Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anglican Rumblings: A Pastoral Provision in England's Green and Pleasant Land?

NB: For those of you who, tiresomely, feel honor-bound to mention Apostolicae Curae whenever Anglicanism comes up (and I, of course, accept Leo XIII's judgment in this matter), I use the terms ordination, bishops, women bishops, etc., as terms of convenience and not to make any sort of ideological point. I urge all commenters and all Catholics to look upon our orthodox Anglican brethren with compassion and charity in this deeply sorrowful time.

Also, I am a novice at matters Anglican, especially those pertaining to matters the other side of the great herring-pond. Commentary by
informed readers is to be welcomed, though discussion will be moderated as necessary. Behave yourselves.

There has been much discussion, both heated or hopeful, since Benedict XVI's election about a future influx of conservative Anglicans into the Catholic Church as a result of the recent controversies over homosexuality and women's ordination, what shape this ingrafting might take, and what impact (if any) this might have on the Roman liturgy. The already-thin ties that bind the Anglican Communion have been stretched to the breaking point by Monday's vote in the House of Bishops paving the way to the episcopal ordination of women. Debate was contentious, lasting six hours, and moving at least one Anglican bishop to weep with shame. Structural proposals for men-only dioceses and "super-bishops" that might have helped the evangelical and Anglo-Catholic wings save face were rejected. Traditional Anglicans must now face they are no longer welcome in the Church of England. [Source].

The question is, what happens next? Tuesday, the Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet, spoke--admitted, perhaps a bit prematurely--of implementing something similar to the (largely American) Pastoral Provision in England. The liberal English Catholic bishops, who have often been leery of conservative Anglicans, torpedoed a similar proposal in the eighties. What would this look like? Damian Thompson comments, "Anglican priests who are already married will not be barred from ordination as priests, though Bishop Burnham would not be able to continue in episcopal orders, as he is married." Some form of Anglican liturgy could be retained, though, unlike in the United States, the majority of such conservative parishes already use a rite essentially identical to the Ordinary Form (1970 missal), though, presumably, far more reverently celebrated than in the Catholic mainstream. [Source.]

Bishop Burnham's statement calls for "magnanimous gestures" from Rome, and appears to indicate this is not a done deal, yet. Given the Holy Father's personal interest in traditionalist Anglicans, I would be very surprised if Rome does nothing to respond. Burnham is not asking for much, especially since doctrinally and liturgically most of his fellow supplicants are nearly Catholics in doctrine and praxis if not in ecclesial reality. He is not asking for a sui juris local church, or, it appears, even a personal apostolic administration or prelature. While some will be likely to get cold feet, I imagine a good many will come over to Rome if we have the good sense to set out the welcome mat. (Yes, I know, a love of truth, not sentiment, is the essence of conversion, but Christ did not slap Matthew in the face when He said, "follow me." These are fellow-Christians who have been through the ecclesiastical meat-grinder and deserve our respect and compassion.)

Why is this important? To state the obvious, it involves the salvation of souls for Christ and His Church. That alone should prick up your ears. But, in terms of liturgy, it is also quite significant.

Put aside your prejudices. Whenever matters Anglican, or pertaining to the Pastoral Provision, or the continuing Anglican splinter-groups, come up on this website, the comments-boxes have dissolved into anarchy. Frequently the term "Episcopalian" is used here as a slur on middle-of-the-road liturgy for reasons that seem to do more with small-mindedness than an actual experience of both Episcopalian taste and the deleterious state of mainstream Catholic worship.

Such a narrow view fails to see, whatever one thinks of Anglican orders and the Dutch touch, that the Catholic liturgical ethos revived by the likes of Newman and Pusey during the Oxford Movement has been preserved within certain forms of conservative Anglicanism. We may quibble over the genesis of the Prayer-Book and the long-term place of the Book of Divine Worship within Catholicism, but the idea of liturgy as vertical worship is something we nonetheless both hold dear.

Some of our more paranoid readers will carp at the Cranmerian roots of the liturgies they assume these new Catholics may bring with them into the Church. Such a view fails to take into account recent changes among the Catholic party within the Church of England. Principally, as several of our readers have noted and as Damian Thompson has reported, the English Anglo-Papal party uses mostly, not the Prayer-Book or even the beautiful translations of the Tridentine-style English Missal, but, essentially, the 1970 Missale Romanum, which indicates liturgical confusion is hardly likely to result. And, in instances where they do use Anglican forms, it seems hardly likely to cause trouble. The six communities of the Pastoral Provision in the United States are far closer to the spirit of the liturgy than most ordinary parishes.

Indeed, the example of such Anglicans may prove salutary, if only because they actually faithfully observe the rubrics of the 1970 Missal, a novel idea to many of our fellow Catholics; and, perhaps more importantly, they do so in a spirit that is both informed by an appreciation of the beauty of holiness, and in continuity with the older Tridentine and neo-medieval customs adopted by the Oxford Movement and the later Ritualists. This is, in some sense, the hermeneutic of continuity at work in terms of both rubrical precision and liturgical style. Whether one views the Reform of the Reform merely as a means to bringing the modern use closer to the Usus Antiquior, an end in itself, or something in-between--and there is much to be said for all three views--the Anglican example, within a Catholic context, has the potential to bring about much good in the liturgical sphere. Among other things, it will show that vernacular liturgy need not be sloppy and casual, no small matter when one of the greatest obstacles to the re-enchantment of the liturgy among our fellow Catholics is not a fear of ritual but of the unfamiliarity of the Latin language. ("Will the homily be in Latin, Father?")

We should be realistic, however. Within Anglicanism, orthodox liturgy does not always mean orthodox theology. (Just as within contemporary Catholicism, sometimes orthodox theology does not mean orthodox liturgy, sadly.) Many Anglican congregations are quite small, and are not likely to retain their historic parish churches, which will make the transition even more psychologically difficult.

An influx of Anglicans will not be the universal panacea that some think it. Some of the dissatisfied Anglicans are low-church evangelicals, while Anglo-Catholicism--always a magnet for eccentrics, often delightfully so--has, in some instances, developed in a number of dissatisfactory and, frankly, strange directions in recent years. Their conversion is not to be automatically assumed. The influx is likely to be composed of more ordinary non-partisan Anglicans who realize they have been mugged by reality.

We should do as much as we can to aid these traumatized survivors, in word, thought and deed. It is a scandal--in the theological sense--the way some cradle Catholics look suspiciously down their noses at prospective Anglican converts.

At this point, the primary thing that may screw up such a move would be ill-will on the part of the Catholic bishops and faithful. Ecclesiastical rumor indicates the former have been left out of the conversion discussion. [Source]. As to the conduct of the latter--it is entirely your choice, dear readers, whether you reach out to this extended hand or clamp your teeth down hard on it. Souls are at stake.

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