Ecumenism, Gestures, Sex, and Peter

Even before a single Anglican emerged dripping, shivering, and towelling dry from the Tiber, there was lots of cheering, jeering, and whatnot on the forthcoming apostolic constitution on absorbing Anglicans into the Roman West. The matter doesn’t interest me deeply. Back in the gool ol’ 70’s, we had an Anglican teaching high school history. He was asked about his reception of Communion at school Masses, and I recall he said something along the lines of Roman Catholics believing in the Real Presence at their Mass, and therefore it was no problem for him.

I had a college friend who, though American, insisted she was Anglican and not Episcopalian. (Her mother’s maiden name was Spencer, so my friend claimed to be a fifth cousin of Princess Di–but that’s another story.) She had no problem with Eucharistic belief either–regularly participating in the Newman Community and various groups there.

My older brother is an Episcopalian. I was stunned to learn a few months ago that, as a boy, he used to listen to the rosary on the radio. More, he used to pray the rosary as a child. Given my family’s stunted flirtation (before I was born) with Roman Catholicism, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. Every so often, he and his wife come down for Mass at the student center. They do not receive Communion, out of respect for their variance with the pope, as opposed to any lack of belief in the Real Presence. My brother actually left the Lutheran Church when he moved to Iowa because he “missed Mass,” as he put his high-church experience out west.

In my limited experience, I find many non-Catholics who have a strong belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The obstacle, it seems, is less sacramental faith than ecclesiastical governance. In grad school, I did a series of papers in different courses on Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism. I was drawn to certain liturgical elements of the East, as well as the witness of many Eastern saints, especially the Eastern Doctors. But I was aware that faithfulness to the sacramental and liturgical traditions is not enough for unity.

So now it seems that there have sprung up some nets, shoals, and rubble in the Tiber. The end of mandatory celibacy in the West seems to have been put off. So much for the Anglican Route: Roman seminarians-to-be getting married, shifting to Anglican Use, getting ordained, then shifting back. Save those Hail Mary plays for the gridiron.

It will be interesting to see how this “Benedictine Ecumenism” plays out. Can the Servant of Unity throw the doors open? Or will worries about Roman celibacy hang the effort? Will this be another rock on which non-Catholics must stumble?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Ecumenism, Gestures, Sex, and Peter

  1. Ryan Haber says:

    Celibacy won’t be a problem, really. Ten dollars says that currently married Anglican clergy will be permitted to receive orders. After that, new ordinands will be drawn only from among men commited to celibacy, as in the rest of the Latin rite. So imagine several thousand marriage Anglican ministers convert and receive Catholic ordination. That’s a bit bigger than a drop in the bucket, but not much, of the worldwide clergy.

    People who talk about (not that you did) Pope Benedict trying to “fill out the thinning ranks of Catholicism” by absorbing Anglicans do not know any math. The simple fact is that Catholics outnumber Anglicans (all of them, worldwide) by a factor of 20:1 or so (70 million Anglicans to 1.2 billion Catholics). If all the Anglicans converted, and most won’t, it would hardly “fill out” anything in a Church as big as ours.

    My point of mentioning that fact is that we are hardly going to see the celibate Latin-rite clergy overwhelmed by married Anglican-usage clergy. In fact, most people probably won’t see any Anglican-usage Catholic clergy at all. Comparatively, there just won’t be that many of them in the West – perhaps a few in each diocese.

    Ryan Haber
    Kensington, Maryland

  2. lehall says:

    I appreciate your comments on Eucharistic belief. I am a non-Catholic and I believe in the real presence in the Eucharist (though if you really really want to push me on where exactly “in” is we may find a bit of variance. I do not normally receive when I attend mass with my family (every week–my husband is RC). For me it is a matter of invitation. I long to share at the table and to receive Christ in the RCC, but I want to be invited not crash the party.

    Thanks

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