Darkness has fallen over late November London, and the first Vigil Masses anticipating the beginning of a new liturgical year have been said. Gold and green have given way to purple, and the last days of thanksgiving and great rejoicing have made way for a period of preparation.
In our post last week entitled Christ the King, we reflected briefly on the sadness we feel at entering a new liturgical year without those beside whom we knelt at the communion rail for many years at St Mary's Bourne St. That is not to say that we regret our decision to become Catholics: we most certainly do not, and we remain very grateful for the Holy Father's initiative of Anglicanorum Coetibus, but as with any Parting of Friends, unavoidably, there is a bittersweet edge to it.
The post that has become by far the most read on our little blog is More than Words, which considers the implications for those who remain in the Church of England and who attempt to continue as faithful Anglo-Catholics, following the Anglican Bishop of London's latest pronouncements on the entitlement of Anglican clergy to use the new translation of the Roman Missal. This sort of announcement, while it makes us more and more aware of the challenges faced by those of our brothers and sisters who have stayed behind, also makes us even more certain of the wisdom of our decision.
An article in this week's Church Times (the main newspaper reporting on Church of England matters) reported Dr Chartres's comments, and mentioned how his edicts are to be interpreted at a parish that was historically a stronghold of Anglo-Catholicism. The Vicar in that parish has announced that the Church of England's own liturgy, Common Worship, will be introduced from tomorrow, ending a 40-year tradition of using the Roman Rite, with all that that useage implied.
For those in the Church of England who have no interest in the Ordinariate, then the Bishop of London's announcement and the issuing of the new translation of the Roman Rite, offer an opportunity to reflect, and to restate a more unambiguously Anglican position. Perhaps that is what the good people of Holy Redeemer Clerkenwell have decided, and if so then it is of course their right to follow that path, and even if we might have wished that things were different, we must all wish each other all the best as we continue on our different paths. For parishes in this position, wishing to move on and perhaps distance themselves from a more overtly pro-Catholic past, the latest developments might be welcome.
However, there are still those in the Church of England who are in some turmoil over this. They may not feel ready to move to the Ordinariate or to elsewhere in the Catholic Church, but equally they have no wish to distance themselves even further from the Church founded on the Rock that is St Peter and his successors. Our post More than Words concluded that the Bishop of London's logic seemed correct, but of course we would have found it a very unwelcome announcement during our own days as Anglicans. As such, we understand very well how those in favour of using the Roman Rite in the Church of England must be feeling at the moment.
The easy, and in some ways over-simplistic, answer we could shout from the rooftops is of course to do as we have done. Here in the Catholic Church, using a rite that expresses unity with the Pope and the Catholic Church is not something that has to be done secretly in corners, away from the disapproval of diocesan officials. No, it is quite simply what happens every week and every day, without exception.
That over-simplistic answer understates many difficulties of course, and as former Anglicans we understand just how challenging it can be to make a decision to move. We do not intend to be glib or smug about this, and we most certainly do not intend to be gleeful or triumphant : few are sadder than we are that the hopes of ecclesial unity that once seemed so real, even so very recently, are drifting further and further into the realms of fantasy. Our blogpost on the first Feast of Blessed John Paul II compared the joyful hopes of unity that existed at the time of that great man's visit to the UK in 1982 with the situation today. We too shared the dreams of Anglo-Catholicism that a form of corporate reunion would one day take place.
Well, like the darkness falling over November London, we fear that the Bishop of London's letter is another step along the way towards the end of that dream. As an Anglican bishop, he has every right to demand a more Anglican vision for, and practice in, his diocese, especially now that ever more accessible alternatives exist for those who wish to share, and to express, communion with the Successor of Peter. Who can doubt that another step will come with next year's General Synod of the Church of England: the overwhelming support of Diocesan Synods across England (except that of London and that of one other diocese) for certain legislation that is unlikely to advance the cause of Catholic Unity must surely give some foretaste of what is ahead.
The Church of England is, after many years of attempting to be many different things to many different people, moving towards a more confident and clear definition of itself. That may not be the definition that we would have chosen for it, but it is the definition towards which its democratically elected system of governance is moving. One may disagree with the idea that religious truth is something that depends on the assent of a majority, and one may say that something is either true or it isn't, regardless of whether people like it or not : but, as a matter of fact, the Church of England operates in that way, and has decided upon a certain path, and it has the right to follow that path. The Church of England does not need our approval for any decision it makes.
So is it unkind, or is it actually rather merciful, for the Bishop of London to have written his letter in this way at this time? Is he kicking people when they're down, or is he doing everyone a favour and asking them to make a decision about the future they truly want?
Enough. Let us not intrude further.
As we now enter Advent, a period of preparation, a period of readying ourselves for the marking of Christ's coming and of contemplation of his second coming, and a period when we focus on the Four Last Things and what might be our own futures, it is time now for a little Anglican Patrimony (in fact, almost Methodist....).
One of the most powerful Advent hymns, as indeed already posted by our friends at the Facebook page of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending. In the link in the previous sentence, you will find this majestic hymn in all its glory, with organ, timpani, trumpets and descant.
O, Come Quickly. Alleluia, come Lord, come.