I have just come across an article in the British Church Times, which gives a priest’s reflections on Anglicanorum Coetibus – You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I suppose the implication is the usual one, a bait-and-switch operation to deceive Anglicans into becoming conforming Roman Catholic clones. However, the man’s reflections are of interest in an indirect way. Instead of the opinions of “rival” continuing Anglicans, we are looking at a kind of “bland” churchmanship with very little doctrinal or spiritual conviction.
The big question is that of Anglican patrimony. I have already expressed my idea of the survival of medieval and pre-Reformation English Catholicism. For others, it is the Protestant vision of the “pure” Church that knows nothing of organic development or history. For this fellow, it is something else.
The obvious question to ask is about the liturgy. Prayer Book or Roman Missal? The former is problematic for a Catholic-minded priest and the latter is not Anglican. The Book of Divine Worship (until now available only in the USA) is, admit it, an artificial rite, but one that does convey characteristics of Anglican worship.
The author of this article says that the “Constitution also maintains the express requirement for unconditional fresh ordination for those who are to serve as clergy in the Ordinariate, along with an absolute bar on the ordination of married men as bishops (although, after ordination to the priesthood, those who are currently Anglican bishops may be permitted to serve as priests, as Ordinaries, and to retain their episcopal insignia and be treated as retired bishops)”. The question of absolute ordination is not mentioned in the official documents, but only by the commentary of a Jesuit canonist and university professor.
Other aspect of Anglican patrimony are said to include “pension entitlements, housing, stipends, etc.” That may be the case for career clerics in the Church of England, but not for continuing Anglican clergy and many of the brave priests serving missions in the Third World. We come to questions of ministry – “What kind of ministry will former Anglican clergy exercise once the process of reception, retraining, and ordination has taken place? The very pastoral and evangelistic ministry that they will leave behind in the Church of England is surely the most significant of all aspects of their Anglican patrimony, and it remains to be seen how this can be continued by the Ordinariate”. I think, on the contrary, that ministry is likely to be much more pastoral in the Ordinariates. In England, the first job is going to be at the same level as ordinary people and no longer high-and-mighty clerics. If we want churches and chapels, and don’t have lots of money to buy large buildings, then we are going to have to roll up our own sleeves, learn to use tools and materials and do the work ourselves. I have always found that lay people always respect a priest they see working with his hands! Pastoral ministry, did you say? I have never heard of a Catholic priest (at least in the old days) who was not on the heroic side with sick visiting, catechising looking out fallen souls in the most miserable conditions. I always had the impression that Catholic priests were pastoral.
The Church of England, certainly has an outstanding architectural and cultural heritage, but so has the Catholic Church in France, Germany, Italy and every country on this earth. The Catholic Church also has the Bible and the Creeds. “Clergy and congregations work hard to maintain and improve their church buildings and churchyards”. That is true, and Catholic parishes are now as neglected as they were in the eighteenth century – when they were crumbling away from neglect. However, I have seen priests work most conscientiously, and that’s the way we were trained in seminary! Again, we are coming to the realisation that our Anglican patrimony is nothing other than Catholic patrimony. We all have our churches and graveyards.
Now he says it – “it seems likely that the number of lay people taking part in the new Ordinariate will be very modest, and that there will be very few congregations prepared to leave en bloc for the new Ordinariate with their Anglican priest, not least because this will necessitate leaving behind a greatly loved place of worship”. That might well be true in some cases, but not in the case of the TAC. Our churches are rented or improvised in old buildings – and in most cases, we will be continuing to worship in them or be allowed the use of Catholic parish churches or chaplaincy chapels in hospitals, schools, etc. We have everything to gain, now that our Bishops have written confirmation that the Apostolic Constitution concerns primarily the Traditional Anglican Communion.
There is one thing this good priest seems to be alluding to – inclusivity. This is a politically-loaded word that can be understood as meaning pastoral outreach, or the liberal agenda. Is it implied that Catholic priests only look after Catholics, when he often does charitable and humanitarian work with suffering people who are not Catholics? The real issue is divorce and remarried people and the question of Communion being given to people who are not formally Catholics.
Now, the question of sacramental marriage is one that touches on divinely instituted law, the indissolubility of marriage. These are difficult and painful questions that I would prefer to see resolved case by case as with many other difficulties people face. This following observation is poignant: “Within the Church of England’s parish churches there are many people who have responded to this openness and generosity of ministry, drawn gently to consider more deeply their need for faith and to find it in a Church that does not immediately ask hard questions or require formal membership as a precondition of receiving its ministry”. There is much to be said for Don’t ask, don’t tell. The Catholic Church has a reputation of exaggerated legalism that acts as a bar to the ministry of mercy and the will never to deprive anyone of hope. I think the Holy Father is going to surprise us with his pastoral generosity and pastoral outreach. As they stand, the new laws look as if they are taking away what they gave with the other hand, a kind of cruel joke.
The Church does not play cruel jokes, and what has been announced has a pastoral goal within the bounds of reality and human weakness. We priests are constantly called to be faithful to the Church’s teaching, but at the same time to exercise mercy and express God’s love. No one is beyond forgiveness and inclusion if he or she wishes to live according to the will of God and make progress in forsaking sin and turpitude. This is the pastoral ministry of discernment and helping souls to assimilate God’s grace on the uphill struggle towards the Light.
Becoming Catholics demands sacrifice on the part of us all, selling everything to buy the precious pearl. Many people practice artificial contraception and feel they cannot accept Humanae Vitae and more recent documents on moral issues. Choices have to be made. I would not exactly consider artificial contraception a part of Anglican patrimony! Are Anglicans all that averse to going to confession? This Sacrament is practiced in many Anglican parishes, and people will go and confess their sins freely and without any pressure being applied on them from priests.
“Anglicanorum Coetibus is not the Uniate-style solution for which many had hoped — a Church with its own jurisdiction and its own rite, capable of maintaining the very identity that enriches our Christian faith as Anglicans”. This is true, but what prevents that from happening in the future once the Ordinariates prove their stability and worthiness to continue into the future? For many of us, it will not be a hard decision, and we are not being asked to leave anything behind that is not sinful or unorthodox. Unknown future? The future is unknown for us all, and this is where faith comes in.
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