I have just got back from my holiday in the Savoy area of France, and discover a wealth of new material on The Anglo-Catholic. I went to the Mairie of Talloires, the village near our camp-site besides the Lake of Annecy, where it was possible now and again to have a quick half-hour glance at the Internet and my e-mail for 5 Euros. As always, I am impressed with the depth of reflections from our contributors and the new “ecumenical” orientation of the blog to encompass all Anglican groups and approaches to Anglicanorum Coetibus. I plan shortly to write a short article with a few photos on the Chemin du Baroque in the Savoy mountains.
Having returned home yesterday, with so many practical and mundane things to do, I saw the sheer volume of writings and comments on The Anglo-Catholic. Should I go through everything back to the beginning of August and add comments? No, it seems best to offer a few reflections in the form of a new article.
Many things caught my attention, but I found two articles particularly thought-provoking: I'll Just Say My Prayers at Home… by Fr. Giles Pinnock and The Magical Ordinariates by Mrs. Deborah Gyapong. Fr. Pinnock’s article and some of the comments struck me by the realisation that once the Ordinariates get going (or are so delayed that they exceed the sell-by date) things are never going to be as they were before, either in the Church of England, in the TAC or in the other continuing groups. Some will find a way to hold onto their certitudes, and others will have to seek an entirely new meaning to Christianity as they lose the ecclesial context and social support they had always known.
I think many of us here on The Anglo-Catholic also are blissfully unaware of the pain and emptiness suffered by those who are lost, that grouping of people mentioned by Fr. Pinnock, those who are spiritually orphaned and face the prospect of the light within them spluttering out and dying. It is not only individuals, those to whom those still convinced of their certitudes would point accusing fingers telling them to do this or do that without the slightest thought for their pain and their personal suffering. Some of us indeed are brought to wonder if we should just let go and forget — and live life as it comes. As we try to hold our heads above water, we try to keep hope and love alive, and above all not to let bitterness close our minds and hearts. We are painfully aware that the “others,” who would have all kinds of advice, just don’t care.
Many of the comments I have been reading, published whilst I was away, bring only bitterness and a feeling of emptiness. Sometimes, it is like finding your home burgled and ransacked, raped. Indeed, politics and media sensationalism excite some people and strike a mortal blow at the spiritual life of others. Indeed, the Pharisees of our time have succeeded in closing the gate to the knowledge of God! I speak not only of “trolls” with evil intentions, but also of seemingly pious Christians who do harm through their bitter zeal and intolerance.
The tragedy for many people is that the churches are still there. Over the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have been visiting beautiful mountain village churches with gorgeous baroque altars, lovingly restored by the local civil authorities. Like elsewhere in France, there are so few priests and so few Masses. I really do have the impression that these churches can only be “put in mothballs” for the future, because the Church — in those places — is dead and extinguished.
Mrs. Gyapong has written an article, very much after my own heart, on The Magical Ordinariates — that idea according to which the Ordinariates, especially in England, might be formed from something other than what already exists in the way of groups of Anglicans. Frankly, I am sick and tired of speculation and turning around in circles, because there is nothing to go on. Word is about that Rome might set up the first Ordinariate in something like Advent 2010, where the situation is relatively simple, like in Canada and Australia, and over the course of 2011 in various other countries where there are TAC communities and groups of clergy and faithful leaving the Anglican Communion. It helps to have something to look forward to, as human psychology cannot relate to the infinite or indeterminate. So far, not one single Ordinariate exists, and this whole thing is completely theoretical. For all we know, Rome could simply scrub the whole thing and say that Anglicans are not their problem. Any excuse would be good enough! Some have said that it would be a Christian virtue to have infinite patience for something that could theoretically never happen, another — a priest — offered the opinion that if Rome drags this thing out over the usual kind of time-scale of men who have not a care for other people, the Ordinariate project would die. I suspect many of us have a time limit in our minds.
