This is more a passing thought than a well-developed argument so take it with a grain of salt…
The Liturgical Renewal Movement is the fundamental context for understanding the current shape of the ’79 Book of Common Prayer. In many ways, the ’79 BCP represents a substantial break from previous Anglican prayer books. The Eucharist was reordered. Additional options were made available. The Office was shifted a bit. Far more options were introduced into it. Classical patterns were shaken up. New Offices were added. The Calendar was greatly expanded to include heroes of the faith from the post-apostolic age.
The main reason for the radical change was because the aims and ideals of the Liturgical Renewal Movement had been internalized by our top liturgists. At mid-century and in the second half of the Twentieth Century, the LRM was the best game in town liturgically. It championed a return to the sources, a privileging of a Fourth Century model of Christian liturgy and community, and was profoundly ecumenical. It offered an opportunity for ecumenical fellowship through joint recovery and adoption of a more free, less strict way of conceiving of liturgy, church, and sacraments. Clericalism was targeting as a major problem liturgically and theologically as well as eccelesiastically and liturgy was re-branded as “the work of the people.”
Much good was accomplished here.
Of the classical church “parties” two were happiest with the ’79 BCP: the catholic wing and the broad church wing, particularly among the elites for whom the LRM represented an ecumenical consensus open to a liberality of spirit in contrast to liturgical and ecclesial conservatism; the “Spirit of Vatican II” and the “Spirit of ’79″ made common cause with one another.
The Catholic wing thought they had made major strides because many of their longstanding issues with the Cranmerian reform had finally been undone. The liturgy had moved back towards a classic Western (Roman) model. The Calendar was once again filling with the heroes of the Great Church and of Western Catholicism in addition to a variety of Anglican worthies. Antiphons and propers were licit again. The Eucharist was the primary service on Sundays.
While these things were accomplished, it had more to do with their consonance with the aims of LRM than a tide of catholicity sweeping through the Episcopal Church.
Due to the influence of the LRM and its influence in the upper reaches of liturgical thought in the Episcopal Church, the ’79 BCP ended up having a more catholic appearance due to 1) the recovery of historical ideals that also guided the reform of the Roman liturgy post Vatican-II and 2) ecumenical rapprochement with Roman Catholics. Furthermore the performance of the liturgy likewise took on a more catholic appearance with a proliferation of chasubles in places where they would have been anathema as ‘too popish’ just a generation before.
But now we’re nearing the point of a generational shift. My liturgy teachers were young academics and graduate students at the time of Vatican II; they were the ones responsible for the modification of Protestant liturgies in the the post-Vatican II era. I sat at the feet of Saliers; I read White, Lathrop and Weil, and learned from them when we met. But now my generation is coming of age and are reaping the consequences of the choices of the LRM.
My crystal ball is telling me that Holy Women, Holy Men and the furor around it is emblematic of the liturgical issues that we will be dealing with in the next few decades. We are at the point where we must come to terms with the fact that we have inherited a prayer book with a greater catholic appearance but without catholic substance behind it. To put a finer point on it, we have a catholic-looking calendar of “saints” yet no shared theology of sainthood or sanctity. While a general consensus reigned that the appearance was sufficient, the lack of a coherent shared theology was not an issue. When we press upon it too hard—as occurred and is occurring in the transition from Lesser Feasts & Fasts into Holy Women, Holy Men into whatever will come next—we reap the fruits of a sort of potemkin ecumenism that collapses without common shared theology behind it.
Is there a catholic theology of sanctity in the Episcopal Church? Yes, in some places. Is there an inherently Episcopal theology of sanctity that proceeds naturally from the ’79 BCP that is in line with a classic Christian understanding? Without question! But is it known? No. Is there any common Episcopal understanding of sanctity? The arguments around the church especially as embodied in the discussions within the SCLM lead me to answer, no—I don’t think so.
The struggle of this current generation will be to wrestle with a liturgy that portrays a catholic appearance but lack a catholic substance behind it. It’s not that the substance can’t be there—it’s that it’s not.