Friday, October 30, 2009

On the Anglican Reunion

I have been following developments in the Anglican Church for some time now. I don't know if it is my British ancestry (my mother is a New England Yankee, raised Episcopalian), or if it is just my American cultural heritage - tied as it is at its root to British culture. I have always felt close to England, and interested in the fate of English-speaking Catholics.

For those who need background, the Anglican Church is otherwise known as the Church of England, and was separated from the body of Christendom in the sixteenth century after the Pope refused to grant an annulment to Henry VIII of England. Since that time, the monarch is the head of the Church of England. Unlike many other European churches that came under the authority of the state, the Church of England retained many doctrines, practices, and beliefs that are considered 'Catholic'. There has always existed within the Church of England so-called 'Anglo-Catholics' who believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, go to confession, and honor Our Blessed Lady in special ways.

In recent years the Anglican Communion (a network of church organizations associated with the Church of England and roughly coterminous with the former holdings of the British Empire) has been strained by what can only be called factions within the Church. Anglo-Catholics and some conservative Evangelicals have been at odds with more numerous so-called 'progressives' over issues such as women's ordination, the ordination of openly gay men, and gay 'marriage'.

There is an irony, which I do not relish, in all this. Anglicans have hung tenaciously to their cultural faith for hundreds of years. The English are amongst the most culturally anti-Catholic nations in the world. Until fairly recently, the Pope was burned in effigy every November 5 on Guy Fawkes Day. The plight of faithful Anglicans has been to remain in their pews as the barque of Henry slowly sinks beneath the waves of Modernism. Their only life-line, the Catholic Church, was barred by the very same faithfulness that kept them in their pews.

It has been a long decline, and many faithful Anglicans are finally fed up. Anglicans have divided over the above-mentioned issues, and have now formed breakaway provinces that hew to traditional mores. Some attempts at compromise have been tried - which have been like trying to reconcile the Key West Fantasy Parade and a Fatima Procession.

So, after appeals from disenfranchised Anglicans, the Holy Father has taken the unprecedented step of welcoming a mass defection - allowing Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church pretty much as-is, with their parishes, their rites, their priests, and all. This is no slow rapprochement, marked by vacuous statements of Christian unity. The existing Catholic/Anglican ecumenical apparatus had been issuing decrees on shared doctrine, all while the Anglicans were blessing homosexual unions and marching forward in matters related to women's ordination.

The Holy Father's decision has a gravitas that appears as a magnanimous supercision of cultural and intellectual cul de sacs. The Pope is the father of all Christians, and his concern is for his flock, and as a good shepherd he cares most for his sheep - not their errant custodians.

Upon reflection, I think my love of the English Church comes from my love of English literature, and especially the literature of English Catholics. Newman, Faber, Chesterton, and Belloc have long had my heart - their struggles have been mine. Through their words, I can almost feel the chill wind that blew past Newman in the Birmingham Oratory.

I am truly happy to hear of this reunion. I long to hear the Anglican use liturgy celebrated in a Catholic manner, to partake of the Eucharist in a rite long celebrated by my kinsmen. And I welcome another division of God's children to the Catholic fold - all the more because they are my mother's people.

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