29 April 2007

A lucky escape...

Several years ago (ok, I was still in college so it was lots and lots of years ago), I was in an automobile accident. I was stopped for a red light, minding my own business, and a car slammed into me from behind. I hadn’t seen it coming so it was a shock when it happened, but my immediate thought was that it had probably dented my bumper pretty badly. At least, that was my thought until I got out of the car and went behind to look. I was driving a Volkswagen bug (as I still do), and what I hoped was a fender-bender turned out to be a major wreck. The engine had been pushed into the back seat, and what was already a small car looked like a concertina. I can still remember being astonished at how much damage was done.

The memory of that accident popped into my mind as I was thinking about my time in the Episcopal Church. It’s been twenty-five years since I left, and at the time it felt as though I had been in an accident. I thought I was pretty happy as an Anglican cleric, driving along and minding my own business until I got slammed from behind by the agenda we’ve seen playing out in the Episcopal Church ever since. At first a lot of us thought it was a minor accident, but it served as a wake-up call that the vehicle we were traveling in wasn’t very safe, and it might be as well to trade it in for something safer and more solid. It wasn’t until we got out that we realized we had been in a major pile-up with a huge number of fatalities.

Some years ago I wrote an article for the magazine Lay Witness, in response to this question: “What is the state of relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, and what does the Catholic Church teach about the validity of the sacraments within Anglicanism?”

Here is that article, and I think it addresses the tragedy of the situation, as well as the basic cause of it all, although as I read it again after the passage of some time, I don't think I was imagining the situation could have become as bad as it is today in Anglicanism:

The Catholic Church takes seriously the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ "that they all may be one" (Jn. 17:21), and so there are ongoing discussions and efforts to overcome those things that separate Anglicans from Catholics. Because the Catholic Church has a responsibility to present the truth as revealed in Scripture and Tradition, it is necessary at times to be clear about those areas in which other Christians have deviated from Christ's teaching. Although there are striking similarities between Anglicans and Catholics, there remain serious areas of doctrinal disagreement which mean that the sad divisions, for now, continue.

In the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (UR), the Fathers of Vatican II expressed concern over the divisions which hinder the work of the one Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ. They identified "two principal types of division which affect the seamless robe of Christ" (UR, no. 13), as set forth below:

The first divisions occurred in the East, either because of the dispute over the dogmatic formulae of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, and later by the dissolving of ecclesiastical communion between the Eastern Patriarchates and the Roman See.

Still other divisions arose in the West more than four centuries later. These stemmed from the events which are commonly referred to as the Reformation. As a result, many communions, national or confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican communion occupies a special place
(emphasis added).

It is because of this "special place" that the division between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion is especially tragic. Adding to the confusion is the "exterior" of Anglicanism, which appears to be so similar to that of Catholicism. In fact, many Catholics ask Anglicans who have entered the Catholic Church, "Why would you become a Catholic? The churches are almost the same, aren't they?"

Indeed, among Anglicans and Catholics there is a like understanding of the hierarchical nature of the Church as expressed in the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons; there is a similar understanding of the importance of sacramental life; there is an acceptance of the great creedal formulas as being foundational statements of faith. The list of similarities could go on, giving support to the statement in UR that the Anglican Communion continues to exhibit many "Catholic traditions and institutions." Unfortunately, this list cannot include a similar understanding of authority, particularly papal authority. The lack of agreement in this one area is the source of other doctrinal differences, and forms the basis for the ongoing division which hinders reunion.

A Brief History

In order to understand Anglican-Catholic relations today, it is necessary to understand something of the historical situation. The establishment of an English Church separate from the Roman Catholic Church took place in 1534 with the Act of Supremacy. In the Act of Supremacy, King Henry VIII declared that "the king's majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England." It was not Henry's desire to establish a separate church. Rather, he simply wanted to eliminate that papal authority which was preventing him from putting away one wife so that he could take another. By rejecting what he viewed as the pope's temporal jurisdiction, the king was able to declare himself the temporal head of a national church, and so "give himself permission" to carry out his planned divorce and remarriage. The matters of administering the sacraments and preaching were rightly seen as the work of the clergy, but the sovereign appropriated to himself all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, even to the choosing and licensing of the bishops. It is evident, however, that King Henry VIII did not want a complete rupture with the Catholic faith, but rather wished to attempt to maintain a "nonpapal Catholicism" in his realm.

