Friday, 29 January 2010

Who are the "saints" ? (1)

The English Reformation severely cut the number of “saints” who were to be recognized in public worship.

The reformers had three concerns.

1. That many of the “saints” were simply legendary figures, or figments of lively imaginations.

2. That many “cults of the saints” detracted from the unique life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

3. That we should remember “saints” because of their example of faith, and not because of their supposed powers of intercessory prayer.

To be on the “safe side” the English reformed Prayer Books: 1552 and 1662, [virtually the same book], restricted commemorations to “biblical” saints” mostly the New Testament apostles; about 20 of them in all. (Eccentrically enough, they also included Michael the Archangel!

They referred to these commemorations as “Holy Days”. Identical commemorations were included in the 1797 American Prayer Book, and in its revision in 1928.

Those commemorated were all men, excepting that two days were devoted to Mary the mother of Jesus.

Mary’s days had to do what “happened to her” rather than what she did. They were the “Annunciation” (when the Archangel Gabriel told her that she would conceive and bear the son of God), and the “Purification” (when Mary observed the Jewish rite of purification after childbirth). Ouch!!!

Some 40 years ago the Episcopal Church came to the conclusion that these 20 commemorations were insufficient and inadequate. So we began to include very many more holy men and women - as of now some 140 in all. We have been very careful NOT to name these as “saints”.

There is no process for “canonization” in the Episcopal Church or for that matter in the Church of England.

I’ll write more tomorrow about this. I’ll suggest that the Episcopal Church list is totally inadequate.

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