Anglican identity; Catholic identity

Adam Armstrong has a comment on this post that includes the following:

To be honest, Ms Gyapong uses the phrase “as former Anglicans” to describe herself or her Ordinariate parish. There may well be former Anglicans there, but her use of the phrase is misleading when applied to herself. She joined the then “Anglican Catholic” Cathedral of the Annunciation from a Protestant denomination, but she was never an actual Anglican in Communion with Canterbury.

Mr. Armstrong seems to be taking a juridical view of what it means to be Anglican—that one must be a member of the Anglican Canterbury Communion to qualify.

Interestingly, we who joined the Catholic Church had to accept a juridical view of what it means to be Catholic,  a “capital C” Catholic. We had to come to see we could only truly call ourselves Catholic if we are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. 

As an aside, however,  I did attend Episcopalian Sunday school at times during my childhood;  my father was a choral singer at Episcopalian churches in the Boston area:  Church of the Advent; Trinity Church and All Saints in Brookline.  Though my dad used to joke he was a “mercenary Episcopalian” because he got paid to sing on Sundays, later in life he joined the parish of All Saints and even became one of its wardens. So I have some links to the Canterbury Communion from my childhood.

But being juridically a member of the Catholic Church or the Canterbury Communion is different from having either a Catholic or Anglican identity.

When I joined the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada around the year 2000, I remember learning some distinctives about our identity.   One revolved around the Anglican Church of Canada’s  (ACC) decision to ordain women.  It was the view this decision meant the ACC was “veering into apostasy” by changing a “God-ordained sacrament of a Revealed religion by democracy.”

“What would they change next?  Marriage?” was another phrase I recall.  So the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada members decided to “get off the bus” veering into said apostasy.   There was also a common phrase that the Anglican Church of Canada “left us behind.”

So we saw ourselves as preserving true Anglican identity, even if we no longer had the juridical stamp of identity, the legal status of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  In official Anglican circles, we were viewed as schismatics, horror of horrors.  We, however, felt we were being faithful to what Anglicanism had always meant. And we did not see ourselves as schismatics, because built into our foundations was the desire for unity with the Catholic Church.

Perhaps the closest approximation to our status vis a vis the wider Anglican Communion might be that of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), whose founder Archbishop Lefebvre was excommunicated after he ordained bishops without express permission from Rome. Though Archbishop Lefebrve had signed all the documents of the Second Vatican Council, he refused to go along with the subsequent changes to the Mass.

Even though the excommunications have been lifted, SSPX communion with the Bishop of Rome is imperfect or irregular (though under Pope Francis that status might change for there is talk the Holy Father will grant them a personal prelature.) During the Year of Mercy, he granted SSPX priests faculties to hear confessions.

Are the SSPX Catholic?  Pope Francis has said he considers them Catholic. They are not sedevacantists who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the present pope.

We in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada also considered ourselves in identity Catholic though not Roman Catholic, because we thought we believed the same things as Catholics do.  (We were close, but we had many things yet to learn and accept).  That view became a difficult one to overcome for some of our people who did not understand why they had to go through a process to become Roman Catholics and rather resented the idea they were not already considered Catholics.

During my early years at the ACCC, “branch theory” was still floating around—the idea the Anglican Church was a branch of one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, along with the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches.  In our preparation for entering the Catholic Church, we had to lay aside “branch theory” and thoroughly realize we had not been Catholics in a juridical sense, and that, yes, we were to become Roman Catholics.  Yet, Pope Benedict XVI’s generous offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus invited us to “maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.”

So, while we in the Ordinariate are Catholics, and even more specifically Roman Catholics, we have permission to maintain our Anglican identity.

I am Catholic both juridically and by identity, but the expression of that Catholic identity is Anglican.

When we were received into the Catholic Church on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2012, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said:   

I commend the courage and fortitude of our brothers and sisters of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada; your journey has not been easy. I commend your humility and your sacrifice; you have suffered much. I commend your tradition and your zeal; you will bless and strengthen the Roman Catholic Church by your presence.

You are not just favoured guests. This is your home. We love you. I love you. May our public witness of unity draw many from the edges of faith into God’s Kingdom, no longer subject to judgement but to Divine Mercy.  Amen.

We are home.  We are part of the Catholic Church, part of the family in every respect.  It’s been five years now of a dream come true.

While I was looking for Archbishop Prendergast’s homily from that wonderful day, I found this interview with Vatican Radio that he had given prior to receiving us into the Catholic Church.


3 thoughts on “Anglican identity; Catholic identity

  1. Pingback: Can Anglicans have a Catholic identity? | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

  2. Could one argue that the Anglican Catholic Church was/is schismatic? I know the rhetoric that it is a “continuing” Church or “the Anglican Church left us, we didn’t leave it”, or something similar, but if we were using the same language to defend leaving the Roman Catholic Church or setting up some kind of alternative Church, the term “schismatic” would be used without hesitation. Those who are unhappy with the current Pope or have other concerns about the Roman Church usually don’t start another Church that is out of Communion with Rome. However attractive that might be to some, there desire not to be in schism would normally prevent such an action. Anglicans, however, have often regarded authority and even Communion as something that could give way to personal inclinations. Despite calling these inclinations “conscience”, the fact is that they are closer to Protestantism in thinking that churches can be set up where outside authority and Communion itself are disregarded in favour of personal preference and individual authority, which has much appeal. But is this Catholic?


  3. I think that the response “Things aren’t going the way I think they should. Let’s leave,” is the very essence of Protestantism.


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