Unfortunately, King Henry VIII did not understand the danger of removing part of the Church from the authority of the successor of St. Peter. Resultantly, he opened the door for a number of strong individuals who sympathized with the Protestantism sweeping through parts of Europe. As long as Henry lived, much of Catholic belief survived. For example, in the Articles of Faith, which were issued in 1536, the Eucharistic presence was called "corporal and substantial" (although the term "transubstantiation" was not used). Furthermore, it affirmed that justification was attained by "contrition and faith joined with charity," images of the saints were to be retained along with seeking their intercession, and prayers for the departed were encouraged.

With the succession in 1537 of Henry's son, Edward VI, Anglicanism took a distinct turn toward a radical Protestantism. King Henry's "non-papal Catholicism" was cut off from its roots and became a modified form of Calvinism. There was a specific denial of the sacrificial nature of the Mass, many Catholic practices were suppressed, and the bishops and other clergy were required to subscribe to the 42 Articles of Religion, which were entirely Protestant in their content.

At the death of King Edward VI in 1553, Mary Tudor became queen. With her accession to the throne, England was returned briefly to Catholicism. However, there remained a strong undercurrent of Protestantism. When Queen Mary died in 1558 she was succeeded by Elizabeth I, the queen who would give expression to an Anglicanism founded upon the years of upheaval which had gone before—an Anglicanism which would attempt to be a "via media" between the Catholic faith and continental Protestantism—an "Elizabethan settlement," seeking to embrace elements of both, yet being neither.

Queen Elizabeth herself had no strong personal religious convictions. However, she disliked Catholicism because it denied the legitimacy of her birth (since she was the offspring of Henry's invalid marriage to Anne Boleyn), and she disliked Protestantism because it abolished the episcopacy, which she felt was necessary for the safety of the monarchy. So it was that Elizabeth set the course for Anglicanism down the "middle way," and the practice of religion in England was, at best, chaotic at the beginning of her reign. Old rituals were retained alongside new rites. Many of the clergy were still Catholics held over from the days of King Henry VIII. The doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist was not specifically denied, but worship was conducted using a decidedly Protestant Book of Common Prayer. The 42 Articles of Religion were revised as the 39 Articles of Religion, and although they were written in such way that a somewhat Catholic interpretation could be imposed upon them, they specifically denied much of what the Catholic faith would hold as being essential.

The Loss of Valid Sacraments

In the transitional period from King Henry VIII into the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the clergy (for the most part) were validly ordained bishops and priests, having been ordained before the Act of Supremacy was declared. The settlement during the Elizabethan reign was based upon the Prayer Book of 1552, which was vastly more "Protestant" than that of 1549. Included within the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer was the ordination rite, which was used for the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons.

Drastic changes were made in the Anglican rite, reflecting the Protestant rejection of the traditional sacrificial priesthood instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, when the Anglican formularies for ordination are combined with the expressed view and intention of the Protestant reformers who compiled the rite, it was evident that Holy Orders no longer were able to be transmitted as historically understood by the Church. When Pope Julius III attempted to reconcile the Anglican Church to the Holy See during the reign of Queen Mary, the Pope sent Cardinal Pole as his legate to England, with the specific instruction to distinguish between two different situations:

[T]he first, those who had really received sacred orders, either before the secession of Henry VIII, or, if after it and by ministers infected by error and schism, still according to the accustomed Catholic Rite; the second, those who were initiated according to the Edwardine Ordinal, who . . . had received an ordination that was null.

It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that in order for any sacrament to be valid, it must be administered with a proper form (i.e., using a valid rite) and with a proper intention (i.e., that no defective intention be stated or manifested externally). Because those who formulated the Anglican rite for ordination specifically expunged any reference to the traditional Catholic priesthood, and were quite public in their intention not to continue what they considered to be a "superstitious" understanding of Holy Orders, ordinations carried out using the Anglican formularies were null and void. Because the sacrament of Holy Orders is so intimately associated with the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and of Reconciliation, these sacraments also were not able to be validly celebrated by those who were ordained according to the Book of Common Prayer.

The whole matter of the invalidity of Anglican orders was given exhaustive study by a commission appointed by Pope Leo XIII. His papal bull Apostolicae Curae, issued on September 15, 1896, stated that because of a defect in both form and intention, apostolic succession was not preserved in Anglican orders. This was most recently confirmed in 1998 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in his commentary on the Apostolic Letter Ad Tuendam Fidem ("To Protect the Faith") issued by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

The Situation Today

During the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, there was a renewed hope that agreement could be found between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, agreement that would allow union. It was hoped that the Catholic Church would not simply absorb Anglicans, but would allow them to maintain a distinctive liturgical and hierarchical life in full communion with the Holy See.

