The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome has devised it, with Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing, to meet the needs of Anglicans who wish to preserve some of their traditions and heritage while moving into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Anglo-Catholics will have to ask themselves whether this is a good proposal or not.
They do have an alternative – indeed two alternatives, counting staying within the Church of England.
Or they could, as countless converts to Roman Catholicism have done before them including many former Anglo-Catholics, apply to enter into full communion through the normal processes.
Nowadays that usually means enrolling in the parish-based scheme called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, which includes a rite for baptised Christians who want to become Catholic.
After a journey of faith involving instruction from a parish catechist, candidates follow a series of public steps leading to a ceremony of admission, with others who have made the same journey.
Individual ceremonies, after a period of private instruction from a priest, are also not ruled out.
A simple formula of doctrinal assent is required in either case, far less elaborate than adherence to every one of the Catholic catechism’s 2,865 paragraphs which the apostolic constitution envisages.
The RCIA experience is transformative, in that the person coming out of it at the end does not feel the same as the person going in.
They have changed one world view for another – the term “convert”, though deemed ecumenically insensitive, is not inappropriate.
The CDF’s proposals seem designed to blunt that experience by reassuring those who choose that way that nothing much has changed. They will be the same community with the same leaders, the same culture and liturgy and possibly even the same buildings.
Anglo-Catholics who are attracted for that reason would do better to be wary of it, precisely because it does not demand enough.
Perhaps because of lack of consultation with both Catholic and Anglican authorities in England, the CDF seems to have failed to grasp what Anglo-Catholicism is really all about.
Its fundamental aim was to reassert the Catholic credentials of the Church of England as the “ancient Catholic Church of these lands” identical in essence to the medieval English Church.
It is from this foundation that derive all those characteristics of its style that the CDF is keen to preserve – the interiors of its churches almost indistinguishable from Catholic churches, the use of “Father” as the title for its clergy, and devotion to a Catholic type of spirituality including honouring the Virgin Mary.
But unless one counts use of the Roman missal in some of their churches, there is no distinctive Anglo-Catholic liturgy.
Anglo-Catholicism is going through a profound crisis precisely because it is losing faith in its central principle.
Anglicanorum Coetibus is offering to let incoming Anglo-Catholics hang on to the incidental symbols of that principle, while relinquishing what lies behind it.
Does that make sense?
Would they not be better off just becoming Roman Catholics in the normal way, and joining an existing Catholic community they can enrich and be enriched by?
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