Coming Home: The Anglican Return to Rome

In his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Newman wrote that Anglicans would never convert to Catholicism en masse. Rather, individuals would come home to Rome a few at a time as they grew unable to tolerate the abuses in their own communion. Ronald Knox probably provided the best explanation for such foot-dragging in his own spiritual autobiography, The Spiritual Aeneid. It was not enough, he discovered, simply to disbelieve in a Canterbury which manifested fundamental error by tolerating so many individual errors. Rather, one must affirmatively believe in the truth taught by Rome.

The personal influence of Newman and Knox undercuts their pessimism, for these brilliant, spiritual men led many Anglicans into the Church by their personal example. If the conversion of American Episcopalians to Catholicism is accelerating, then, it must be due to reasons other than the increase of abuses—foreseen by Newman and Knox—in the ever-tolerant Anglican community. More is implicated than the failure of the American Episcopal Church last July to take a stand against the ordination of practicing homosexuals, or the election of the first female Episcopalian bishop in 1988, or the ordination of divorced men, or the 1976 General Convention’s approval of the ordination of women, or Bishop Spong of Newark’s recent pronouncement that Saint Paul was a repressed homosexual.

The positive impetus has been provided not only by famous Anglican converts—although conversions like those of New York City’s George Rutler and Oxford’s Peter Cornwell and William Oddie surely help—but by John Paul II and the magisterium itself. When the Holy Father approved, on June 20, 1980, the Pastoral Provision for former Anglicans, he made possible the expedited ordination of Anglican ministers, the incorporation of whole congregations, and the preservation of much of the Anglican liturgy. As Pope Paul VI put it in his sermon on the canonization of the Forty English Martyrs: “There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church.” Because of the Pastoral Provision and the Anglican Use liturgy it recently begat, large numbers of Episcopal ministers and parishioners are joining the Church and bringing the best of their tradition with them.

A recent manifestation of the movement occurred on February 1, 1992. Led by their priests, the Reverends Tim Church and Lloyd Morris, about half of the 200 parishioners of Holy Nativity, an Episcopalian parish in Plano, Texas, asked Bishop Charles Grahmann of Dallas to receive them into the Catholic Church. Following the ordination of Church and Morris and the reception of their parishioners, the new Anglican Use parish of Saint Gregory is expected to be erected as soon as 1993. Thanks to the Pastoral Provision and the Anglican Use, Saint Gregory’s parishioners will retain their priests and keep intact their community and much of their liturgy. Moreover, in the interim prior to their reception, they will continue to be led by their own shepherds.

Another exodus occurred last August. Led by their pastor, Father Allan Hawkins, the adult parishioners of Saint Mary the Virgin Episcopal in Arlington, Texas, voted 87 to one to seek membership in the Catholic Church. The decision is significant because Saint Mary’s is the first congregation to convert in toto. Previous converts, both ministers and parishioners, have broken away in groups. A third new parish, Saint Augustine of Canterbury, is on course to be erected in Atlanta in the coming months. Its pastor, Father Thad Rudd, was ordained in December and already celebrates Mass for its community of nearly 100 converts.

A fourth parish could be created in Corpus Christi, Texas, perhaps this year. A small community of would-be Anglican Use Catholics is already meeting weekly at Corpus Christi Academy. On May 23, Bishop Gracida of Corpus Christi was to ordain the community’s probable future pastor to the transitional diaconate. Bishop Gracida recently received two more ex-Episcopalian priests into the Church. Both are requesting ordination to the Catholic priesthood as well as the Anglican Use faculty. Yet another application is pending in San Diego, where a group of laity have petitioned for an Anglican Use parish.

Saints Mary, Gregory, Augustine of Canterbury, and perhaps the Corpus Christi and San Diego communities will join five other Anglican Use parishes already erected. The largest is Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, Texas. The parish was created in 1983 and was soon joined by a second parish, Saint Mary the Virgin (Las Vegas). Three other parishes followed: Saint Margaret of Scotland (Austin, Texas, 1984), Our Lady of Walsingham (Houston, 1984), and Good Shepherd (Columbia, South Carolina, 1984). A second Anglican Use ordination—of former Episcopal priest Jim Evans—was to take place May 28 Austin, Texas.

The glory of the Anglican liturgy is its precisely evoked sacramentality, but the convert discovers that Roman sacramentality is still more radical and awesome. It is not only fully eucharistic but also fully ecclesial, insisting on the concrete reality of a single, unified, and visible Church invisibly united with Christ.

The Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Anglican Use—an office invented by the Holy See for the purpose of overseeing these conversions and ordinations—is Cardinal Law of Boston. He is charged with implementing Rome’s decisions for the ex-Anglican communities. The Cardinal will presumably resign as Delegate if, as rumored, he joins the curia later this year. The new Ecclesiastical Delegate may be Bishop John McCarthy of Austin, Texas. The only other bishop on the Liturgical Committee of the Anglican Use, McCarthy would be a logical choice. He is knowledgeable about the Anglican Use, liked by its clergy, and located in the geographical center of the movement, which has thus far been confined to Texas and cities in the South and West. The other obvious choice would be Bishop Gracida.

American Exceptionalism

Sadly, the Pastoral Provision applies only in America. The English Catholic bishops have thus far refused to erect Anglican Use parishes. Saints Mary and John, an Anglican parish in Stoke-on-Trent, England, petitioned to be received into the Church as an Anglican Use parish in 1981. According to Father Clark Tea of St. Mary the Virgin, after the English bishops allowed the congregation and its pastor, Father Leslie Hamlett, to dangle in limbo for some eight years, he withdrew its application in 1989. The parish is now part of the so-called Continuing Church, the confederation of Anglican parishes unable to tolerate Canterbury but not joined to Rome.

The larger disaster is that no English Anglican congregation will repeat Saints Mary and John’s mistake. This is all the more puzzling if, as expected, English Anglicans vote to ordain women in their November 1992 General Synod. As Father Allan Hawkins of Arlington’s Saint Mary the Virgin observes, such a vote would end any hope of reunion with Rome and sound the death knell of ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission charged with exploring the possibilities for reunion between the Church and the Anglican Communion. A significant proportion of English Anglicans—interested observers put the figure at about ten percent—would probably leave the Church of England at that point. Some would found a splinter Anglican church, but others would pope. In turning away Saints Mary and John, perhaps the English Catholic bishops were biding their time in hopes of catching more and bigger fish. But in the interim, Catholic-leaning English Anglicans are confused. America, meanwhile, is showing the way.

According to Father James Parker of Charleston, South Carolina, who coordinates the ordination of Episcopal minister into the Roman priesthood, about 72 former American Episcopalian priests—twelve of them celibate—have been ordained since 1980. Since 1983, some 90 former American Episcopalian priests have been ordained into the Roman priesthood. Of these, seven have received the faculty to celebrate Mass in the Anglican Use, while the remainder celebrate Mass solely in the Novus Ordo. All Episcopalian priests wishing to be ordained as Catholic priests petition Rome via their local ordinary and Cardinal Law’s Office of the Ecclesiastical Delegate. Although requirements vary from one ordinary to another, the prospective Catholic priest must then be examined for orthodoxy and spend some time in study, typically at a seminary or at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He is subsequently ordained into the Roman priesthood and may receive the Anglican Use faculty if he requests it.

As Father Tea explained, the seven Anglican Use priests are bi-ritual. They must use the Novus Ordo Mass when celebrating outside of their own parish churches. There is precedent for such faculties. Although most usages are now extinct in the Roman Rite, many religious orders, including the Dominicans, Carmelites, and Carthusians, had their own rites. Two usages still extant within Latin Rite territory are the Mozarabic Rite, used in the chapel of the Cathedral of Toledo, Spain, and the Ambrosian Rite, used in some churches in the Archdiocese of Milan, Italy.

According to Father Tea, laity have an easier time in joining the Latin Rite or its Anglican Use. Anglican Use churches are personal parishes, meaning, in the words of Canon 518 in the new Code of Canon Law, that they are “determined by reason of the rite, language, or nationality of the faithful of a certain territory, or on some other basis.” In practice, this means that the parish boundaries of Anglican Use parishes are co-extensive with those of their dioceses. Episcopalian laity who convert may simply become Novus Ordo or they may advise the Latin Rite priest receiving them that they wish to retain the option of joining an Anglican Use parish should one ever be established in their diocese.

A Marriage Made in Heaven

The benefits to former Episcopalians of full Catholic communion are a valid Eucharist and an orthodox magisterium. But the Catholic Church is also enriched. To date, the “vocations crisis” has been lessened by the incorporation of some 72 priests who are mature, orthodox, and already educated at another church’s expense. These men are dedicated Catholics; indeed, many have already paid a heavy price for their devotion to orthodoxy.

