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  • Mary Palinkos

What’s the deal with saints in the Episcopal Church?

We’ve started having Eucharist on Wednesdays at noon again, and we’ll take that opportunity to commemorate saints’ days.

Before I went to seminary, I didn’t know that Episcopalians could care about saints. I admit: I used to think, “Oh, that’s just superstition or idolatry.”

A white female saint leans on a large wooden cross and looks into the middle distance.
St. Helena

But actually, a strand of our Anglican tradition has a rich history of venerating saints. Turn to page 996 in your Book of Common Prayer, and you'll find a list of saint names and days, along with readings for each one.

The Episcopal Church also publishes a book called Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which includes biographies and prayers about one saint to remember for nearly every day.

That’s our official saint calendar, but we have others approved for "trial use." Old lists are male-heavy and European-heavy, so newer ones (Holy Women, Holy Men and A Great Cloud of Witnesses) try to have more of a balance.

And yet, the Episcopal Church doesn't state a clear theology of sainthood. The prayer book says,

"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." (p. 862)

This is beautiful, but vague. The vagueness is intentional. While some Episcopalians feel strongly about the communion of saints in the Roman Catholic sense, others want a more reformed understanding of it. (That's "reformed" like the Protestant Reformation.)

So, perhaps you like the idea of venerating the saints, or maybe you think invoking the saints is "repugnant to the Word of God" (it really says this in the Historical Documents in our Book of Common Prayer! see page 872). Either way, you're in good company in the Episcopal Church.

Join us for Eucharist on Wednesdays at noon. I hope that, like me, you'll enjoy learning about how to follow Jesus by studying the lives of saints.

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