Mr. Ralph Johnston is the Headmaster of The Atonement Academy at Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church (Anglican Use). The remarks below were delivered at OLA's Information Day on Anglicanorum Coetibus this past Saturday.
Remarks of Ralph Johnston, presented at the Anglicanorum Coetibus information meeting, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, San Antonio, Texas, December 12, 2009
Thank you, Mr. Wilson. Thank you; these are very exciting times.
Reverend Monsignor, Reverend Fathers, Reverend Deacons, and my brothers and sisters. Father Phillips has invited me to share a layman’s point of view on the new Apostolic Constitution – and that’s what it is, a layman’s point of view. I’m grateful for the opportunity, because I am enthusiastic and I would like to share my enthusiasm and optimism with you.
From my perspective, this is a time to be greatly optimistic for the cause of Christian unity. Not only is the glass not half empty, neither is it half full; it is overflowing with promise at this time in the history of the Church and of God’s people.
I want to start by saying that, even with all of the wisdom assembled in this room, we are not going to be able to answer definitively every question that somebody here says. The documents have just been published, and many of the norms that will be established have not yet been established. But the big picture is clear: We can see that God is good, that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the Church, that our Holy Father is a loving and generous pastor, and that our Lord’s prayer in John 17, that they all may be one, may yet be fulfilled, and perhaps even in our lifetime. What an exciting thing!
Well, that is pretty grandiose stuff compared to the individual questions we will be talking about today. As Father Phillips said in his homily, there is a natural human tendency to respond to even the most momentous event in the world by asking “How will this affect me?” In the present context, those questions might be expressed, and have been expressed, as “When will the Ordinariate be erected?,” or, perhaps the most frequently asked question, “What will my status be in the new Ordinariate? My status!” Other questions: Progressives, both Roman and Anglican, are asking, “Is this the end of ecumenical dialogue?” Anglo-Catholic clergy quite understandably are asking “When can I be received and ordained?” Those of us of the political stripe –and that probably includes most of us since we’re here today – we politicians are asking “Will a position of authority in the Ordinariate be given to my Bishop, or my friend, or my colleague in The Work?” Here, in this parish of Our Lady of the Atonement, we are particularly sympathetic to those who ask “I am a cradle Catholic but have worshipped in a Pastoral Provision parish for x years. When the Ordinariate membership roster is written, will I be numbered in the fold of the elect?” (laughter) Not the most important roster of the elect, of course!
These questions are understandable. They are important questions. For every one of us here today, our Christian faith and our Church membership is an unseverable element of our identity. Every one of us cares deeply about our creed, about our spiritual life, about where we will be attending Mass a week, or a year, from now, and how closely the missal and the hymnal that are used will align with our liturgical and cultural sensibilities. And these are not trivial matters! Prayer is important to man, and to man’s relationship with God; and the form of the prayer is essential to our piety and our spirituality. Those of us who are long-time Roman Catholics, and those of us who are long-time Anglicans, understand the anxiety over these questions. John and Mary Catholic, as some of our liturgists think of us, (laughter) saw their liturgy revised, and then vulgarized, in the late 1960s. And John and Mary Episcopalian had a similar experience, around the same time, compounded by subsequent reforms that distanced Anglican practice even further from tradition. Questions of form, practice, and discipline are important and are worthy of our concern. Lex orandi, lex credendi. And Pope Benedict, who has made a lifelong study of liturgy, has demonstrated in Anglicanorum Coetibus that he understands this, that he understands our concern, and that he agrees with us that these matters are important.
Since its publication on November 9, Anglicanorum Coetibus has stimulated a great deal of personal reflection and personal anxiety — perhaps sometimes more anxiety than reflection. Just to share a bit of my own experience of November 9: within hours of the publication of the Apostolic Constitution, I had succumbed to the powerful impulse to write my own personal petition to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, requesting the establishment of a Personal Ordinariate for the United States of America. How arrogant and self-important I was! After all, there was not much risk that nobody else would make the request. (laughter) But I just had to do something; I could not sit by passively and patiently in the Glorious New Era of Christian Unity! I know everyone here understands that urgent desire to participate in some way in the Holy Father’s tremendous act of generosity and promise for us.
