “beyond them, proposing not merely a conflation but rather a creative adaptation as an encouragement to the churches to consider the value of a broad and ecumenical calendar of holy days and holy people” (page xii).  Pfatteicher noted that as a result of the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has simplied their calendar, defining a General Roman Calendar for the whole church and – at the same time – allowing a variety of national additions to it.

Dr Pfatteicher rather successfully adapts this Roman scheme, noting that the days included in the calendar proposed in his book comprise five classes:

1)  The most important days of the Church Year, classified in the Roman Calendar as Solemnities and as Principal Feasts in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (page 15).  These are the days that, according to the Prayer Book, take precedence of any other day or observance.

2)  Those days classified in the Roman Calendar as Feasts and as Holy Days in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (pages 16-17).  The Prayer Book Holy Days comprise Other Feasts of our Lord, which are Holy Name, the Presentation, the Annunciation, the Visitation, [the Nativity of] Saint John the Baptist, the Transfiguration, and Holy Cross Day; Other Major Feasts, including all feasts of Apostles and Evangelists, Saint Stephen, Holy Innocents, Saint Joseph, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Mary the Virgin, Saint Michael and All Angels, Saint James of Jerusalem, All Saints’ Day, Independence Day (!), and Thanksgiving Day; and Fasts (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday).  The first category of Holy Days are denoted “Other Feasts of our Lord”, because the four primary feasts of the Lord Jesus – Easter Day, Ascension Day, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany – are designated as Principal Feasts.  (Of course, one could make the argument that every feast day and saint’s day commemoration is a Feast of our Lord, as indeed they all are.)

3)  “Some days not necessarily intended to be celebrated with a full liturgy of their own” (New Book, page xx).  These days are denoted in the Roman Calendar as Memorials and as Days of Optional Observance in the Book of Common Prayer.  Within the Days of Optional Observance, the Prayer Book includes Commemorations listed in the Calendar (saints’ days); other Commemorations, using the Common of Saints (that is, when a person hasn’t been added to the official Calendar, he or she could be commemorated using the Propers appointed for the Common of Saints); the Ember Days; the Rogation Days; and Various Occasions (which would be denoted as “votives” in Roman use).  In the 1979 Prayer Book, propers are provided for the Common of Saints, the Ember Days, the Rogation Days, and Various Occasions, and the optional (but approved for use) book, Lesser Feasts and Fasts in its various editions, provides propers for the Commemorations of saints.

4) Days designated in the Roman Calendar as Optional Memorials, which may be observed as seems locally appropriate.  Pfatteicher observes that this seems a useful classification, and includes such commemorations as Wulfstan, bishop of Worchester; Helena, Mother of Constantine; John Keble, Priest; and Laurentius Petri, Archbishop of Uppsala in this category.

5)  Finally, Pfatteicher designates a number of “post-Reformation days on the calendar” that “are of interest largely to a particular denomination, noting Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, the first missionary sent out by the Lutheran Church, and Jackson Kemper, the first Episcopal missionary bishop in the United States, as examples.

The basis for distinction between the fourth and the fifth classes is not always entirely clear, though it seems that even when the person being commemorated is within a particular national Church (e.g., William Law, an eighteenth-century priest in the Church of England), if their influence went beyond that particular Church to the wider tradition within which that Church exists (or which that Church created, in the case of the Church of England), then he or she is included in the fourth class.  Having two more classes of feasts than the Prayer Book and his intention to draft a proposed ecumenical Calendar that takes advantage of the flexibility of the Roman Calendar in allowing for some national or regional variations means that the Commemorations included in the Prayer Book’s “Days of Optional Observance” are divided among the third, fourth, and fifth of his classes.  But this is understandable.  The Calendar of the Church Year in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is meant for The Episcopal Church, while Dr Pfatteicher has created a proposed ecumenical Calendar, at least for Episcopalians and Lutherans.

The Book of Alternative Services (1985) of the Anglican Church of Canada also makes a distinction within the days that are designated as Days of Optional Observance in the 1979 Prayer Book, designating them either as Memorials or as Commemorations.  The liturgical distinction is this:  “parishes with frequent weekday celebrations of the eucharist may decide to interrupt the weekday cycle of readings for a memorial but not for a commemoration.  The distinction would also help a community to decide which days to observe and the choice of liturgical colour” (BAS, pages 20-21).  A Memorial would be observed using the variable prayers from the Common of Saints and Readings from the Common of Saints, with the liturgical color appropriate to the day (the Memorial).  A Commemoration would be observed using the variable prayers from the Common of Saints and Readings from the Weekday Eucharistic Lectionary, with the liturgical color of the season.  A perusal of the Calendar in the BAS suggests that the distinction between the two categories rests on how widely influential the person’s life and witness have been in the Church Catholic.  For example, the days of Bernard of Clairvaux and Ambrose of Milan, as well as the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Women of the Old Testament, are celebrated as Memorials.  Jeremy Taylor, seventeenth century bishop of Down and Dromore, Edward the Confessor, and Robert MacDonald, priest in the Western Arctic, are celebrated as Commemorations.  (I have to admit that some of the categorizations, particularly with regards to some pre-Reformation English saints,  seem arbitrary to me.  For example, the feast days of Dunstan of Canterbury and Edward the Confessor are designated Commemorations.  This is reasonable, as their medieval veneration did not extend beyond the Church in England.  But the feast day of Thomas of Canterbury is also designated a Commemoration, when his veneration and influence extended beyond the shores of Albion.)