To this end, in an attempt to see if agreement could be reached, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was established to study those issues which were causing separation. In many areas a deeper understanding certainly has been found, but the necessary agreement in essential areas has not been achieved. The Anglican decision to "ordain" women, as well as the widening gulf in moral teaching on such issues as artificial birth control and abortion has presented serious, if not insurmountable, problems for any future reunion—even if the invalidity of Anglican orders could be remedied.

Throughout the years, there have been many sincere Anglicans who have sought to justify the position that Anglicanism is simply one expression of the Church founded by Christ. They claim Anglican sacraments to be every bit as valid as those of the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, and their desire to believe this is understandable.

It is important to understand that Catholic teaching about the invalidity of Anglican orders is not intended to question the sincerity of Anglicans. Indeed, the Catholic Church acknowledges that God can minister His grace in all sorts of ways and through many channels, and there is no doubt that non-Catholic Christians experience the grace of God in their lives.

However, as Catholics, we have access to the very sacraments instituted by Christ and ministered through His one holy priesthood. For this reason, it is never permissible for us to receive Holy Communion or absolution from an Anglican clergyman. Because of the invalidity of the Anglican priesthood, these sacraments are not valid.

As tragic as the separation is, it should serve as a reminder that we must work to build upon those things that we hold in common, and to pray for there to be "one fold, under one Shepherd," in communion with the Vicar of that Shepherd, the Pope.

By living the Catholic faith in charity, we manifest the eternal truths given us by God (cf. Eph. 4:15-16). Our lives then bear witness to the truth and draw all men to Christ. As Vatican II teaches: "[Mother Church] exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the Church" (Lumen Gentium, no. 15). Only in this manner of living can we hope for true unity within the Body of Christ.

28 April 2007

Good Sheep Sunday

We know our Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. He is the one who lays down His life for the sheep. We know also that the bishops and priests of the Catholic Church are called to bear the image of our Good Shepherd by giving themselves completely over to the service of God and His flock.

But the members of the laity need to remember something related to that. Each one has his own responsibility to be the Good Shepherd’s “good sheep.” Just as the Shepherd leads, so the sheep must follow. And by following the Shepherd faithfully, the sheep will reach pastures of heavenly joy. Good Shepherd Sunday should also be “Good Sheep Sunday,” a reminder that we must daily recommit ourselves to follow Christ, wherever He leads.

25 April 2007

"...decently and in order..."

This photo was taken at one of the Masses at Our Lady of the Atonement Church on Divine Mercy Sunday. Our parish is blessed with two marvelous deacons, both of whom are exemplary clerics.

24 April 2007

A God's-eye view...

Here’s a picture of Our Lady of the Atonement Church and The Atonement Academy from a different perspective. Looking at it all from this angle, it’s hard to remember that it started nearly twenty-four years ago with a tiny handful of people, all of whom had a tremendous love for God and His Church. Eighteen people (counting the children) began the parish. Twenty years ago the first part of the church building was completed with only forty families, and it has grown from there. The present structure contains nearly 90,000 square feet, and once again we are having to make plans for another expansion – we’ve outgrown the school.

God is keeping us busy, and how grateful we are to Him!

21 April 2007

The 2007 Anglican Use Conference

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., will be the site of the 2007 Anglican Use Conference beginning on Thursday, May 31st and ending on Saturday, June 2nd. Speakers on the topic of “The Catholic Priesthood” will include Fr. Peter Geldard, Catholic Chaplain at the University of Kent at Canterbury and the former General Secretary of the English Church Union; Linda Poindexter, former Episcopal cleric for thirteen years, and Catholic convert since 1999; and Fr. Charles Connor, Ph.D., Rector of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and author of Meditations on the Catholic Priesthood.

There will be workshops discussing the establishment and growth of Anglican Use parishes in the Catholic Church, and the various liturgies (including Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception) will be celebrated according to The Book of Divine Worship, which is the approved liturgical Use for the Pastoral Provision established by the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II.

The registration form is available here.

16 April 2007

A nice place to begin the day...