So now it has been a few weeks. We all read the blogs for information and for tone. The dust is beginning to settle. Everyone – even those who disapprove – everyone now understands that this is going to happen. Some of the questions that seemed so important on November 9 or 10 are now fading into lesser significance as the passing of time leads to a broader perspective.
And a broader historical perspective is exactly what I want to commend to this assembly today as we contemplate — and let’s face it, as we speculate about — the very personal and the very immediate consequences of this new papal constitution.
To support this historical perspective, I am going to review — briefly, we hope — some relevant events over the past hundred years or so.
As the 20th century began, Apostolicae Curae, Leo XIII’s pronouncement on Anglican orders, was less than five years old. Leo had answered at least two important questions. First he clearly and unambiguously answered the question before him, concerning orders and succession in the English church. Second, and significantly for us today, I think, he implicitly responded to a question that had come up from time to time throughout the history of the Church, and would be an important theme in the coming century. I refer of course to the two competing models of ecumenism. The question: When we resolve the issues that divide the Church, should we compromise Church doctrine? To use a sacramental analogy that all Roman Catholics and all Anglicans will immediately recognize, Are we satisfied to achieve the accidents of communion, or do we strive for the substance of communion? Leo’s answer was the answer of every Council that has confronted a question of doctrine: we must strive for the substance of communion. True communion exists only when there is a willingness to subscribe to a common creed. The disagreement on this point is an old story, one born of our fallen nature. Our Lord Jesus confronted it among His followers, even before He instituted the Church. As we read in John Chapter 6, when Jesus gave his teaching on the Bread of Life, many of the disciples responded by saying “This is a hard teaching; who can follow it?” Today, we continue to ask that question, because we are a stubborn and sinful people. This question will be asked again, many times, in the coming months, and it will be one of the challenges that our returning brethren will face, and the Church will face, in implementing the new apostolic constitution.
Moving forward a few years into the 20th century, we come to Pope St. Pius X. Pope Pius: advocated for doctrinal orthodoxy, warned us against the dangers of modernism, promoted the importance of preserving the liturgical and musical traditions of the Church, and was pastorally generous in extending the administration of the sacraments. Important themes, then and now!
Of particular interest to us in this parish of Our Lady of the Atonement, Pope Pius received into full communion the Anglican Franciscan religious communities at Graymoor, the Friars of the Atonement led by their founder and superior Father Paul, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement led by their foundress and superior Mother Lurana. In addition to receiving these returning Anglicans, Pope Pius adopted some of their devotions, notably for us, the perpetual novena to Our Lady of the Atonement, and the annual Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. Pius was under no obligation to accept these devotions and to make them approved devotions for the entire Church, but in an act of pastoral accommodation and paternal love toward his people, and in a sincere desire to achieve reconciliation with the English church, he did so.
By the way, those devotions have been regularly offered ever since, in our parish and elsewhere. I am not going to question the efficatiousness of those prayers, especially in light of recent events!
Some years later we come to the Second Vatican Council. Among its many pastoral teachings, the Council called for: increased efforts to achieve Christian unity, for liturgical diversity within the Church, and for preservation of liturgical tradition within the context of liturgical reform. All of these issues foreshadow our present concerns.
In the years following the Council, many within the Church argued that there existed an inferred mandate from the Council for social, cultural, and even doctrinal reform. This argument did not occur in a cultural vacuum. Many within the Church—though never its infallible Magisterium — were swept along in a societal tide of excess. We have some attorneys on today’s panel; perhaps they can perceive a parallel between the inference of a libertine “spirit of the Council” on the one hand, and on the other, the contemporary US Supreme Court’s discovery of previously unknown provisions in the “penumbra” of the US Constitution. It was a time of great excess and great confusion, in the Church as throughout society, and only now after almost two generations are we beginning to emerge from the confusion.
God did not create the confusion; it is solely the result of human weakness. But perhaps God used the confusion for His own purpose. In the 1970s, in the wake of the Council, an attitude of great optimism prevailed that made possible something that could not have been achieved before. In that era, when anything was possible, groups of Episcopalians, lay and clergy, approached some of the American bishops to discuss whether there might be a way to achieve communion with Rome, while preserving some of their Anglican spiritual traditions.