The practice in my previous parish was to observe with a eucharist only those days designated either as Feasts of our Lord or Other Major Feasts.  In our current parish, at least one of the upcoming feast days during the week (usually the most significant one in terms of the classes of feast days) is noted at the end of the prayers of the people, usually with the Collect for that feast day.  So for example, this Sunday we noted the life and witness of Archbishop William Laud (though I should like to have seen us note the life and witness of Hilary of Poitiers as well).

This weblog, as I have noted sketchily in a couple of previous entries, is meant to reflect a particularly Anglican Calendar of Commemorations and Holy Days.  Because of the continuity (in some respects) of the Church of England with the pre-Reformation Church, most Anglican Calendars include not only New Testament saints and post-Reformation worthies in Christ, but also saints of the patristic Church and of the medieval Church.  I am admittedly not working off an officially-approved Calendar, but neither am I simply exercising private judgment.  I plan to omit no commemoration of a saint of the New Testament, of the patristic Church, and of the medieval Church that is included in the Calendars of the 1662 Prayer Book, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Alternative Services Book (Anglican Church of Canada), and Common Worship (the current alternative services book for the Church of England).  I have also added some commemorations of pre-Reformation saints from such sources as the Calendars of the Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales, and the Scottish Episcopal Church.  (The great multiplicity of Celtic saints means that I have omitted some whose influence did not extend far beyond the local, otherwise on some days there would have been too many commemorations.  This is, I think, a good example of Dr Pfatteicher’s adaptation of the Roman Calendar’s flexibility.  It is right and proper that the Church in Wales should commemorate a saint whose influence was not noted beyond Wales, or more particularly not beyond a certain locality within Wales; but that the wider Church will not ordinarily observe this commemoration.)  I have also drawn commemorations of post-Reformation saints, not all of them Anglican, from all these sources and from the Calendar drawn up for the Lutheran Book of Worship, when those saints have exercised significant influence within the Church beyond Lutheranism.  Admittedly, I have stuck pretty closely to the Calendar of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (omitting some observances of those whose very recent inclusion seems to me – welcome, private judgment! – to reflect a certain political or theological bias out of step with historic Anglican orthodoxy).  To date I have not included any post-Reformation (or Reformation era) Roman Catholic saints, though that is a defect that I hope to remedy by recourse to the sources that I’ve noted above.  While I am not working from a single officially-approved Calendar, I am working from several, though I will admittedly sometimes – as noted in a previous post – choose from among more than one on days that have multiple observances on different Calendars.  The reason for this is that, while the biographical sketches on the weblog have an educational function, the Calendar itself  with its commemorations has primarily a liturgical function, and we should not return to a situation in which saints’ commemorations are crammed on top of one another.  To do otherwise would be to undermine, in however limited a manner, the calendar-reforming work of liturgists from Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer through to the Second Vatican Council.

Finally, why the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and why include saints from The Episcopal Church’s calendar?  Why should a parishioner in an Anglican Mission church try to interest his fellow parishioners and others in the Anglican Mission in William Augustus Muhlenberg or Samuel Seabury or Absalom Jones?  I am following the 1979 Book of Common Prayer because most parishes within the Anglican Mission (that part of Anglicanism in which we currently are situated) use that Prayer Book.  A few use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and the Calendar of that Prayer Book is subsumed in the 1979 Calendar.  I envision a sanctoral Calendar for faithful, orthodox Anglicanism in North America (hence also the reliance on the Calendar of the Anglican Church of Canada).  This Anglicanism includes Episcopalians, even if most of the members of the Anglican Mission (including those of my own church) were never Episcopalians.  The inclusion of Samuel Seabury, Absalom Jones, Jackson Kemper et al can act as a reminder to the newer extra-mural Anglican entities (AMiA, CANA, ACNA) that there was faithful Anglican missionary and pastoral work going on in The Episcopal Church through the two centuries and more of its existence on this continent.  (We should also recognize the fact that most of the members of ACNA at present were formerly members of The Episcopal Church.)


The principal change that I am making to the structure of the sanctoral diary’s entries is to follow Dr Pfatteicher’s scheme for commemorations by posting, along with an explanatory text or biographical sketch, the propers (Collect, Lessons, and Psalm) only for those observances that fall into the categories of Principal Feasts, Other Feasts of Our Lord, and other Major Feasts.  With perhaps only a rare exception, the entries for Commemorations other than these (following the 1979 Prayer Book’s designation) will include the biographical sketch of the saint(s) whom we are commemorating, along with the Collect for the Commemoration.  The reason for this is simple:  while I have in mind a wider audience than my own parish, I am considering the practice within my own parish as I work through this sanctoral diary.  Many members of our parish pray the Daily Office and follow the Daily Office lectionary, and I don’t want to interfere with their following that (or the daily eucharistic lectionary) by piling on saints’ days – once again, the late medieval problem that necessitated the calendrical pruning of Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Reformers alike.  Most of these days do have readings appointed for them, as I will usually include a link to those (typically at the Lectionary Page).  For those using the Daily Office, the Collect for the Commemoration could be used at the appropriate place in the Office for the Collect of the Day, or could be said after the Collect for the preceding Sunday (appointed to be used throughout the week when there isn’t a principal feast or holy day being celebrated) and before the other collects.

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