This congregation began with members of the Parish of All Saints, Ashmont, in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. All Saints has been a parish of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America for over one hundred and fifty years.
In January, 1996, several dozen members of All Saints, together with their rector, elected to withdraw from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in order to seek admission corporately into the Roman Catholic Church under the special terms of the “Pastoral Provision”.
After a period of preparation, the transition was completed with great rejoicing when, on September 28, 1997, twenty-nine members of the congregation were received into full communion at the direction of His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law, then the Archbishop of Boston. The Cardinal then formally erected the Congregation of Saint Athanasius as an Anglican Use chaplaincy in the archdiocese. under the Pastoral Provision.
What is the Pastoral Provision?
The Pastoral Provision is a generous arrangement made by the Holy See in 1980 for those who were formerly priests and lay-people in the Episcopal Church and who now wished to enter into full communion in the Roman Catholic Church while retaining some elements of their Anglican heritage and customs. This provision notably allows for the continuance of an “Anglican style” liturgy, approved by the Vatican, in The Book of Divine Worship. It also provides a mechanism whereby former Episcopal priests who are married could be ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood.
What is an Anglican Use Chaplaincy?
Unlike a normal geographical parish, which exists for those who live in a particular location, “Anglican Use” exists for a particular kind of persons who live throughout an area: former Anglicans and other non-Catholic Christians, and those who come new to the Catholic Church through this congregation. Of course all Roman Catholics are welcome to share the life of the congregation.
The Congregation of Saint Athanasius was designated a “chaplaincy” recognizing its newness, its size, and the non-geographic nature of its membership. In time, and as God gives the increase, the congregation may become a personal parish of the Archdiocese of Boston.
The Reverend Richard S. Bradford is chaplain of the congregation, having been officially appointed to this position following his ordination to the priesthood on May 30, 1998.
Why this step?
The decision to leave the Episcopal Church was painful, for Anglicanism had provided most of us a spiritual home for many years, sometimes from birth. There were four main considerations:
- First, we are convinced that Our Lord’s will for His Church is that it should be one. [John 13:34-35; 17:11, 22-23] Historically, the Anglo-Catholic tradition within Anglicanism has always sought to bear witness to that truth. We came out of that tradition. The history of the Anglo-Catholic movement is marked by a steady stream of conversions to the Church of Rome, as the life of Blessed John Henry Newman witnesses.
- Secondly, we have watched with sadness and concern, the growing distance (especially in the last twenty or thirty years) between official Anglicanism and what might be termed the “mainstream” of Christian faith and order. Historically, Anglicanism had sought to include within itself both the Catholic and Evangelical ways of understanding the Gospel. However, increasingly, unorthodox belief and practice were being added. We could no longer have any part in this. We know that many faithful Anglicans share the same concern; we differ with them only in our response to the crisis. We believe that a further fragmentation and division was not the solution to which we were being led by the Holy Ghost.
- Thirdly, we have come to believe that the present disarray of Anglicanism is, in itself, clear evidence of the need for a defined focus of authority in the life of the Church on earth, and that such a magisterium is, by Divine Providence, to be found in the person of Peter and his successors in the Holy See.
- Finally, we give great thanks to God for all that we have received for good in the loveliness of the Anglican liturgical and pastoral tradition, and we long to bring all that is best in it to the life of the Universal Church. But, as Anglicanism itself decays around us, we have come to feel that it can best and most safely be preserved within the household of the Roman Catholic Church.