The Anglican Use liturgy, one of the great fruits of the Pastoral Provision, was approved in 1987 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship in consultation with the Committee on Liturgy of the (U.S.) National Council of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). The Anglican Use’s Book of Divine Worship includes the Mass, Baptism, Holy Matrimony, Burial Rites, Liturgies for Special Occasions (e.g., the Easter Vigil), as well as a special Calendar that combines the general Roman Calendar with additional Saints from the British Isles. Anglican Use priests are authorized to say a Morning and Evening Prayer based on the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in place of the Liturgy of the Hours. In February 1992, the final version of the Book of Divine Worship was sent to a publisher for the NCCB. The Anglican worship, lost to the Church for 450 years, has come home.

Anglican Use Masses may employ one of the four eucharistic prayers of the Novus Ordo or the special Anglican Use liturgy. According to Father Moore, the three sources of the latter are the American permutations of the Book of Common Prayer, 1928 and 1979 versions, and an Anglo-Catholic version of the Anglican Missal. The latter was a translation of the Roman (Gregorian) Canon undertaken during the reign of Henry VIII, circa 1536. It is generally attributed to one Miles Coverdale. The Missal was the only English language liturgy in England prior to the first Book of Common Prayer (1549). It was a faithful translation of the Roman Canon except that it substituted a prayer for Henry VIII in the pope’s stead. It was used in London churches after Henry’s death in 1547, but only until the imposition of the Reformers’ Book of Common Prayer in 1549.

The heart of the Anglican Use liturgy is therefore a sixteenth-century translation—with prayer for the Pope restored—of the same Gregorian Canon which was later adopted by the Council of Trent and adapted by Vatican II as Eucharistic Prayer I in the Novus Ordo. The Anglican Use prayer, Eucharistic Prayer I, and the Tridentine prayer are similar versions of the same ancient prayer of the Church.

The remainder of the Anglican Use liturgy is also Catholic in origin. As Fathers Moore and Frazer explain, the 1928 and 1979 versions of the Book of Common Prayer filter additional material from the so-called Sarum Rite, the most prevalent group of Anglo-Saxon Latin liturgies predating the Council of Trent. According to Father Frazer, the Sarum Rite itself derived in part from the Gallican Rite of the eighth century. Portions of the Anglican Use Mass not in the Novus Ordo, such as the preparation at the foot of the altar and the collect for purity, are lifted from Coverdale’s translation of the pre-Tridentine Sarum Rite. These uniquely English Catholic parts of the pre-Reformation Latin Mass have now been restored to the Church.

The Majesty of Language

To appreciate the Anglican Use, imagine a whole Mass said and sung in the powerful language of the Our Father or the King James Bible. The Anglican Use’s Sarum collect (prayer) for purity begins thus:

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy Holy Name, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

It is hard to imagine a more inspirational but poignantly penitential beginning. It is followed by the summary of the Law:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

The summary is followed by the Kyrie and Gloria in sung versions virtually identical to those of the Novus Ordo.

Before the Eucharistic Prayer, the Anglican Use inserts a Penitential Rite:

Almighty God we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake….

This is a cri de coeur not allowing the penitent to shrink from a full act of contrition. It conveys the horrible truth that the least peccadillo is infinitely offensive to an infinitely good God, but it offers the precious consolation that even the most heinous sin can be mercifully remitted through Christ.

The Prayer after Communion is as evocative of gratitude as the Penitential Rite is of contrition:

Almighty and everlasting God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom….

Everlasting is doubled, as was grievous in the Penitential Rite. Clearly, the composer of the prayer had an ear for English and a gift for the apodictic. The communicant, through his humble reception of Christ in the Eucharist, is made vividly aware that he is fully a part of Christ’s mystical body; he is joined with Christ, with heaven, and with all the faithful who have gone before him.

If it is clear from these hallowed words why Episcopalians part from Canterbury reluctantly, it is also clear that the preeminent glory of the Anglican liturgy is its precisely evoked sacramentality, such that the sometime abandonment by worldwide Anglicanism—manifest in its ordination of women—of its sacramental essence forcibly shoves the Episcopalian onto the path to Rome. He then discovers that the Roman sacramentality is still more radical and awesome than the liturgical orthodoxy he has learned to pine for. Catholic sacramentality is not only fully eucharistic but also fully ecclesial, insisting upon the concrete reality of a single, unified, and visible Church invisibly united with Christ. As against the Anglican doctrine of consubstantiation—which affirms that the real presence of Christ is mediated by the eucharistic elements but stops short of affirming that the elements change their ontological substance—Catholicism insists upon the real presence of the living sacrifice of Christ, the wonderful change of the whole substance of the bread into His body and of the wine into His blood (transubstantiation).

