Nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God. These are words of wisdom from the holy Rule of St Benedict. The Work of God, the Opus Dei, is not a Roman Catholic order of dour-faced priests but the Divine Office. A Benedictine monk downs tools immediately on hearing the church bell, and Office starts exactly on the dot of the scheduled time. Several times, I have had comments from laymen who find that the Office brings more than anything else. They often feel alienated from the Church, but yet are united to her by this prayer of the whole Church.
As a priest, I have been in the same boat, with the only difference that I could say Mass as well as the Office. I have always made sure I was available for anyone who wanted to come to Mass. But, in the country where I live, people are convinced Roman Catholics, convinced that Anglicans are to be avoided as “heretics” and “schismatics” – or they won’t go to church anywhere. I don’t blame them, burned as they are by the shenanigans of others. After many years of being in the ecclesiastical underworld, I was kindly accepted into the TAC by Archbishop Hepworth. When I learned that the deal was applying to Rome to be put through the sausage machine, I stayed put. After a decent amount of time, I applied to Bishop Damien Mead of the Anglican Catholic Church in early 2013 and was received the day after the diocesan Synod of that year.
This blog has become a ministry to many such alienated souls who have a different vision of the Church than those who think it is all authority and infallibility. The problem is knowing whether Tradition can subsist apart from authority. In the absolute it can’t, but it all depends what we mean by authority. Ecclesiastical authority is above all invested in the Episcopate and the diocesan Bishop. Bishops are in communion with each other, led for practical reasons by a Metropolitan Archbishop. Ideally, there are several provinces which would make a Holy Synod like in the Orthodox Churches that are not patriarchates. All that being said, what can all this mean to a lay person who lives nowhere near a bishop or any of his priests?
To many of us, the intrigues going on in Rome mean very little and seem surreal. We lose interest in what this or that Pope says or does. It is very easy to stop caring. At the same time, many of my contacts still believe in the sacramental incarnation of Christ and the Christian way of life. With what I would describe as a Romantic outlook on life, they have little in common with the “1962 missal” traditionalist world or the conservative mainstream. The ideal seems to be one of going beyond the 1950’s or the nineteenth century and going beyond the causes of the vicissitudes that occurred with the liturgy from about 1950 with the same persons responsible as for the later 1960’s reforms. We see things in more radical terms, and I am no exception like my old German friends at Fribourg – the way things went in the mid twentieth century were simply in organic continuity with the intellectual quagmire brought about by Vatican I, Pope Pius IX and infallibilism. I have already written at length about Old Catholicism, but which became influenced by Germanic liberalism and positivism.
Many of us have considered Orthodoxy at one time or another, or have even been received into an eastern or western rite community. I never made the step, but some did, or became Orthodox with the intention of living a very secret life of a recluse with the Monastic Office. I am reminded of my friendship with the late Dr Ray Winch who was also a Romantic, an academic with a strong spiritual ideal. Some found happiness in the Orthodox Church, others did so too whilst living in spiritual seclusion, and others had to seek the ideal in some other way.
The Anglican Catholic Church, like most other continuing Churches, was established by and for alienated Anglicans from the American Episcopal Church, the Church of England and other parts of the Anglican Communion in the world. The reasons alienating continuing Anglicans were much more radical than in the Roman Catholic Church: the ordination of women, the LGBT agenda, doctrinal and moral liberalism and collusion with left-wing politics. Our record in the 1990’s was one of extreme instability and unsuitable men in the Episcopate. Since then, reconstruction has happened and stability has been restored. We are a lot smaller than we used to be, but we are on the right road.
Our essential purpose is not to oppose liberal and kooky things in the “mainstream” churches, but to do the work of the Church. We are Anglicans and are more or less influenced by the Arminian tradition of the late sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, but even more by the aspects of medieval English Catholicism that were regrettably swept away by iconoclasm. I believe we have a vocation and calling to reach out to our sensitive souls and those who seek something deeper than politics or some “crutch” to cover up our own unwillingness to reason as well as believe.
Most of our friends live far away from Anglican parishes, and some are committed Orthodox. I have been aware for many years that I am no leader and any attempt to create some kind of “order” would be futile. I am an unworthy priest in a Church under a Bishop. We are too eccentric to conform! But this Office in common makes all the difference. Some of us use the Monastic or Sarum breviaries, which can be said in Latin or English from the many published books for which we can thank those who have done the gruelling work. Others use the Anglican Office based on the 1549 Prayer Book, which is noble and inspiring, especially with our English choral tradition. These Offices are sung to this day in the English cathedrals and major parish churches (if you can make abstraction of the female clergy and smooth talk). Each of us can use any of these office books alone or in small groups – and they don’t need anyone to be ordained. Also, you have the consolation of knowing that I celebrate Mass each day for your intentions, whatever they are and even if they are known only to God.
I would very much like to think we pray for each other when we read our breviaries, on the bus or in a train, during tea break at work, late in the evening at home – anywhere and anyhow. This is the basis of the Church and her reconstruction, not as a political institution, but as the mystical body of Christ. Our tiredness and cynicism are dissipated, our alienation forgotten. Everything again becomes fresh and innocent as we are infused with grace and deifying energies.
We need to have the courage to leave behind the negative stuff, the caricatures of religion that make everything rubbish. Many priests and lay apologists do a lot of damage, but our quiet way can do so much to restore and repair what only God can heal. Much is beyond the control of any of us, but perhaps we can be a group of the ten just men who would prevent God from destroying Sodom. Who knows?