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Saturday, 3 December 2011

Prepare the way before the people of the Lord.

The Church as the body of Christ.

Reflection in this season of Advent has led to hope, trust and despair. Despair that the Anglican church many of us have known and loved is departing from the Universal Church, trust in the unity offered through the Ordinariate, and hope that if that journey is made, it is steered in accordance with Christ's example alone.

I came across the above icon in a Blog while reflecting on the 'One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church'. At first I was encouraged by what I found in the opening statement:

  "Our Lord Jesus Christ, before his crucifixion, prayed to His heavenly Father asking that His disciples be one, just as He and His Father are one (John 17:20-23). This is the prayer of all true Christians. It is for this reason that we confess in our Creed that we believe “in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” in which we are saved."

Reading on led to despair. What followed was another story of division, the same division that disgraces the rest of the Universal Church furthering the cause of secularism by giving ammunition to detractors. 

In the past week I have found myself in discussions with people of various persuasions; atheist, Catholic and Anglican. In response to an atheist's question about the Holy Grail, a Catholic present explained about transubstantiation and appeared surprised by my agreement as if transubstantiation meant nothing to an Anglican. Then a traditionalist Anglo Catholic told me how he had been sidelined by the new wave of Anglicans in his church, showing no understanding of the catholic faith or reverence for the Sacrament. All this came in the wake of the controversy started by the Bishop of London about the new Roman Missal, commented on in the Catholic Herald by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith and followed up by him with "Catholics are being deceived into attending non-Catholic services" when he wrote:

"If a Roman Catholic from France or Italy visits this unidentified church and sees that the Roman rite is seemingly in progress, they would not unnaturally assume that the church was a Roman Catholic Church, in communion with the Holy Father, wouldn’t they? But they would be mistaken. Such a church uses the Roman Missal, but is not a Roman Catholic church, and is not authorised to use the Roman Missal by the Bishop of the diocese (the Catholic bishop, I mean; the Anglican bishop has also forbidden it). Moreover the persons attempting to celebrate Mass are not recognised as priests by the Roman Catholic Church. In short, the visitor from France or Italy may see what looks like the Mass, but what is in fact not the Mass."

"Moreover the persons attempting to celebrate Mass are not recognised as priests by the Roman Catholic Church". Really? So what are non-Roman Catholics doing at the altar? 'Catholic' is not a trade mark belonging exclusively to the Roman Catholic Church. Like it or not, members of the Anglican church profess the same belief in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Also, the Orthodox Church claims to be the true church so who is to say that we are not partakers of the one bread? Priests who converted to Roman Catholicism have been know to comment that their former Anglican congregations often had more knowledge and understanding of the faith than many of the cradle Catholics in their new congregations who simply pop in to Mass and out again as quickly as possible, often on a Saturday evening thus avoiding any lengthy period of worship. I know many 'Catholics' who think nothing of going to an Anglican church to receive* the sacrament and I have seen Roman Catholic priests who, although they do not receive, cross themselves at the elevation.

As Christians united in baptism we all 'look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come'. Here and now in our own way, 'the people of the Lord' do as Jesus bade us unconstrained by earthly dogmas. Anglo Catholics do not kneel at the altar in vain. None of us knows the day or the hour but when the hour comes we can all say in good conscience, we received the Body and Blood of Christ by faith with thanksgiving. 

* Read an Anglican priest's experience on Fr Mervyn's Blog here.

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