You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

09 December 2009

Stephen Trott ponders the Anglican ‘patrimony’ in the light of Pope Benedict’s invitation

At the altar: Pope Benedict XVI gives a blessing at a joint service with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Redemptoris Mater chapel, in the Vatican, on 23 November 2006 REUTERS

At the altar: Pope Benedict XVI gives a blessing at a joint service with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Redemptoris Mater chapel, in the Vatican,...

THE recent announcement of an Apostolic Constitution for Anglicans, Anglicanorum Coetibus, raises the question what exactly constitutes the “Anglican patrimony” that those who decide to accept the papal invitation might be able to carry with them into their new life and ministry in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Anglican liturgical tradition was at the forefront of the pastoral provision that was made by the late Pope John Paul II for former Anglican parishes in the United States, resulting in the publication in 2003 of The Book of Divine Worship, based on the American Prayer Books of 1928 and 1979, and given the imprimatur of Cardinal Bernard Law.

The beauty of the English liturgy has long been admired outside the Church of England, and the new text made it possible for it to be used within the Roman Catholic Church, by means of a number of amendments that make it conform more closely with the Roman Missal.

In England, however, many of the clergy and parishes that might be thought most likely to seek to join a new Ordinariate for former Anglicans already use the Roman Missal, in part or in full, rather than the English Missal of previous generations. What kind of liturgy would they use, or wish to use, or be permitted to use, within the new arrangements being made for them within the Roman Catholic Church in England?

The Constitution is predicated on an expressed desire for former Anglicans to retain something of their liturgical identity, but detail is noticeably lacking, given that retention of an identifiable rite of their own is something of a raison d’être for the new Ordinariates.

ARRANGEMENTS for the reception and ordination of married Anglican clergy are not new: they have enabled numbers of English clergy to continue their ministry as Roman Catholics in recent years.

The Constitution also maintains the express requirement for unconditional fresh ordination for those who are to serve as clergy in the Ordinariate, along with an absolute bar on the ordination of married men as bishops (although, after ordination to the priesthood, those who are currently Anglican bishops may be permitted to serve as priests, as Ordinaries, and to retain their episcopal insignia and be treated as retired bishops).

Other aspects of our Anglican patrimony may not be, however, as readily transferable into the Ordinariate as the clergy themselves. While the clergy will be able to take with them their existing pension entitlements, including their hous­ing, if they are already retired, those who are in service will not receive further contributions to their pension fund. They will depend on the local Conference of Roman catholic bishops for any stipend and housing which they may receive as serving ministers, and for retirement provision once they reach the age of 75.

WHAT kind of ministry will former Anglican clergy exercise once the process of reception, retraining, and ordination has taken place? The very pastoral and evangelistic ministry that they will leave behind in the Church of England is surely the most significant of all aspects of their Anglican patrimony, and it remains to be seen how this can be continued by the Ordinariate.

Many Anglican clergy who are contemplating secession will not wish to be parted from their existing pastorate. For many, having to accept the force of Apostolicae Curae, which formally denies the sacramental efficacy of their ministry as Anglican priests, will be a considerable struggle of conscience.

THE architectural and cultural heritage of the Church of England is unique and outstanding, and, while it is, of course, not essential in the same way as the Bible, the creeds, and the sacraments, it forms a very significant portion of what it is to be an Anglican in England. Clergy and congregations work hard to maintain and improve their church buildings and churchyards.

Where we worship can be as important as how we worship: holy places carry resonances that affect us, no matter how we try to protest otherwise. Our church buildings are hallowed by our prayers and by the rites of passage which we mark within them, and those whom we love are buried in the churchyards surrounding them.

All sort of guesstimates have been put forward, but it seems likely that the number of lay people taking part in the new Ordinariate will be very modest, and that there will be very few congregations prepared to leave en bloc for the new Ordinariate with their Anglican priest, not least because this will necessitate leaving behind a greatly loved place of worship.

English law very firmly roots ownership of our churches in the benefice concerned. They do not belong to the congregation, and, although they are vested in the incumbent for the time being, it is not personal ownership but trusteeship for the parish concerned. It is possible for the ownership of a church to be changed or shared, but it is a cumbersome procedure, and requires the consent of a number of parties, including those who remain as members of the Church of England in the parish concerned. Sharing experiments took place in London in the 1990s, but were ultimately abandoned as unhelpful.

LESS tangible but equally important is the very particular pastoral tradition of the Church of England, which rightly understands itself to be at the service of the whole com­munity, including all who live in every parish. Its identification with the long history of the national Church opens many doors to its ministry and mission, as well as opening wide its own doors in welcome to those who are not committed churchgoers, those who are not in the pews every Sunday, not on the electoral roll, and not subscribers to a stewardship scheme.

The occasional offices — baptisms, weddings, and funerals — form a vital bridge to the wider community, which in turn values its connection with the Church to which it acknowledges it belongs.

Within the Church of England’s parish churches there are many people who have responded to this openness and generosity of ministry, drawn gently to consider more deeply their need for faith and to find it in a Church that does not immediately ask hard questions or require formal membership as a precondition of receiving its ministry.

There are considerable numbers who have been divorced and later married again, who would not be eligible to receive holy communion in other churches, including those who have become Anglicans for this very reason, having found them­selves excom­municated in their own church community.

Equally, there can be very few who would accept the requirements of Humanae Vitae concerning birth control, or who would consent to private confession as a compulsory requirement of membership.

THE Apostolic Constitution has no doubt been designed with generosity of spirit as a response to the expressions of need being received from Anglicans, but Anglicanorum Coetibus is not the Uniate-style solution for which many had hoped — a Church with its own jurisdiction and its own rite, capable of maintaining the very identity that enriches our Christian faith as Anglicans.

Those who embrace it must face a hard decision: to leave behind the very things that have sustained them in their Christian pilgrimage thus far, for assimilation into an unknown future in an Ordinariate that is neither Anglican nor fully part of mainstream Roman Catholicism.

The Revd Stephen Trott is Rector of Pitsford, in Peterborough diocese, and a member of the General Synod.

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