IT IS TRUE: I self-identify as an Anglo-Catholic. As you well know, this is the party within Anglicanism that asserts that we are a full-members of the catholic faith (just without the Pope). We assert that our reformation was primarily a political one, not a theological one; therefore, catholic ceremonial and devotional practices are perfectly acceptable companions to The Book of Common Prayer. At one time, Anglo-Catholicism was very dangerous and on the fringes of the church. It all seems very strange to me that a priest who wore the chasuble at mass would be so controversial as provoke riots.
YET, WEARING IT did provoke riots. The same could be said for the use of Gregorian chant, having more than two candles on the altar, whether the priest should stand at the north-end of that same altar, the advertising of confessional times, the reservation of the sacrament, having a Deacon and Sub-Deacon at Mass, the placement of the Gloria in the service, whether the primary Sunday service was going to Morning Prayer or a Mass and – of course – the use of incense. Once, these were all the dividing lines that separated the Anglo-Catholics from everybody else. These were such hot-button issues that Bishop Frank Weston said in his seminal address in 1923, “I beg you, brethren, not to yield one inch to those who would for any reason or specious excuse deprive you of your Tabernacles.” The Anglo-Catholics of old held onto these externals as essential and visible signs of catholic practice that they were not be denied.
BECAUSE OF THEIR holy determination, the use of the chasuble is now so widespread that we think it strange when our priests do not wear them at the Mass. If they don’t wear them it is usually because it too hot in the summer, not because of any spurious protestant notions regarding vestments. The reservation of the sacrament (once considered to be the pinnacle of Anglo-Catholicism) is so common that we are surprised when we enter a church and do not see that old, familiar flame encased behind red glass burning before the sacrament. While not quite in common usage, there are two rites for private Confession in the ’79 Book of Common Prayer. The primary service on a Sunday morning is almost always a Mass, rather than Morning Prayer. These externals that once defined Anglo-Catholicism are so widespread that at least in the Episcopal Church, it would seem as if the Anglo-Catholic party has won the day. Thanks be to God.
DOES ANGLO-CATHOLICISM even mean anything to anyone anymore? Well, what are the other hallmarks of Anglo-Catholicism? Some might say that having a great hope that the Church of England (and TEC) would reunite with Rome is a sure sign. Many Anglo-Catholics made sure not to do anything that would harm this eventual reunification: for example, Ritual Notes sought to take the words of the Prayer Book and shape them into the ceremonial of a Latin Mass. Yet, by the 1960’s, Rome moved onward with Vatican II. We’d be kidding ourselves if we think the venerable Masses at St. Clem’s in Philadelphia have any prevalent counterparts in the Roman Catholic Church today; in so many ways, Anglo-Catholics have out-catholic-ed the Catholics in ceremonial. Now, many think authentic reunification is possible (albeit on a small scale) with the rise of the Ordinariates. Those who want to be united with Rome can be reunited with Rome.
BUT, THE QUESTION remains: what makes an Anglo-Catholic an Anglo-Catholic in twenty-first century America? What are the defining dividing lines, as it were? Some more conservative Anglicans say that it is the issue of the ordination of women, as many in the ACNA and other breakaway congregations split from TEC over this issue. Yet, this is not always the case, as this Anglo-Catholic is fully supportive of women in ministry, as are several of the finest bastions of Anglo-Catholicism: Smokey Mary’s and Boston’s Church of the Advent. Also, with the advent of Bishop Schori as Presiding Bishop, the remaining Anglo-Catholic parishes in TEC are giving tacit acceptance to women in ministry, whether they’d allow her at their altars or not.
SOME CONSERVATIVES MIGHT also say that not acquiescing to the ordination of open homosexuals to the episcopacy is the last stand for Anglo-Catholics. Indeed, many left the Church when +Gene Robinson became Bishop of New Hampshire. The irony, of course, is not lost on me that the Anglo-Catholic party has been filled historically with homosexual priests (celibate and otherwise). To the point that in Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh wrote this witty piece of advice, “Avoid the Anglo-Catholics, they are all sodomites with unpleasant accents.” AN Wilson’s novel Unguarded Hours (1978) fictionalized the Anglo-Catholic seminary, St. Stephen’s House, Oxford and its mostly-gay seminarians who had given female “names in religion” to their male companions. As much as some conservatives would like to pretend otherwise, homosexuals have always been a part of the Anglo-Catholic camp in Anglicanism.
PERHAPS BECAUSE WE are Anglo-Catholics and we really like outdated things, we’re still holding onto this outdated definition of ourselves. You can’t use high church happenings trappings, because just about all of the Episcopal Church is within the high-church camp, as it was defined 150 years ago. If Anglo-Catholic means that you want to reunite with Rome, yet keep your distinctive Anglicanism, you can with the new Roman Ordinariates and cease to be Anglican, so that doesn’t quite fit anymore. Many Anglo-Catholics are supportive of both women and homosexuals-in-committed-relationships in the episcopate, priesthood and diaconate, so perhaps that doesn’t work either.
ALL OF THE lines-in-sand that once defined Anglo-Catholicism no longer exist, as those old battle-lines have disappeared (or are disappearing). So, what do we call ourselves, we Mary-lovin’ holy-smoke-inhalin’ private-confessin’ Episcopalians? We who feel the gospel is best lived out by the haze of the sanctuary and in the squalor of the slums, what do we call ourselves? We who think that the beauty of the Mass and of our ordered lives should be an attempt at imitating our Creator who stretched the spangled heavens in unrivaled exquisiteness, what do we call ourselves? Even though it is maligned and misunderstood, is “Anglo-Catholic” still an appropriate term?
WELL, IF THE original assertion of the Tractarians is true, then Anglicanism is a catholic faith. Period. Full stop. And we are catholics with the “Anglo” only tacked on for a geographical significance and in particular to separate us from the Romans. But even low-churchpersons believe this, in spite of their lack of ritual. So, why don’t we just call ourselves what we are: Episcopalians. I think this is what I’m going to do from now on; let’s let others deal with the tedious label-making.
FOR THAT IS what we are, Episcopalians: part of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church – no more, no less.