Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Coming into Communion

On the verge of the decree of Canonical Erection of the Ordinariate in the UK provided for in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, it is worth looking back a year to the debates that followed shortly after it was announced. Here is the full text of an article by Fr Mark Woodruff published in The Tablet in October 2009, as he looked back across the previous 15 years to address concerns and fears about the motives and outlook of Anglicans becoming Catholics and, in view of many questions about what Anglican Patrimony might mean, the hopes and contribution they have wanted to offer, with a special emphasis on Unity and Mission.

Fourteen years ago, twelve priests were ordained by Cardinal Hume in Westminster Cathedral. They had been priests of the Church of England, invited to bring their Anglicanism with them. Outside there was a demonstration of Catholic supporters of the women’s ordination to whom the new priests were a sign of contradiction. For months the candidates had been described in the press as defectors, dissidents, traditionalists, disloyal. It is interesting that there are similar reservations about the kind of people, their motivation and baggage, who may join the ordinariates set up by Anglicanorum Coetibus. We turned out not to be Trojan horses in 1995 and I suspect there is no more cause for grievance today than then. The Apostolic Constitution is to be a fact of our Church’s life – our faith must be that all things work together for good to those who love God.

When I became a Catholic it was not to negate Anglicanism, but to be embraced by the Catholic Church. When I am asked why I became a Catholic, the only answer is, “Because I believe the Catholic faith is true”. I learned this faith in Anglican Sunday School, choirs and organ lofts, an Anglican university course, the cathedrals and my life-changing training for ordination with the remarkable religious order, the Community of the Resurrection. All this I treasure and brought with me. And in the prayer inserted into the rite of our ordination by the Holy See it was thankfully received and brought to fruition in the presbyterate of the Catholic Church. I did not become a Catholic in order to become an ex-Anglican.

Cardinal Hume instilled in us that the purposes of the Catholic Church are not served by hurting the Church of England, our vital ecumenical partner. Peter must strengthen his brethren. Somehow our ordinations had to be seen as ecumenical moments; we had to reconcile them to the Catholic Church’s promoting Christian Unity. I fear I handled the transition poorly and my journey felt to some Anglican friends like an act of schism. So I resolved to work as a Catholic for the unity of Christians.

By the same token, whatever misgivings some have about the Apostolic Constitution, we have to discern its purpose as an instrument of Christian Unity. We owe the Anglicans who may take up its provisions not to caricature them. Catholic Anglicans are of various schools and histories. Generalisations like “traditionalists”, “dissidents”, or “extreme Anglo-Catholics” may be handy, but they encourage prejudice and fail to do justice to a rich weave of traditions that soon we will be asked to welcome. There are High Anglicans of the mainstream “Catholic but Reformed” tradition. There are “middle of the road” Anglicans who can find themselves at home in a Catholic parish in France, feeling they naturally belong to the same western Catholic tradition. There are those who looked to Orthodoxy to support an Anglican non-papal Catholicism. There are Anglo-Papalists who, despite Apostolicae Curae, insisted after the 1910 Edinburgh Mission Conference that true Christian Unity involves the whole Church, including Roman Catholics. Some worship only in the Roman rite, a tradition Roman Catholics find difficult to comprehend but which we could credit as the exchange of spiritual gifts commended in Unitatis Redintegratio. There are also “Prayer Book Catholics”, whose Catholicism is expressed in the historic and contemporary Anglican formularies.

From these backgrounds will come not theological or ritualist reactionaries, but fellow Christians who share the same faith as ours. Last year, the eminent Anglican ecumenist Mary Tanner observed that closing the period of reception on women’s ordination before it was resolved by the Church as a whole in the future meant that those who could not accept it no longer enjoyed an assured place within the Church of England. And Cardinal Kasper at the 2008 Lambeth Conference informed the Anglican bishops that “the ordination of women to the episcopate effectively and definitively blocks a possible recognition of Anglican Orders”. It is not surprising that those whose Anglican Christianity aspired for consummation in visible unity with the Roman Catholic Church have sought the corporate reunion they have prayed for over a century – or that Pope Benedict has responded - especially now that the restoration of complete communion envisaged by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey has “receded” as a “realistic possibility”.

What patrimony will they bring? There are Anglican traditions of spirituality, preaching, mission and theology in which the Anglican and Catholic Churches both recognise the same faith. There is an Anglican approach to music and liturgy borne of 460 years using the vernacular that makes even their celebration of the Roman rite distinctive. There is the liturgy derived from the Book of Common Prayer that has been the mark of the Pastoral Provision for former Anglicans in the United States. I can still recite the Prayer Book services from memory. Perhaps the most distinctive form of Anglican patrimony is its hymnography. Often misunderstood by Catholic liturgists as out of place, this is a comprehensive body of doxological theology from the Greek, Latin, Reformation, Independent and Wesley traditions, as well as the Victorian and postwar “hymn explosions”. Its careful arrangement at services is a subtle science. For Anglicans it has been the most important means of teaching doctrine and fostering spirituality. As a gift to the wider Catholic Church it should not be underestimated.

Accommodating the “objective reality” of Anglican liturgical life is a signal that there is nothing distinctive of the Anglican tradition that cannot be encompassed in the contemporary Catholic Church. Perhaps the most hopeful development in ecumenical dialogue in recent times has been receptive ecumenism, which asks each tradition what with integrity it can receive from another to make its own as a step to unity. Through Anglicanorum Coetibus is not the Catholic Church receiving the gifts of another tradition? In the ecumenical long term, does this internal awareness of Anglican identity not provide Catholics with a greater disposition towards unity between them and all Anglicans?

Will many come? It will take courage, time and discernment. Some will discover that they remain convinced Anglicans. Others will be uncertain of how they will be understood. In the 1990s some people’s long sacramental life as Anglicans was disregarded; they were put in RCIA as though they were candidates for baptism or new to the notion of Catholicism. One priest told me they had to have a desert experience. Another said, “This is for the Forty Martyrs.” Hurt and repelled, some walked away. We do not thus treat Catholics coming from the other side of the world while they get acclimatised to UK Catholicism. There would be no question of withholding communion; nor should we set back Catholic Anglicans who come to share our faith. But we have come a long way. If we say that the Universal Church of Christ perfectly subsists in our Catholic Church, there should be no limit to our capacity to embrace diversity in our unity.

It is painfully obvious, however, that corporate reunion for some Anglicans leaves most out of the equation. No one joining the ordinariates can turn their backs and be glad of this. Becoming Catholics they make the teaching on the Church in Lumen Gentium and its inevitable orientation towards visible unity their own. Lest they be signs of contradiction to this, it must become their special duty to redouble the charity that binds all those with an Anglican patrimony and energetically assist the Catholic bishops in their concerted efforts with the Anglican Communion on mission to an ever more secularised society, that the world may believe.

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