Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Second Annual Anglican Use Conference, Scranton, June 2006: A View from the Floor

Part II, including some remarks on the statement of Fr. Stetson

The first speaker at the conference, Fr. William Stetson, is neither an Anglican, nor a convert, but a priest of Opus Dei who had worked with the Pastoral Provision since its founding. He was, as he informed us, a cradle Catholic of an Episcopalian father and a Roman mother. He’d explained as much to the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, he told us, when he’d met him in one of the first stages of the Anglican Use’s formation.

“Are you a convert?”

“No, Cardinal, I’ve been a Catholic all my life.”

“Most interesting, Father. I became a Catholic when I was baptized.”


My mind glazed over a few times at the sheer weight of different names and societies as Fr. Stetson recounted, with great skill, the Byzantine complexity of the Pastoral Provision’s formation. Boiled down to the Cliff Notes version, the roots of its existence go all the way back to 1976 when two different groups formed in protest over Canterbury’s decision to ordain women. These were the American Church Union and its Pro-Diocese of St. Augustine, and the Society of the Holy Cross, both established with the eventual hope of reunion with the Roman Primacy.

From two priests of these two groups came the first requests—each separate—to establish a canonical process for married clergy to be admitted to the priesthood, as well as whole parishes of converts to be set up with a common identity and liturgy. After being approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a proposed process for approving convert clergy was drafted by Cardinal Law, Bishop Sheehan of Santa Fe and Stetson himself, with the first priests being ordained under its canons in 1983. 80 have been ordained since then, with more on the way. A further step was the matter of the Anglican Use liturgy, which was finally approved in 1987.

Stetson moved from the present state of the Pastoral Provision (7 parishes) to its future. He explained that Benedict XVI has long taken an interest in the issue of Anglican reunion, due to his great devotion to the English Apostle of Germany, Boniface. He recognizes the flourishing Christian tradition—and Christian potential—that the United States possesses, and also the cultural differences between that more evangelical outlook and the tradition of Europe. But it is through that lens of tradition—not merely concentrating on questions liturgical, cultural, and administrative—that we must see the Anglican Use, said the priest. The challenge of the Provision is a spiritual one—that of the Holy Spirit, and the call of Christ that they might all be one, ut unum sint. It is in that spirit that we must push forward, he concluded.

Then things started getting even more interesting. It was question time.

Father Philips stood up in the back and inquired about the possibility of non-Canterbury Anglicans going through the same canonical process that the clergy and parishes of the Episcopal Church had in joining up under the Pastoral Provision. It’s important to note here that there were quite a few clergy of the Continuing Anglican movement in the audience. Stetson was optimistic, though he said it was Rome, not Bill Stetson, who made these decisions. He said, just ask. You have to do the asking if anything is going to happen.

Much hay has been made recently over comments made by Fr. Stetson that a full-blown Anglican Use Rite with parallel bishops would be unlikely. I barely picked up on the controversy while I was there, but then I spent a good portion of my time talking architecture and liturgy. I think what many people are missing is not what was said at Fr. Stetson’s talk, but what happened afterwards, according to a commentator at Fr. Kimel’s blog:

…as you know, I was there at the same conference with you. That evening, after the comments made in the morning, there was extensive discussion between Fr.Stetson and the representatives of the TAC. Fr.Stetson was brought to a better understanding as to the condition and standing of the TAC. The Pastoral Provision is only available in the U.S. and the TAC is an international entity consisting of about half a million members under 33 bishops in 44 countries speaking 7 languages, of which English is the least prevalent. Once Fr. Stetson became aware of this his attitude changed, and saw the situation of the TAC as outside his mandate because of its international presence. I heard him then advise them to deal directly with Rome in view of their status as an international body.
I wonder whether Bishop Moyer's comments over at the surprisingly pessimistic report of the conference at VirtueOnline came before or after this conversation?

So bishops are not wholly out of the question here. One simply has to see what Rome says. Even if they were, there are other ways to get around this. There is the example of the concept of the personal prelature which is still out there—let’s not forget that Fr. Stetson is in Opus Dei after all. I think the point of his initial comments was that Continuing Anglican churches are outside his mandate as the Pastoral Provision is designed just with American Episcopalians in mind. Also, it would be difficult to bring together these various groups under one umbrella, just as a matter of logistics—whoever was doing the gathering. His point was simply to ask Rome, and see what happens in each case. That is the only way to get the ball rolling rather than concluding the matter was a dead letter from the start. Benedict clearly wants something to happen here, and if some are to be believed, the problems have less to do with Rome than with the US bishops.

Let’s not forget that it’s not a matter of one-size-fits-all. Even in terms of liturgical praxis there’s a fairly wide spectrum here, and one size might not fit all. Likewise, having twenty different provisions might also prove awkward, and even self-defeating to the notion of a sui iuris rite. Readers of the New Liturgical Movement are doubtlessly aware that portions of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) uses the Knott Missal, effectively a Cranmerian English rendering of the Tridentine liturgy, and slightly removed from the Book of Divine Worship’s more exclusively Prayer Book-influenced text.

This brings us to another matter. The Anglican Use Liturgy was drafted with great haste, and some think it may be due for a more careful revision—one, mind you, less Concilium than Council of Trent. This change might make it palatable to users of the Knott Missal—or possibly, the missal itself could be approved if the TAC received a separate provision. That being said, even in its present state, the Anglican Use mass is a fascinating and heartening case-study for devotees of the incipient new liturgical movement dedicated to reforming the reforms of 1970.

Some have criticized its Cranmerian roots, but the liturgical praxis it encapsulates is a world apart from Elizabeth’s bare ruined choirs. The strong liturgical similarities between Anglican and Catholic practice that grew even stronger in the wake of Oxford, Cambridge Camden, and the Ritualists, mean that the essential framework of the Catholic mass remains. The only differences are a few extra prayers inserted here and there, of Sarum or Cranmerian vintage, the Pax and Confession inserted directly before the Offertory, and Coverdale’s splendid Englishing of the Roman Canon, a translation that is, perhaps ironically, more theologically and linguistically accurate than anything currently on the books.

Fr. Stetson himself thinks very highly of both the poetry of the Prayer Book and its Anglican Use variant: In 1964, he explained, he was conversing with a friend, Frederick McManus, who would become “an artisan” of the new English liturgy. He pointed out that there really wasn’t much work to do. Just take the Book of Common Prayer, Catholicize it, and there you have your reformed liturgy, one that was already road-tested and a masterpiece of English prose. “He didn’t pay attention to me. And then,” said the priest, “he created ‘And also with you.’ ”

That last line brought down the house.

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