We need limits to the indeterminism and a certain amount of understanding and rationality. Mrs. Gyapong’s understanding is simple and cogent. Everything consists of matter and form, like the Sacraments. Rome would be giving canonical and legal existence to what already exists: TAC chapels and communities, Anglican Use parishes (needing only a modification of their canonical status), Forward in Faith bishops with their priests and people, but without their buildings and jobs. What Rome will not do is provide church buildings and money, or priests and lay people. But, all that remains to be seen, as the incertitude of the practical aspects will make it impossible for many to do otherwise than stay in their Church of England jobs or call it a day with Christianity.
I admire Mrs. Gyapong’s realism. Little will change — only the label and the official standing, what would make it possible to attract people for whom the Church is the Roman Catholic Church. It will be no different from the Catholic traditionalists like the Fraternity of St Peter and the Benedictine Abbey of Le Barroux. If the waiting is going to take longer than a few months, I could envisage a situation of creating pro-ordinariates functioning as if the official canonical erection from Rome had occurred, of course without being deceitful. The present TAC is, for all intents and purposes, exactly that. I would suggest that Forward in Faith needs to create a coherent group with a more formalised structure and pull out of the Church of England right now — form a “continuing church,” but for the purpose of going into communion with Rome. If they did that, things would be a lot clearer, the jobs, pensions and buildings already sacrificed, and perhaps other buildings bought, rented or constructed.
What is important is not names, titles and letters in the alphabet soup, but real groups of Christian clergy and laity living out “where two or three are gathered in my name…”
The real problem for many was that before Anglicanorum Coetibus was announced, we were in the comfortable situation of being independent, yet with the respectability of being churches in dialogue with Rome, the one criterion that sets us above vagante bishops and pseudo-churches. Things just won’t be the same ever again. I don’t know how the classical Anglican continuing churches will fare once the Ordinariates are set up by Rome or as we still wait and rot in pious expectation in ten years hence. I can say that I am no more optimistic for them than many others who set out with fine ideals and illusions, only to find that nobody had the slightest interest in becoming their clients.
Some may have been tempted to seek union with Rome to find credibility as a real Christian Church as opposed to a phoney imitation. I came across this article that appeared in the Rorate Caeli blog. We read: “Catholicism is hollowing out in its traditional European strongholds. But signs of intriguing new life are springing up at its periphery." The parallels I see between the groups of Anglicans and the Catholic traditionalist groups are glaring, yet our histories and “patrimonies” are very different. Many of us Anglicans are not attracted to Tridentine Catholicism with its scholastic theology and authoritarianism sometimes bordering onto totalitarianism. Most of those traditionalist communities do not understand Anglicans, and we would not find acceptance in their ranks. At the same time, we are brought to think of the Holy Father’s reflections about the future of the Church being in small fervent groups, but it would not be a monopoly of the Tridentine traditionalists.
Cultural and middle-of-the-road religion, at least in Europe, is over. Most village churches, and even city churches, have no reason for their existence other than as relics to be kept for the future. In the meantime, they can be used as concert halls and museums. Most churches of lesser cultural merit will be converted for secular use, turned over to other religious communities or razed. It is only the consequence of history, for those before us sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind.
The upheaval is happening to us all, as Catholicism itself is reduced to “continuing” groups keeping the Faith, the Sacraments and communion with the Pope (especially when he is Benedict XVI). Some will have the privilege of being upheld and loved in the communion of a local community. Many others will be in the desert, praying at home –since praying at home is better than not praying at all.
We have responsibility for each other. While some seek power and control, sensationalism and politics — others will die spiritually and disappear into the unknown and anonymous mass of humanity where no-one cares. Churches with beautiful gothic and baroque altars will mean nothing to anybody. Wayside crucifixes will be no more than an embarrassment and a mild prick to the conscience. The appeal for humanity and generosity goes unheard and ignored, but the appeal has to be repeated again and again.
But, all in all, I am impressed by what has been written over the past couple of weeks. Will we help to rekindle the Christian faith in Europe and other western countries, or are we here to preside over its funeral and cremation in our selfish zeal? Reading many comments on this blog, I shake my head…
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