Anglo-Catholicism confounds some of our progressive brothers and sisters who assume that any people who use incense and say “And with thy spirit” must be guilty of the unforgivable 21st Century offenses of intolerance, elitism, and heartless conservatism. Somehow it has entered the received wisdom that, when the Grinch stole Christmas, he wore a maniple.
I love the looks I get when I tell those laboring under this misconception that 100 years ago there was far more concern that Anglo-Catholics were dangerous socialists agitating among the poor and causing them to have ideas above their station. Most in the States know nothing of the great work done in London’s East End or that, closer to home, Anglo-Catholics created some of the first integrated churches and free hospitals. Even those of us within the movement can too often forget that we gained toleration for our liturgical practices only because of the incontestable good that our predecessors accomplished through years of untiring service to the poorest of the poor.
As a Roman Catholic Monk, one of my selfish interests in the success of the Ordinariates is that they have the potential to offer the wider Church a model of parishes renowned both for the beauty of their worship and for doing a crack job at the Corporal Works of Mercy. Too many progressives find a liturgy full of folksy, earnest clichés to be the sine qua non of worship, sadly revealing their unstated premise that this is the best that those in need could possibly understand. Historically, Anglo-Catholics would have none of this, believing dignified worship also dignified the worshiper who was reminded whose child he was.
Roman Catholic social teaching since the time of Leo XIII has been one of the glories of the Church, but too often in the last 40 years it has been held hostage to this impoverished aesthetic. Anglo-Catholics, on the other hand, have a tradition of sisters who can work in an inner-city hospice and still sing from the Monastic Diurnal and of sacristies with thuribles that were gifts from the Guild of the Iron Cross for Working Men and Boys. We know hymns like Dearmer’s Father Who on Man Dost Shower and most of us probably remember the stirring words of Frank Weston of Zanzibar to the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923 linking our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament to our protecting the dignity of our brothers and sisters:
But I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.
Now that’s a real theology of liberation.
There were always political differences within the movement, but shared belief bridged the political and allowed those with differences to pray together. In an earlier day, the reader of The Nation and the reader of The National Review could serve Mass together because they were confident that they were inwardly bound together in common faith as they were outwardly bound in common prayer. As we have seen this sort of Christian tolerance and generosity of spirit disappear in the increasingly winner-take-all politics of the provinces of the Anglican Communion, it would be a pity if those who have too often been the victims of this change lose that history ourselves.
I think that this belief that worship transcends political agendas even as it sends us out into the world to practice the love of Christ may well be one of the most important of the “elements of sanctification and of truth” referred to in Anglicanorum Coetibus. Many of those who have doubts about the Ordinariates foresee them precipitating an invasion of grinches. Won't it be wonderful if we can show the skeptics that, in addition to Newman and Pusey, Anglo-Catholics are also the heirs of Fr. Paul of Graymoor, who worked among the homeless; of Sister Constance, who died ministering to the victims of yellow fever; and of countless others whose lives were a witness to their belief that whatever they had done for the least of these, they had done for Him.
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