Even though we were on Easter break this past week at the academy, it seems as though the days have flown by and I haven’t managed to sit down and write anything creative or interesting to post on this site. I guess the Holy Week and Easter ceremonies took a bit more out of me than I realized.

I’m posting this picture of the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus just because I think it’s beautiful, and it’s where I am privileged to celebrate the first Mass of the day during the week. For those of you who have never visited the parish, I hope it gives you a sense of some of the beauty in this little corner of the Kingdom.

13 April 2007

I know it's Easter, but here's Palm Sunday...

I'd hoped to post these pictures from Palm Sunday earlier, but better late than never.

Here is a view of the High Altar and Rood Screen. The triptych is closed for Holy Week, giving a somber appearance to the sanctuary:

Below is a closer view of the triptych. The upper panels depict the Annunciation, which is the true beginning of Christ's Passion. The lower panels show angels holding various instruments of the Passion as they gaze at the tabernacle.

The next picture shows the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady. Before the image is the Intercession Book where hundreds of people write their prayers and requests, along with their thanks for prayers answered. In the foreground are blessed palms remaining after the four Masses that day.

The picture below shows the very beautiful vestments which are used only once a year on Palm Sunday. These passion red vestments had been discarded by the Ursuline Sisters, and we were fortunate to be able to salvage them before they went wherever old vestments go -- either to the trash or to Ebay.

09 April 2007

Heard any good sermons lately...?

I’m never sure how to take compliments about sermons. If people “enjoyed” a sermon, did it do anything for them? Maybe not. If they “got a lot out of it,” did the intended message really get through? Who knows. Perhaps I should be worried when people ask for copies of a sermon. Do they want to use it against me at some future time? Are they going to send it to the bishop with a letter of complaint? I suppose I should just accept the fact that once in a while what comes from the pulpit actually hits home, and the comments afterward really are what they are.

At any rate, several people gave a “thumbs up” for the sermon on Easter morning. I don’t usually post sermons, but I have this time and you can read it at this link on our parish web site in the "St. Peter's News Blog" section. I think a sermon is never as effective when someone’s reading it, compared to hearing a sermon from a real live person who believes what he’s saying. Plus, the setting helps. Nothing adds weight to words more than climbing up the seven steps into the wine-glass pulpit, surrounded by stained glass and the smell of incense.

I usually have the feeling that I should make use of the old homiletics professor’s point. The story goes that a great preacher died, and when they were going through his papers they found manuscripts of his sermons. Several times there were marginal notes which read, “Weak point. Pound pulpit.”

So if you read the sermon, feel free to pound on something occasionally for added emphasis.

07 April 2007

This is the night...

This is the night which shines with the glory of Christ’s resurrection – the night in which we recall and reaffirm our own participation in His resurrection which is ours through the power of our baptism. And tonight we consider what Baptism means for daily life. Certainly baptism is a one time thing, but it isn’t something that is done once and then simply remembered with a certificate, like graduations and anniversaries. It is something done once, but with eternal effects. And so in that sense, baptism is not just a one time thing “over and done with...” It’s a daily thing in its effects: baptism is a daily garment, something we wear each and every day. In baptism God has marked us with his seal of ownership, branded us as sheep of His pasture, and taken away the stain of original sin by washing us with Christ’s blood. The Christian life is a daily baptism, and baptism is
the daily life of a Christian. It’s a daily dying and rising. Just as we go to sleep each night and get up in the morning, so we daily die to sin and rise up to live in Christ through our baptism. Daily dying and rising is the daily life of the baptized.

St. Paul writes, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" He writes this as though everyone would know this and agree wholeheartedly with it. We were buried with Christ by baptism into His death. Baptism unites us with the death of Jesus.

In the death of Jesus on the cross, God has given the world a death in which a sinner may die now and live forever. We can either die now in the death of Jesus and live forever in His life, or we can live now apart from the death of Jesus, and die forever in our own death. There is no third option. Jesus died for sin and rose from the dead. Scripture teaches us that "the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God." Baptism joins us to the death of Jesus. It nails us to His cross, buries us in His tomb. God has put our sin out of His sight. He has buried it in the death of His Son. He has hidden it in His wounds. He has sealed it in His grave.

Baptismal death in the death of Jesus is a death with hope. "If we have been united with Jesus in a death like his, we shall also be united with him in a resurrection like his." We know how our story ends. We know how the last chapter comes out for those who are joined to Christ. Christ has died. And we have died with Him. Christ has risen. And we will rise with Him. That means whatever may come our way in this life - whether
poverty, disease, pain or persecutions - our present sufferings cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed in us. Whatever burden the cross of Christ may bring to us now, it doesn’t compare with what we will be ours in the resurrection of the righteous.