Looking back from today’s perspective, we might argue that this request does not seem to be such a broad stretch beyond what St. Pius did in approving the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. From the standpoint of policy analysis we might be right; but as a matter of cultural and customary practice, we would be wrong. It is unlikely that such a discussion would have been entertained in the stuffy climate of Roman triumphalism that prevailed in the Church before John XXIII opened the window of the Council, as he put it, and let in some fresh air.
Those discussions in our country in the 1970s led to the Pastoral Provision of Pope John Paul II in 1980. Through the Pastoral Provision, as most of us know very well, former Anglican clergymen could be received, dispensed from celibacy where already married, and ordained as priests. Under a second part of the Pastoral Provision, groups of former Anglicans could be received corporately and allowed to retain elements of the Anglican common identity. Our parish is of course the beneficiary of both provisions of the Pastoral Provision. Beyond these walls, perhaps a hundred or so Pastoral Provision priests — the exact number is not widely known — now minister in many dioceses of the Church in America. And, a few Common Identity congregations exist in the handful of dioceses where over the past three decades the Pastoral Provision has been fully implemented. Those benefits — the benefits of the Common Identity — have been less widespread than the benefits of the received priests — so far, at least.
Before his election as pope, John Paul II was a council father; a participant in the Second Vatican Council. As pope, he responded with great personal dedication to the Council’s call – which was also his own call — for renewed efforts to unify the Church. The Pastoral Provision is the example of most immediate interest to us, but there are many others, most significantly, I believe, his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint. The document’s title and first sentence echo the prayer of Jesus in John Chapter 17 “that they all may be one.” The encyclical is a personal and impassioned plea for unity, in which John Paul, while never departing from doctrine, makes it clear that the Church must be flexible in matters of administrative structure and discipline where necessary to restore unity. In this encyclical, and in one of the most extraordinary statements since the Great Schism nine and half centuries earlier, John Paul, in response to Orthodox Christian concerns about papal primacy, expressed a responsibility and an intent to “find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.” John Paul made many other gestures of friendship toward the Orthodox patriarchs, and his successor, Benedict XVI, has continued and extended this trend. Today, the warmest relations in 900 years exist between East and West; that is, between the factions within the true Apostolic Church. I do not doubt for a minute that Benedict intends to bring about reunion with the East during his reign, or that he works and prays for it daily. I believe that Benedict is absolutely committed to Christian unity, at a time when the historical momentum is trending toward that unity. With Anglincanorum Coetibus, Benedict confirms and reinforces this hope.
I am sure that some of our Anglican brothers and sisters are considering Benedict’s offer, but are wondering whether he is sincere, and whether he can be trusted. In my opinion, the answer is an unequivocal yes, demonstrated by his and his predecessors’ sustained and increasingly intense efforts to reconcile not just Anglicans, but the Orthodox as well, and, eventually, all of our separated brethren who still confess our creed.
I want to offer just one more bit of historical insight that might help us embrace an optimistic view of the present situation. This will be my final historical observation, and I want to commend it particularly to those among us who now counsel timidity or bureaucratic delay in embracing the extraordinary gift that Pope Benedict has offered. I will start with an assertion, and then present the historical evidence to support it.
The assertion is this: Our Holy Father Benedict does not approve of pastoral stinginess, and he has only a limited amount of patience for clerics or bureaucrats who desire to stifle the Church’s pastoral generosity toward the people of God.
My evidence for this is the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, published in 2007, addressing the use of the Traditional Latin Mass. (Now if you do not yet see the relevance, hang in with me for just one more minute, because in the way Benedict accommodated adherents to the Traditional Latin Mass, he gave us a preview – a praegustatem, as our Trad friends would say – of how he would later accommodate returning Anglicans – as he now intends to accommodate returning Anglicans.)
