The return of some Anglicans to the Roman flock is indeed an historic event for the Catholic Church. However, there are a few points that should prove difficult for the returning Anglicans that might be difficult with which to abide. Of course the first point deals with the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome as the Head of the Catholic Church. Without affirmation to this critical point of Roman primacy, the former Anglicans need to seriously contemplate what this reunion means to them and their families. Papal primacy is not open to negotiation. The Pope represents our connection to Saint Peter and the Apostles.
Hand in hand with the consideration should also include the belief that the Pope as Bishop of Rome is infallible when there is a solemn proclamation regarding matters that deal with faith and morals. Part of the Anglican tradition was to relegate role of Head of the Church to the reigning British Monarch. Infallibility is a belief that is a deeply held component of the Papal Office. The reaffirmation of the union with Rome needs to unconditionally accept this Catholic teaching that is part of the deposit of faith of the Catholic Church.
An appreciation of the Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Conception is also a doctrine closely held by Roman Catholics and rooted in the tradition of the ancient Church. We believe with faithful fervor that Mary was conceived without original sin in order to become the vessel to receive Jesus Christ. A development and appreciation of this heartfelt doctrine is something the new integration of the former Anglican faithful should develop.
Of course the belief and consistent tradition of a male clergy is sometimes uncomfortable for sects that have already permitted female clergy as both priests and bishops. We Roman Catholics require that a man, validly baptized can become a candidate for Holy Orders. While there was a grassroots movement in the Catholic Church among all levels of clergy, religious and faithful to eliminate this prohibition, it still stands and has been reaffirmed by Popes since Paul VI. The matter was definitively concluded by John-Paul II when he proclaimed the matter as one in which the Church has no power to alter the example of Jesus in choosing only men as his Apostles. Discussion is not an option.
In conjunction with the prohibition of females for Holy Orders, the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality are very clear. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that homosexual acts are contrary to natural law and under no circumstances can they be sanctioned. The consideration of the Anglican Church of active homosexuals for the Ministries of Priest and Bishops was a factor that strongly helped the former Anglicans to return to union with Rome. The faithful members of Anglican communities returning to union need to keep this teaching in mind as well.
Finally and most importantly, we as Catholics unconditionally believe that the Eucharist is indeed the actual Body and Blood of Christ. The doctrine is called Transubstantiation. Unity of Eucharist and the belief in the Real Presence is critical to our Tradition. Exceptional care and pastoral exhortations should accompany any catechesis regarding the Real Presence as held by Roman Catholics. It is the celebration of Eucharist that unites Catholics everywhere, and there should be no dispute about the nature of the Sacrament.
Of course the emerging details of the pending reunion are works in progress. The Protestant Reformation along with the Catholic Counter Reformation divided us as a People of God for many centuries. This reunion of former Anglicans with Roman Catholics is a relationship that needs patience, prayer and nurturing. Pope Benedict’s proposed acceptance of particular aspects of the Anglican Rituals and traditions shows his real desire for a true organic healing and reintegration of One, Catholic Church with all of the ritual incidentals as part of process of healing and new developments.
Roman Catholics on the other hand should celebrate the great heritage of the traditions the Anglican Church have indeed preserved over the centuries. Great examples of Anglican architecture and design are worldwide. The cultural, social and liturgical differences indeed are all a rich part of the magnificent tapestry of the Church to which we all belong.
Welcome home to our former Anglican brothers and sisters. The Roman Church is poised to learn quite a bit from your rituals and traditions. Together, Anglican Rite and Roman Rites are a microscopic reality of the cellular development of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Copyright 2010 Hugh McNichol