Who are we?

A Roman Catholic, or a Christian believer from another tradition, may well find himself curious upon first encountering us. Who are we, the Catholics worshipping according to the Anglican Use?

The SHORT answer to the question is easily given. We are Roman Catholics, rejoicing in the fullness of the Catholic Faith in communion with our Bishop, and through him with Catholics throughout the world and with our Holy father the Pope.

Many of us were Episcopalians, members of the American branch of the world-wide Anglican Communion. When as a group we sought to be received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church, our Bishop, his Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law, very graciously made use of provisions in the law of the Church so that we might be received together and continue our parish life. The “Anglican Use” is a liturgy approved by the Church, the rite of the Book of Common Prayer used by Anglicans, but slightly modified to bring it into conformity with the tradition of the Roman Church. So, we worship using substantially the same liturgy we used as Episcopalians, but as Catholics professing gladly the full Catholic Faith.

The LONG answer involves a bit of history. Catholics often do not realize that the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century never intended to found new churches. Each of them believed that the whole church would ultimately receive his ideas. In England, the Reformation took a different shape from the rest of Europe; the Church of England preserved a three-fold structure to its ministry with bishops, priests, and deacons, and an officially required liturgy in The Book of Common Prayer.

After decades of religious wars, the established Church emerged as a deliberately “comprehensive” institution embracing both protestant believers and those who inclined towards more Catholic doctrines. With the spread of her colonies throughout the world the English Church spread as well, and ultimately the “Anglican Communion” came into being throughout the old British Empire.

A crisis hit the Anglican Communion in the mid-1800’s with the Oxford Movement. A group of theologians pioneered a theological movement that sought to recover a sense among Anglicans that the Church was not merely an official department of the state, but a mystical body united to Christ, and to emphasize the doctrines taught by the Fathers of the Church. Many Anglicans embraced this teaching about the Catholic Church through the ages as a breath of fresh air; to many others it seemed dangerously like “Romanism”, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

Controversy raged throughout Anglicanism. One of the leading figures of the Oxford Movement, John Henry Newman, joined the Roman Catholic Church and ultimately became a Cardinal and one of the Church’s leading theologians. But, the “Catholic Movement” in Anglicanism continued through the decades. The Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer was enriched with customs and traditional ceremonies, the sacraments were emphasized, feasts, fasts, and seasons observed, even religious orders sprang up within the Anglican Church. Anglicans who participated in this Catholic Movement were hopeful that ultimately the reunion of Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and the Eastern Orthodox churches would become a reality.

Sadly, this hoped-for fruit of the Oxford Movement was not to be. With the troubled decades of the 1960’s, 1970’s and afterwards, societal turmoil affected the churches as deeply as any other institution, and in the Episcopal Church and throughout the Anglican Communion the increasing divergence from the Magisterial Authority of the Catholic Church soon became evident. Elected synods and governing bodies debated and voted upon the overturning of the apostolic and scriptural tradition in areas of sexual morality and sacramental theology — it would be difficult to overstate the change in the Church’s life, as literally every aspect of teaching and discipline came or could come under dispute and discussion.

Where we had believed that as Anglicans we were somehow part of the Catholic Church, we now saw the decisions of the Anglican Church taking us further from Catholic Truth.

In our parish church, The Parish of All Saints, Ashmont, in Boston, the teaching had been clear for generations: we were hoping for reunion of all Anglicans with the Holy See. Again, Roman Catholics often do not realize how deep is the desire for reunion in the heart of members of other churches who yet remain in their churches of birth to work. In the chapel altar in All Saints Church there is a stone taken from the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, placed there deliberately to encourage us all to remember the goal of reunion.

The rest of the story is quite simple. The Second Vatican Council emphasized the scandal of Christian division. Since then the Catholic Church has made provision for believers in other communions seeking to come into full Communion with the Catholic Church.

The “Pastoral Provision” enabled married clergy of the Anglican Church to be ordained to the Catholic Priesthood and as married Catholic Priests. In the Eastern Catholic Churches united with Rome there have always been married Priests, but in the Roman Rite Priests have been celibate for centuries. The Pastoral Provision is a gracious exception made in certain cases.

The “Anglican Use” is a further generous provision. Over the centuries since the Reformation, a rich inheritance of worship and spirituality developed among Anglicans — indeed, when the Roman Mass was put into English after Vatican II, Anglican hymnals were a resource for the music the Catholic Church now required. The familiar cadences of the Book of Common Prayer served as a vehicle for beautiful worship for generations of English speaking Christians. And since the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council had explicitly said that “worthy elements of the patrimony of piety” in the life of other Christian churches could find a place in the life of the Catholic Church, our Anglican Use is actually the realization, the fulfillment of a hope offered at Vatican II.

When we were Episcopalians, we used to say, “If you’d really like to know us, join us at worship.” We can say the same as Roman Catholics today. Our special vocation, as the Anglican Use Chaplaincy of the Archdiocese of Boston, is to serve as a living invitation to Christians everywhere who long for the fullness of the living Catholic Tradition. We “swam the Tiber”, as we used to say as Anglicans — we swam the Tiber and the water was fine!! Come for Mass, and learn more about who we are.

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