But baptism sets us in a struggle. Because of our baptism, we have become the enemy of the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures. The devil rants and roars against baptism, and will stop at nothing to keep us away from living in its power. The world hated Christ and crucified Him, and so the world tries to crucify everyone who is joined with Christ.

However, by confessing our sins we bury them in Baptism. We drown them in the blood that flowed from Jesus' side. This is what St. Paul means when he says, "Reckon yourselves dead to sin." We are to confess our sins. We are to bury them in Christ’s grave. In confession, we are setting Baptism to work for us, releasing the power of Jesus' death and resurrection in our lives. We can’t conquer sin. Christ alone conquers sin for us, and He does it through the daily application of the fruits of baptism. We no longer live, but we died and were buried, and so Christ now lives within us. Our life is the resurrected life of Jesus. He is at work in and through us. We are "alive to God in Christ Jesus" and it is only "in Christ Jesus" that we are alive to God. Apart from Him, we would be dead, but because we are joined to Him by baptism, we live.

05 April 2007

Mandatum novum

An upper room had been prepared. The unleavened bread was baked. The Passover Lamb had been sacrificed and roasted. Jesus was at the head of the table with His Twelve, His new Israel. He took the large piece of unleavened flat bread. He gave thanks to His Father, He broke it and gave the pieces to His disciples. This had been a Passover like any another Passover, recalling God's grace to Israel when He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom, through the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts.

But then Jesus spoke. And what He said at that moment had never before been said at a Passover meal. "Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you." And again, after the supper, Jesus took a chalice of wine. He gave thanks and then said something that had never before been said at a Passover meal, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." Jesus was treating the Passover as though it were His own. And of course, it was and is His own. Jesus is the Lord. This is the Lord’s Passover. And the Lord is the Passover Lamb.

And then Jesus gave a new commandment, the commandment to love. Not that love was new, but He told His disciples to receive His love in all the ways He has to give. They were to be loved by Him so that His love could flow through them to others. His love was poured out in His death. It is poured into us through Baptism and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and through all the sacraments. And this love bears fruit as it has its way with us. It was the Body and Blood bending down as a servant to wash the feet of His disciples. As we receive that Body and Blood into ourselves, so we are to join with Him in bending down to wash the soiled feet of one another, to cleanse, to forgive, to love one another.

"By this all will know that you are my disciples, when you have love for one another."

Jesus loved us to death, long before we loved Him. While we were yet His enemies, He loved us and laid down His life for us. His was "love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be." And we now receive His love so that we can love one another as He has loved each one of us. That is the commandment given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ – and with that truth, we celebrate this Holy Night so that we can be prepared for the glory of our Lord’s resurrection.

04 April 2007

And so it begins...

Today is Spy Wednesday, surely the saddest day only after Good Friday itself, for this is the day on which we remember the betrayal of our Lord by one of His friends. The Golden Legend, written in 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, makes the connection between Judas’ disgust over the anointing of Jesus with the precious nard, and the selling of his Master for thirty pieces of silver:

"Our Lord made Judas one of his apostles and retained him in his company, and was so privy with him that he was made his procurator, and bare the purse for all the other, and stole of that which was given to Christ. Then it happed that he was sorry and angry for the ointment that Mary Magdalene poured on the head and feet of our Lord Jesu Christ and said that it was worth three hundred pence, and said that so much he had lost, and therefore sold he Jesu Christ for thirty pence of that money usual, of which every penny was worth ten pence, and so he recovered three hundred pence. Or after that some say that he ought to have of all the gifts that was given to Jesu Christ the tenth penny, and so he recovered thirty pence of that he sold him, and nevertheless at the last he brought them again to the temple, and after hung himself in despair, and his body opened and cleft asunder and his bowels fell out. And so it appertained well that it should so be, for the mouth which God had kissed ought not to be defouled in touching, and also he ought not to die on the earth because all earthly creatures ought to hate him, but in the air where devils and wicked spirits be, because he had deserved to be in their company."

All this will be recalled this evening at Tenebrae. The psalms and the readings will be our eyes. Christ will be entering into the depths of His Passion, and we will be witness to the evil and filthy kiss of a false friend.