As against the three-branch theory of Anglicanism, which holds that the three branches of the Catholic Church are the Roman, Anglican, and Orthodox communions, the Roman Church insists that it alone is the Catholic Church, because the unity promised and presided over by Christ and infused by the Spirit can never fail. This eternal unity is real and tangible—not merely symbolic—because the Church is actually headed by Christ and actually grounded on the rock of Peter. The Church herself is a single sacramental reality continually communicating the crucified, living Christ to her many members.

The ultimate meaning of the Pastoral Provision and its Anglican Use are not clear. Fathers Church and Hawkins see the Provision as a temporary bridge extended by Rome, a nearer refuge for those leaving the collapsing Episcopal communion. They see the Anglican Use partly as a haven for laity and priests who have fought the unwinnable battle to keep Anglo-Catholicism orthodox. They welcome the protection of the Roman magisterium, which upholds the faith without apology or alteration. Another scenario is envisioned by Father Tea, who suggests that the Anglican Use may presage a separate Anglican Rite. A separate Rite might hasten conversions and, more importantly, save for posterity all that is truly Catholic in Anglicanism. A logical first step towards a separate Rite would be for the Ecclesiastical Delegate to become the personal prelate of these personal parishes.

Perhaps the Anglican Use will also serve as a model for other English language versions of the Latin Rite. For all its Sarum, pre-Elizabethan language, the Anglican Use in a sense is very much a creature of Vatican II, whose Constitution on the Church and Decree on the Eastern Churches celebrate particular traditions and variety in unity. The Anglican Use is the legitimate expression of the specifically Anglo-Saxon piety that the Church has lacked for several centuries. This restored English Catholicism is stubbornly faithful, sober, learned, linguistically sensitive, and beautiful in hymnody. It adds to the splendid variety of the Church while holding out to others the blessings of unity. The Anglican Use Mass arguably achieves what Vatican II called for: a cultivated, indigenous, and orthodox liturgy in the native language.

Fruits of the Word

Another end that the Anglican Use will serve is the re-sacralization of the English language and culture. English is adept at expressing sacramental truth and mystery in liturgical and poetic contexts. That is, a religious formation of the imagination carries over into the secular context. The more articulate the formation in the Word made flesh, the more profound the effect on the individual imagination and the culture—its art, literature, and learning. Polished products of four centuries of English praying, the Anglican Use and zealous Anglican converts will enrich the American Church and nation.

The decline of Anglican literature and the concomitant rise of Catholic literature in English-speaking countries illustrate nicely the great possibilities for Angles within the Catholic Church and the impoverished prospects for those without. Catholics like Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, Muggeridge, and Tolkien have more in common with “cultural Anglicans” like T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Northrop Frye, and William Faulkner, than with other writers morganatically wedded to liberalism’s denial of objective truth. Orthodox writers are fruitful largely because they hew to Christianity’s revealed truths and sacramental worldview. They know that words and images, though intrinsically valuable, derive their value through their connection to the invisible and true Word. But Anglican literature is in a decline from which it cannot recover, because it is no longer nourished by orthodox sacramentality. The twisted view of salvation in John Cheever and the arrogant cynicism of A.N. Wilson cannot compare with the gritty message of redemption in Piers Paul Read or the surgeon’s scalpel of Walker Percy. As Canterbury becomes more eccentric, the robust culture it once nourished will wither. Rome, too, will have problems, but its errors will be those of individual sinners and never of fundamental theology.

When Paul VI spoke of the “worthy patrimony” of Anglo-Saxon Christianity, he was aware of Augustine of Canterbury, Bede, Cuthbert, Boniface, Anselm, Thomas a Becket, Thomas More, Newman, and Knox. Perhaps he and John Paul were also minded of places where man’s cooperation with grace and mastery of nature wrought the edifices at Glastonbury, Tintern, Salisbury, Oxford, Cambridge, and Canterbury. Perhaps the pontiffs recalled England’s Christian literature—Beowulf, Chaucer, Donne, Herbert, Hopkins—or its great contributions to liberty under law. The heirs to this tradition have much to give. But they have more to receive. Newman, in The Idea of a University, put it best: “England and Ireland are not what they once were, but Rome is where it was, and Saint Peter is the same: his zeal, his charity, his mission, his gifts are all the same.”

  • Charles Helms

    Charles Helms holds a D.Phil. in Theology at Oxford University.

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