Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rise of the Anglo-Catholics?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) begins the last day of their annual meeting in Baltimore today. This year's meeting has been without fanfare even as the American bishops have discussed important topics such as homosexual marriage, abortion and perceived encroachment upon religious freedoms by recent decisions of particular government agencies at the federal level.

Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
Tucked away at the end of the agenda for today's final session, however, is an interesting agenda item: "Anglicanorum Coetibus, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl." Anglicanorum Coetibus, if you'll remember, is the name of Pope Benedict's 2009 apostolic constitution which establishes a structure within the Church (called a "personal ordinariate") to receive former Anglicans (in our country, usually known as Episcopalians) into the Catholic Church while allowing them to retain some of their distinct Anglican heritage as Catholics. Cardinal Wuerl was appointed to oversee the establishment of the an ordinariate here in the U.S.

Last year, on November 19, 2010, the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales announced that they would establish the world's first ordinariate structure for former Anglicans. And in January of this year, the "Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham" was officially established by the Church.

Even though England and Wales were allowed to establish their ordinariate first, the United States has actually been at the forefront of the movement towards unity between Anglicans and Catholics. Since the beginning of the last century, there has been a concerted effort by some Anglicans (i.e. Episcopalians) to enter into the fullness of the communion with the Successor of St. Peter.

Perhaps I should insert a brief history refresher for those of you who may be a little confused up to this point. Until the 16th century, England was Catholic. I mean, really Catholic. So Catholic, that they used to call it "Our Lady's Dowry." But in 1534, after the Pope refused to declare his marriage null, King Henry VIII declared that he (not the Pope and the bishops) was the head of the Church in England. This was the beginning of a separation between the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church) and the Catholic Church. This (sad) separation exists to this day.

For reasons of history, the branch of the Anglican Church in the U.S. came to be called the Episcopal Church. So, for simplicity's sake, Anglican = Episcopalian, by and large.

How did this all begin?

Fr. Paul Wattson (d. 1940)
Here's a brief timeline:

In the mid-1800s, some Anglicans began to move for the re-adoption of many lost Christian traditions of faith and worship. They argued for restoring the use of "Catholic" elements of worship (think: "high church," like incense, chant, beautiful vestments and altar appointments, etc.). Because many leaders of this movement were connected with Oxford University, this movement within the Anglican Church became known as the Oxford Movement.

In 1909, an Episcopal religious community in the Franciscan tradition called the Society of the Atonement, along with their founders Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana, were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. This community had been founded in line with the Oxford Movement, back in 1898 and had, from its beginnings, made movements toward reunion with Rome. The Society of the Atonement's reception into the Church was an unprecedented step where the Church allowed a Protestant religious community to enter into union with the Church as a whole (instead of individually). Up to the present day, Fr. Paul's community of friars is committed to fostering ecumenical relationships and cooperation between Catholics and other Christians.

In the 1950s, the Catholic Church began to allow, on a case-by-case basis, dispensations from the rule of celibacy for married clergy of some Protestant churches who joined the Catholic Church and asked to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood. Although extremely rare in the 1950s and 1960s, this practice was mentioned by Pope Paul VI in his 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis caelibatus.

In 1977, after the Episcopal Church in the U.S. began to make some changes to their church laws and disciplines, small groups of Episcopalians began to contact individual Catholic bishops to ask about the possibility of married Anglican (i.e. Episcopalian) clergymen being ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

In 1980, in response to repeated requests from Anglicans and Episcopalians who wanted to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while being allowed to retain some of the particular traditions in liturgy, prayer, and discipline, Pope John Paul II announced a "pastoral provision." This provision allowed small groups of United States Episcopalians to enter into the Catholic Church while retaining elements of their "Anglican patrimony" in certain areas.

Specifically, this document allowed for the establishment of "Anglican-Use" parishes in the United States which were (usually) pastored by a married, former Episcopal priest who has been ordained to the Catholic priesthood. The liturgies celebrated in the parishes come from the 1984 Book of Divine Worship, based closely on the 1928 and 1979 versions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, with some changes that ensure a thoroughly Catholic spirituality in the celebration of the Sacraments.

These parishes could only be established, however, in dioceses where the local Catholic bishop approved. And since 1983, seven "Anglican-Use Parishes" have been established in the U.S. and around 80 former Episcopalians clergymen have been ordained as Catholic priests under the Pastoral Provision.

Mass being celebrated at Our Lady of the Atonement Church, San Antonio, Texas.

The first Anglican-Use Catholic parish was established in San Antonio, Texas in 1983. It is named in honor of Our Lady of the Atonement - an homage to the Fr. Paul Wattson, Mother Lurana and their Anglo-Catholic communities which paved the way for Anglicans to "come home to Rome" in the early 20th century, and whose prayers for unity between Anglicans and Catholics are now beginning to bear true fruit.

What would a U.S. Ordinariate look like?

The advantage of the establishing an ordinariate structure for former Anglicans (Anglo-Catholics, if you will) here in the U.S. is that it will supersede the local bishops and will allow Anglican-Use (maybe they'll be called "Anglo-Catholic"?) parishes to be established and flourish anywhere there are a group of interested converts, with or without the permission of the local bishop. It will also allow the establishment of Anglo-Catholic schools, institutions and, most likely, even a seminary for the raising up of future Anglo-Catholic priests, all here in the U.S.

Will there be an important announcement about the establishment of a U.S. ordinariate this afternoon by Cardinal Wuerl? If so, one wonders about the name of our ordinariate. England and Wales' ordinariate is named in honor of Our Lady of Walsingham, a tribute to the ancient English shrine - what was once one of the most important Marian shrines in all of pre-Reformation Europe. If this country's ordinariate is officially announced soon, one wonders if it may be dedicated under the patronage of Our Lady of the Atonement.

All Saints Sisters of the Poor
The really exciting part is that even before any official announcement, movements towards an American ordinariate have already started. At this time, there are more than 60 parishes, missions, and groups across the United States asking to be admitted under the new U.S. ordinariate as soon as it is established. Back in September, a community of Episcopal nuns - the All Saints Sisters of the Poor -, along with their chaplain, were received into the Catholic Church. And in October, Mount Calvary church in Baltimore became the first Episcopal parish to vote to join the new Catholic ordinariate as a whole.

These are exciting times in which we're living. Pope Benedict is the "pope of Christian unity," and we should all join him in echoing the fervent prayer of Jesus: "that they may be one." (John 17:21)

Priests administer Holy Communion at Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore.