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Gathering the fruit, May 21: Roman Catholics ‘recognizing’ the Anglican patrimony

The Golden Jubilee of the Anglican Centre in Rome is drawing near, and we ought to expect all kinds of extraordinary statements to emerge in the next several months regarding the affectionate dialogue between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. I want to note three interesting and relatively recent developments, some of which have gone largely unnoticed.

Malines group

In April the recently revived Malines Conversation group, an informal gathering of Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians, met at Rocca di Papa, south of Rome. Afterward, Fr. Tony Currer of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity spoke warmly of recent discussions on the mutual recognition of Anglican and Roman Catholic ministry (Radio Vaticana, April 26).

He said that the discussion had not set aside Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Apostolicae Curae, with its declaration that Anglican orders are “null and void,” but it had changed the terms of conversation.

While he notes that [reciprocal] recognition is still not fully possible, he cites many gestures to show a growing respect and recognition of the ministry exercised by Anglican bishops. In particular he recalls the gesture of Pope Paul VI, 50 years ago, of giving his own episcopal ring to the Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. Theology, Fr Tony says, “needs to catch up” and find the “theological underpinnings to these gestures”.

He adds “I think it’s true to say we don’t use the language of ‘null and void’ any more” as that’s “clearly not what is spoken by the gestures, generosity, and warmth which we see time and time again” (emphasis added).

Bishop for the Ordinariate

The distinct character of the Anglican patrimony has also been affirmed and recognized in relation to the Anglican ordinariates in two recent moves: a new bishop and a new liturgical resource.

For those who aren’t familiar with the history of the ordinariate, let me recount it briefly. In order to respond to repeated and insistent Anglican inquiries regarding reception into the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus established a process and structure for a series of “Personal Ordinariates” to receive “those Anglican faithful” who were ready to become Roman Catholics, albeit as Anglicans, retaining a distinct identity within the church. Since that time, three ordinariates have been set up: in 2011, one in England and Wales, and in 2012 one in the United States and another in Australia.

One continuing sign of the seriousness with which the Vatican is taking the ordinariates is that the first ordinariate bishop was consecrated this past February: Steven Joseph Lopes, who now leads the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, established in the United States. The appointment underlines the fact that the ordinariates are not simply a pet project of Benedict XVI, but something that Pope Francis affirms as well. As Msgr. Harry Entwistle, the ordinary of Australia’s ordinariate, said to the National Catholic Register:

“We have become a particular Church. This is a statement of confidence from the Holy Father.”

The Australian ordinary added that the ordinariates’ mission is for the entire Church: “We have a spirituality and a distinctiveness that will enrich the whole of the Catholic Church,” he said. “So we are not a ship passing in the night. … The influence of that English spiritual, theological and pastoral tradition will in fact hopefully enrich [the whole Church].”

Perhaps this last statement will puzzle some, but it is connected to the provision of Anglicanorum Coetibus that the new ordinariates retain major elements of “the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion … as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.”

These Anglican traditions are what Anglicanorum Coetibus considered, in the words of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, “elements of sanctification and of truth … found outside the visible confines” of the Roman Catholic Church. “Since these are gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”

I have long wondered what Roman Catholics thought these distinct Anglican “elements” are: In 2009, immediately after the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus, a close friend jokingly wondered if the apostolic constitution was referring to Anglican choral music, to be offered “as a treasure” to enrich the somewhat depleted musical traditions of post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism. But I have recently come across a liturgical publication that identifies some liturgical and spiritual elements quite clearly.

A new liturgical resource

The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham: Daily Prayer for the Ordinariate (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2012) is already four years old, but I had not heard of it until this past week, when a friend at Westcott House, Philip Murray, mentioned on Facebook that he had bought it. During the same week, Facebook and Amazon “suggested” it to me as a potential purchase.

(Such is the peculiar character of contemporary life that I actually was interested in it. Thank you, invasive algorithms, for your spiritual contribution. Truly God is wonderful in all his creatures. And thank you to Philip for lending me the volume for an afternoon.)

According to the preface by Andrew Burnham and Aidan Nichols, O.P., this liturgical book represents “a first step” toward further integration of the Anglican “fragments of a broken vase” into the wholeness of Western Catholicism. Its publication was timed to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, as well as the commemorations of John Fisher and Thomas More as English martyrs (Introduction, pp. ii-iii, viii).

It is a provisional, rather than final, authorized prayer book for the ordinariates (p. iii). Oddly, it only bears an Imprimatur, and not yet a Nihil Obstat. Generally speaking, its Daily Office moves beyond previous Ordinariate resources, drawing together the prayer book traditions of England and Wales, Australia, and the United States, with some small Catholicizing alterations, such as the optional removal of O Lord, open thou our lips at Evening Prayer.

Rather than presenting the sevenfold Office of the Western tradition, this book focuses on Morning and Evening Prayer largely as the BCP tradition has kept it. It has even retained small Anglican quirks and treasures, from the Coverdale psalter to the option of saying the Quicunque vult on major feasts or treating Morning Prayer as Ante-Communion. In this way, The Customary feels more recognizably Anglican than the Church of England’s Daily Prayer (2011).

Yet something else hit me harder. Since at least the 6th century (and perhaps earlier), Catholic Christians have read the writings of specially recognized, orthodox theologians during daily prayer, alongside the biblical lectionary. Perhaps the most important contribution of The Customary is its incorporation of medieval English, Welsh, and Scottish authors, as well as Anglican divines, into the ranks of the Church Fathers. These readings are proposed as alternatives “to those already given for the second, post-biblical, reading in the Officium Lectionum of the Roman Rite Liturgy of the Hours.”

The preface spells out the reasons for these selections: (1) “to assist a movement of ressourcement” in the Roman Catholic Church, one that appreciates especially the English and Welsh contribution; and (2) “to identify a body of writing which is fully in harmony with the doctrine taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, yet derives from the Anglican patrimony” (p. 25).

In other words, the writings of the Anglican divines were chosen as exhibits of just those “elements of sanctification and truth … found outside the visible confines” of Roman Catholicism.

Some might expect The Customary to lean primarily toward including pre-Reformation authors. This is especially the case when the book provides readings for English saints like Dunstan or Edmund of Abingdon (where, respectively, Bede and Matthew Paris provide the readings). But the exact opposite is true for many of the Sundays and primary feasts of year. There, many readings are from Anglican divines, namely:

  1. 17th- and 18th-century authors who were included in the Tractarians’ Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, including Andrewes, Laud, Frank, Pearson, Beveridge, and Wilson, “to whom have been added the related figures of Traherne and Ken” (p. 24)
  2. The Tractarians “and their immediate successors”: John Keble, E.B. Pusey, John Henry Newman, Robert Wilberforce, Henry Edward Manning, H.P. Liddon, and John Mason Neale
  3. 20th-century Anglo-Catholics like Gregory Dix, T.S. Eliot, Michael Ramsey, Austin Farrer, and E.L. Mascall

For example, for Easter Sunday, The Customary assigns a reading from Blessed John Henry Newman’s sermon “Christ, a Quickening Spirit” (Parochial and Plain Sermons II [Rivingtons, 1880], pp. 147-49), yet, for Wednesday in Easter week, presents an extract from Michael Ramsey’s Resurrection of Christ.

I could say much more about the resource — not least its selections from Anglican divines, its inclusion of a number of office hymns in plainsong and Anglican chant, some sung versicles, special prayers and offices for particular times, seasons, and circumstances, litanies, Marian anthems, and much else — but I think I’ll stop here.

Along with the other affirmations of the Anglican tradition I noted above, this resource marks one of the most direct proposals regarding what Roman Catholics might consider the distinctive treasures of Anglicanism. Perhaps the question now is: Might Anglicans learn to recognize them too, and embrace a similar ressourcement?

Dr. Zachary Guiliano is the Editor of Covenant, and an ordinand in the Diocese of Ely. His other posts are here 

The featured image of Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI comes via the Society of Catholic Priests


[1] Other medieval English, Welsh, and Scottish authors/mystics included are the Venerable Bede, Eadmer of Canterbury, William of Malmesbury, Adomnan, Anselm, Aldhelm, Richard Rolle, Roger of Byland, Gilbert of Hoyland, Richard of St. Victor, Isaac of Stella, John of Ford, and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing. No Julian of Norwich, however.


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