The critical moment seems to have finally arrived for Anglicans who hold the Catholic faith. They are being shown the door in England as well as in the United States, usually with smiles and expressions of endearment. “We want you to stay,” they say. It seems sadistic, “Please stay and let me torture you some more.”
Anglo-Catholics have been looking for a home for quite some time. One hears of an 1845 moment, referring to John Cardinal Newman, soon to be the Venerable. Some have looked to Rome. Some to the East. I went the latter direction in 1991.
I think it is worth describing a little bit of my personal journey and my experience for those who are looking around just now. This is not necessarily a recruitment article as you will see soon enough, but I hope it will illumine something of the lay of the land.
I came from Saint Timothy Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas, mentored by Fr. George M. Acker, SSC. It set my vision of the Church and her liturgical life. I have never left that original vision behind—except briefly because of a temper tantrum. Saint Timothy was, and largely still is, an old-fashioned missal mass parish. We continued to live in that lovely world of Ritual Notes and the old liturgical dispensation of the West. I still cannot think of anything more beautiful: daily mass, a line for confessions on Saturday, Stations of the Cross and Benediction on Fridays in Lent, Solemn High Mass every Sunday, the All Souls’ Requiem Mass with orchestra and choir in Latin… It gets down deep into your bones. The magnificence of the meter of Elizabethan English for liturgical prayer. As I said, it is still my heart.
When I was soon to go to Nashota House, I found I could no longer call the Episcopal Church home. There was a new Western Rite Antiochian Orthodox parish in Dallas, Texas and I joined it. The vision that I heard for the Western Rite was exactly what I had lived for those years before.
Why Orthodoxy? Very pragmatic answer. I felt I had a vocation to the priesthood, since confirmed by the Church, and I was married with three children. The Catholic Church was not a possibility to me at that time because there was no Anglicanorum Coetibus which could potentially allow for married seminarians to be ordained. And there was the Western Rite. Now that’s not a glowing endorsement I know. But it is certainly where I started. And I think it is often where many an Anglican starts. Where can I find a home that I can live the faith I have received, practiced and cherished?
The necessity of unity with the larger Church is absolutely necessary. Anglicanism can never mature if it remains separated in its own little pond, it must be united to the rest of the Church Catholic (I’m referring Orthodoxy and/or Rome here). We have watched the Oxford movement grow, thrive and now become almost extinct. It’s arguments are increasingly unsupportable because it is connected to those who espouse heresy. There have only been two legitimate directions for Anglo-Catholics to go: (1) Rome, or (2) Orthodoxy.
Let’s take up the Western Rite in Orthodoxy first because I know it personally. I do have to point out that many former Anglicans have become Eastern Rite and absolutely are at home there, but I don’t think that most will find that a fit so I’ll not spend any time with that at all.
Western Rite Orthodoxy, sometimes called Western Orthodoxy, is a disorganized collection. It has been tried in virtually every jurisdiction at one point or another with varying success. In the United States there are primarily two jurisdictions which have a Western Rite, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Antiochian Archdiocese. Between the two are several different visions of what a Western Orthodoxy should be. In ROCOR it seems that each of their five or so parishes have a slightly different take on it and they take shots at one another about which one is truly Orthodox. The same happens to a degree in the Antiochian Archdiocese but it is not as pugilistic. Not being in ROCOR, I won’t spend any time reviewing their experience or expression because I really can’t speak to it with any honesty. God bless them. About the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, I can speak since I have served it in the past and still support it. It is by far the larger group of the two.
Let me warn you though, my analysis will not be for the weak of stomach because it’s not a pretty picture that I’ll be painting. The picture of incredible potential but very little hope of achieving it. On paper it should be very much like what the Pope has presented in the Anglicanorum Coetibus, but it doesn’t work out that way and here is where this might be instructive to those who are considering either option.
The Western Rite Vicariate (WRV) technically is supposed to be an honest-to-goodness vicariate under the Metropolitan Archbishop, with a Vicar General who administers it on his behalf. Unfortunately there is a tense struggle (I wouldn’t call it an all-out war) going on about whether or not the WRV parishes are of a Vicariate or if they are diocesan. It causes tremendous problems. Bishops receive communities different according to their own requirements—which is appropriate in dioceses, but it divides the witness and consistency of the WRV. Some communities are easily received, others are not and it seems to outsiders as being arbitrary. Furthermore, Eastern diocesan bishops do not know the liturgical life of the WR, so how can they keep the discipline of these parishes? The great temptation is to “byzantinize” the WRV parishes. This has happened occasionally for several reasons. Orthodoxy is not the only one who has suffered such on a minority rite, just ask the Eastern Rite Catholics about their experience of the Latin bishops in the first 50 or so years of the twentieth century in the U.S. I’ve seen pictures of their parishes without iconostasis and the priests wearing surplices. Thankfully, Rome’s Apostolic Constitution is much clearer and more precise on this count, so those who are wanting to go to Rome this will not be an issue. Those who are considering the WRV, know that it really is. The tragedy is that it doesn’t have to be.
