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There’s Catholicism and Then There’s…

The announcement that the Traditional Anglican Communion seeks full union with Rome isn’t really news. It’s been their objective for a long time.  The obvious dumb question here is, “why don’t they just swim the Tiber and get it over with?”

Part of the reason may lie in the fact that the Roman Catholic Church–wrongly, I believe–won’t accept Anglican ordinations.  I’ve always felt that this is punishment for having seceded from Catholicism as opposed to the Orthodox churches, which drifted apart.  But those who are priests and bishops in the TAC would doubtless like to continue their role at the altar once they’ve arrived at their desired destination.

A more noble reason is tied up with the TAC’s use of Anglican liturgies and practices.  Anglo-Catholicism is an attempt to make work what John Henry Newman could not: a synergy of Anglican and Catholic church life and practice.

Having been Episcopalian (pre-1979 prayer book) and Catholic at various times in my life, I always frame this issue in a simple way: the difference between my last service at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church and my first Mass at St. Edward’s Catholic Church, both in Palm BeachI’ve dealt with this issue before but perhaps an illustration would make things clearer.

Bethesda wasn’t quite an Anglo-Catholic church then, but the undertow was there: very formal liturgy (and trained acolytes to help with it,) paid youth and adult choirs to make sure they got it right, and very long (~1 hr 30 min) Holy Communions with all of Cramner’s antique prose topped off by the 1928 Prayer Book’s prayer for the dead.  And everyone dressed up for the occasion.

St. Edward’s was a whole different story: modern liturgy (the Novus Ordo Missae had only been official for two years,) no music at many Masses, no intonations of “Gawd” from the altar like the Episcopalians did.  Without music and with the right celebrant, thirty-five minutes and the sacred mysteries were done, at which point all of the men stampeded out in their golf shirts, presumably having made a tee time at the Everglades Club or the Breakers.  (Catholics’ way of dressing down for Mass was way ahead of its time.)

Anglo-Catholicism always liked a “frillier” form of Christianity, presumably because it looked and felt good and because it helped to drive home the sacredness of what they were doing.  Roman Catholicism can certainly do the ceremonial when the occasion calls for it, but the efficacy of the sacraments is driven by the nature of the church, not because of how elaborately the sacred mysteries are celebrated.

Although I have serious reservations about Roman Catholicism and the role of the church it espouses, if you’re going to be Catholic, do it right.  Swim the Tiber.  Use a life jacket if you have to.  If you’re not, do that right too and be a part of a church whose main mission is that of Jesus Christ himself: “The Son of Man has come to ‘search for those who are lost’ and to save them.” (Luke 19:10)


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