Explaining the new structure for Anglicans

By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor

Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement last month that the church will welcome estranged Anglicans set off a storm of headlines, opinion columns and talk-radio commentary.

With so many voices and so much ecclesiastical terminology, though, it can be difficult to understand what the pope’s announcement means.

The Oct. 20 announcement revealed plans to ease the way for Anglicans wishing to convert to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. Coming into full communion means that those who convert will have the same status as any other Catholic, including Roman (or Latin) Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Coptic Catholics or any of the different rites of the Catholic Church.

The details of this change were released Nov. 4 in an apostolic constitution. This is the highest kind of law that is issued from the pope. It is issued to amend the church’s Code of Canon Law. (For more on the apostolic constitution, see page 9).

The announcement states that special accommodations will be made to maintain distinctive Anglican liturgical and spiritual traditions for those converting.

In the U.S., the announcement will apply in large part to Episcopalians, who form the main American section of the Anglican church.

The conversions themselves are nothing new in America. Previously, Anglican conversions were handled on a case-by-case basis. But this new agreement brings with it the possibility that larger groups, and perhaps even dioceses, can convert en masse.

The new structure also says that married Anglican priests will be able to be ordained as Catholic priests, but there will not be a provision made for married bishops. Anglican bishops who are married can, however, choose to serve as priests instead.

Seminarians for the Anglican ordinariates will be trained and educated alongside Catholic seminarians, but there is the possibility that they may have separate houses of formation. A house of formation is a residence where seminarians live while receiving spiritual direction.

For retired Bishop Dan Herzog, this is an exciting time to be a part of the Catholic church. He was the Episcopal Bishop of Albany, N.Y.,  who together with his wife, converted to Catholicism after his retirement.

“This is not an initiative of the Holy See. This is a generous response to Anglicans from many lands who already look to the pope as the one who presides in charity for the unity of the whole church,” Herzog said.

The pope’s announcement responds to the call of Anglican groups who have felt estranged from an increasingly liberal church. Recently, the Anglican church has decided to ordain women and active and open homosexuals and to bless same-sex marriages.

Herzog said he expects the impact of this new agreement to be more immediately felt in England, where the ordination of women priests as bishops has been approved in principal. He said a significant minority of Anglicans is opposed to this on theological grounds and is the most likely to act on the new provision.

“The earlier approval in 1992 of women’s ordination as priests resulted in hundreds of Anglican clerics and many laity migrating into the Catholic church,” Herzog said. “Over 500 Anglican priests were ordained as Catholic priests, most of whom were married. Women bishops could trigger the next wave.”

But most Anglicans and Episcopalians, he said, are unlikely to be drawn to Catholicism.

“It will tug at the hearts of Anglicans who already see the See of Peter as the right locus of unity for the Christian church,” Herzog said.

Some Episcopal groups had privately appealed to the pope for some sort of welcome into the church since the 1970s, when the ordination of Anglican women was imminent.

Herzog said that these groups asked for “personal parishes” that would include significant elements of the Anglican liturgy and would permit married priests to be dispensed from celibacy and reordained in the Catholic Church.

He said the Conference of American Bishops approved these measures in May of 1978, but Pope Paul IV died a few months later. Then Pope John Paul I died shortly after that.

When Pope John Paul II was elected, he authorized personal parishes and the ordination of married Episcopal priests who would serve the diocesan bishop.

Herzog said there are now about a dozen parishes like this in the U.S., the nearest to the Syracuse Diocese being St. Thomas More Parish in Scranton, Pa.

“The Vatican announcement in effect appears to extend the American arrangement to the rest of the world,” he said.

The new agreement makes a place for what are called “personal ordinariates” that would be like military ordinariates. A military ordinariate is a position held by a member of the clergy who is responsible for organizing and meeting the needs of chaplains stationed all around the world.

An ordinariate would act as liason between the Catholic bishop and those who have converted. His task will be to keep the customs of the Anglican tradition while incorporating them into the life and teachings of the Catholic faith.

Herzog said that for parishes like St. Thomas More in Scranton, the approved liturgy, entitled the Book of Divine Worship, is drawn mostly from the Book of Common Prayer. “It provides for the Mass and sacraments in both traditional and contemporary English. The actual Eucharistic prayers are from the Roman missal.”

The Book of Common Prayer has been an integral part of Anglican identity since the 16th century. It contains fixed liturgical texts that are considered by many to be particularly beautifully written. These texts are often memorized and made into songs. Herzog said the Book of Common Prayer can be applied to everything from ornate rituals to simple daily moments.

“Even today the British parliament retains the final sign-off in any alteration of the Book of Common Prayer,” Herzog said.

He said another distinct feature of Anglicanism is the laity’s use of the daily offices of morning and evening prayer. “Its choral renditions continue to attract worshippers in cathedrals and village churches,” Herzog said.

He said he believes the personal ordinariates will appeal to those who are already predisposed toward the pope and the Catholic Church. It will not, he said, simply be a draw for those who are angry with the Anglican Church.

“No one is coerced into this choice,” he said. “It is a work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart.”

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