In our WRV administration has been absolutely awful if not downright destructive. The previous Vicar General seemed to deliberately thwart the work he was supposed to promote, safeguard and grow. The current Vicar General—a very dear personal friend of mine—is impossible to reach and he doesn’t return phone calls. He has an assistant, wonderful man, who is a full-time teacher and mission priest. Surely Rome will have better administration than this, they seem to be able to organize much better than we.
The starting point of parochial life is its liturgical life. For that to happen there must be liturgical books. I am particularly sensitive to this because I’ve been involved with typesetting and graphic design work for a number of years now. (It is not enough to have the text printed it must be beautifully done.) To produce liturgical books requires complete authorized texts, not just a Canon. The entire liturgical cycle must be determined and authoritatively promulgated. This in turn requires a singular vision about what the liturgy is to be. In the WRV we have a great difficulty here, but I sense there will be something of a struggle ahead for parishes in the Anglican Ordinariates too.
Our trouble stems from an inherent Romophobia of some of our clergy, sad to report but it’s true. “If it’s Roman, it must be wrong ipso facto,” characterizes their assumptions. They are often still trying to fight the battles of the 16th century Reformation which are not categories for the Orthodox. Another temptation is to develop an archeologically pleasing rite. What existed before the Great Schism of 1054? Let’s re-create the Sarum use (this later will be one of the tugs I can see in the Anglican Ordinariates). The essential vision of what the Church is and what her liturgical life is rests at the bottom of the entire difficulty. I personally embrace the 1950s missal mass because that was a living continuous rite that our people have worshipped and prayed. When our WRV was established in 1957, that was still living in the West... it was not a strange use. We ought to simply continue what was authorized and not try to recreate a “more pure” version, something that is essentially a Protestant notion. Prayer is alive and liturgical prayer is received.
Publishing has been a major obstacle for our WRV and it may be one for an Anglican Ordinariate until there are sufficient parishes to fund the work of printing. We have needed altar missals and the one we have relied on, the English Missal, has been out of print for ages. Our Ritual, which contains Baptism and such, is poorly done, without pagination, table of contents or index. There is no Christian education material that takes for granted the different liturgical experience. Parishes need these things not only to grow but to survive.
I have often heard the misinterpretation that the WRV is simply a tool for getting Episcopalians into the Orthodox Church and then force them to become Eastern Rite. That’s not true. I don’t know of a parish that has ever been forced to change rites. The dirty truth is that clergy and laity get demoralized at having to create everything from scratch. They see their ER brethren and say, “it would be so much easier.” There is not a deliberate conspiracy, that would imply far more organizational skills to us than I think can be assumed.
But if Orthodoxy, specifically our Western Rite is tough, there are things that will make Rome difficult too. Obedience is one of them (that will be true with Orthodoxy as well). We can’t just make up our practices and our faith as we jolly well please. Frankly, for me that’s been a liberty, but if you’re in the habit it might be tough. It will impact marriages (more specifically remarriage), female deacons—what will Fort Worth do with them all?—all aspects of our life.
Liberal Catholics, an oxymoron, are well known. Pilosi and her ilk are everywhere. There are many within the Roman Church who are just as liberal as those in TEC, some more. The only difference is that while they might get some traction here, they can't get too high up the food chain of official support. The fights over essential theology will still occur as will fights over women's ordination. Of course, some would bring up the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, but I think that unworthy. All ecclesial communities and Churches have had this problem. It is a human problem, not an ecclesial one. The trouble is that we have failed to exercise proper discipline in this regard. It effects the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Baptists, the Methodists... God knows the Anglicans too. Enough said.
How will Anglo-Catholics handle Neo-Con Catholics, whose approach is largely philosophical? The rich traditional of mature Anglo-Catholicism has always been both theological with greats like E. L. Maschal or Francis Hall, and liturgical. The liturgical life has always formed a nucleus from which everything else rightly flows. Lex orandi, lex credendi. This is fundamentally an Orthodox approach, but one which Neo-Cons don't seem to be too interested, some exceptions are due of course. This will be one of the greatest struggles they will have to face and I hope that they can be the leaven in that lump. But it should be honestly pointed out.
I’ve painted a dark picture (at least of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate) but I don’t think it needs to be. It can be a marvelous flower too. It would take a group of parishes that could come in at the same time. I think as a group they could honestly present the incredible offering of the Pope to Anglicans and ask our Metropolitan if he would be willing to match it. I think if he could see a block of parishes like the former Evangelical Orthodox Mission, he would do so. It would certainly be the salvation of the AWRV. It would be an easier sale to the parishioners regarding the issue of marriages and such too.
Regardless of the direction that Anglicans go, one very difficult question will follow them. What is an Anglo-Catholic? They will not be able to shake that problem because they will need a unified vision of what the Church is and what her worship is for them to find a stable home. I hope they can all find home.