The background on this issue is that, following the publication of the Novus Ordo Mass in 1969, the traditional Mass was virtually suppressed. It was virtually suppressed; it was never actually suppressed by the Holy See, but its use was discouraged by almost all of the bishops. In 1988, as the Church was beginning to emerge from the haze of confusion following the Council, Pope John Paul published his Apostolic Letter Ecclesiae Dei, urging the bishops of the world to be generous in granting indults allowing for the traditional Mass to be offered within their dioceses for the pastoral benefit of people attached to the ancient rite. Some bishops responded well by providing indults for the traditional Mass, but many did not. After almost twenty years of foot-dragging in some of the dioceses, Benedict responded in 2007 with his apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum. This was an action that is important to us, because it has two striking parallels to our present situation.
The first parallel has to do with lines of authority, specifically episcopal authority as it relates to the authority of the supreme pontiff. Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum bypassed the bishops in the interest of serving the needs of the people. In that letter, Benedict informed priests throughout the world that they have the right to offer the Mass according to the traditional rite, with no indult required. Further, he instructed, the traditional Mass MUST be offered, where it is requested by the people. Benedict’s initiative assures the rights of the people and of the priests, and provides that bishops may not interfere in these rights.
The second parallel reflects Benedict’s absolute genius in devising and applying legal and organizational innovations in service of the needs of the Church and the people. In Summorum Pontificum, Benedict explains that the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass are two alternate forms of one rite of Mass. This is a simple concept, but a striking, and a strikingly original, insight. In this innovation, Benedict presents an entirely new nomenclature, Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form. Through new language, but more importantly through a novel organizational concept unifying the two forms of the Mass, Benedict redefines the debate and makes the Extraordinary Form much more accessible to the people.
The parallels should be obvious. First, in Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Holy Father gives us the practically necessary, though unconventional, model of an Ordinary who need not be a bishop. Second, anticipating the cautious impulse that might limit the extension of pastoral benefits to those for whom they are intended, Benedict provides for new canonical structures for former Anglicans to exist within the geographic territories of dioceses. As in Summorum Pontificum, we see innovative organizational and legal applications, and we have an overt effort to assure that the Church’s pastoral generosity will not be stymied by intermediaries.
In the days and weeks since the new Constitution was published, some among us have said, Go slowly. Don’t send your petition to Rome. If anything is going to happen, it will have to be done through the Pastoral Provision Office. Wait for some further sign. Really? Are you sure that is what the pope intends? Read the documents. Listen to the legal opinions of the canonists presenting here today. Review the historical facts. Then consider: what can we infer about the Holy Father’s intention in this regard?
The Pastoral Provision was a great gift, and in this parish, we have benefited from it. I personally have benefited tremendously from the Pastoral Provision, and I am eternally grateful. Literally. (laughter) There are people outside our parish, in other places, who have benefited. But for some others, the benefits have not been available. If you were a member of an Episcopalian parish whose reunion was rejected by a Roman Catholic bishop, then you either came into full communion as an individual, or not at all. If you were an Anglican clergyman who was not able to gain access to the Pastoral Provision process, perhaps because you were told that as a Continuer you were ineligible, or perhaps because you were told that no more than two candidates could be in the process in any one diocese, then you either came in as an individual layman, or you gave up, or you are still waiting. I don’t argue that these are moral questions; after all, no one has a right to come in as a member of a group, and no one has a right to demand ordination. But these are pastoral accommodations that the pope wants to be made, and under Anglicanorum Coetibus they will be made, more easily, and more often.
In summary, this layman’s point of view is that we are privileged to be witnesses to historic events that are, in a narrow perspective, the most significant since the English Reformation, and in a broader perspective, still highly encouraging for the cause of Christian unity, not just in the English-speaking world, but universally.
Our individual questions and concerns about administrative matters are important to us, and I will be listening as attentively as anyone to the presentations offered here today. But let’s keep some perspective: God is in charge, as our evangelical friends remind us; in our case we might say that His vicar on earth is in charge, as recent events demonstrate quite clearly. We could not have a better shepherd in the chair of Peter, and we can proceed with confidence that our pastoral needs, and the pastoral needs of our separated brethren, and the needs of the entire Church, are being well attended to.
Let us respond to the Holy Father’s pastoral generosity, not with timidity, not in a spirit of stinginess, not with an intention of unnecessary delay; but with the sense of joy, excitement, and urgency that comes from our love for Christ and our desire to participate in some small way in this great work of the Church.
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