I have already written of what from the Anglican world I had to put off in order to become Catholic. Now, let me share some of the things I have been able to keep, what Pope Benedict XVI called in Anglicanorum Coetibus a “precious gift” and a “treasure to be shared.”
First a little autobiographical digression. Though I was baptized Russian Orthodox, my parents were not especially religious. My dad, however, had a beautiful bass/baritone voice and loved choral singing, so his weekend hobby involved singing in various Episcopalian Church choirs in the Boston area.
He used to joke he was a “mercenary Episcopalian” because he got paid to sing in places like Boston’s famed Anglo-Catholic Church of the Advent, and others churches that had hefty music endowments to hire professional singers, including those who were paid soloists with the various choirs that would sing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and so on.
So, one thing about Anglican heritage that we get to keep is our musical heritage and the beauty of choral music well-sung. My dad’s religious faith grew and in later years he was warden of an Episcopal parish though a fairly liberal one. His funeral drew singers from around the Boston area who sang for free in the choir the music director assembled. Dad had chosen the music and my oh my was the funeral beautiful. So, everytime I hear a good choir, I think of my dad and hope he has found a heavenly choir to join.
I remember accompanying him to church occasionally when I was very young, but I would have to wait through the rehearsal and then the service, so it was a long, boring wait amidst pews and wood panelling.
In later years, when home for Christmas, I would go with my dad to Christmas Eve services where the carol singing and music selection was sublime. Then afterwards, we would join the choir members and the minister for egg nog made the old fashioned way with real cream and whipped egg whites and rum. So, I got a taste of a version of Anglican-style fellowship along the way.
Because my parents wanted me to be biblically literate as part of my overall education, sent me to Protestant Sunday schools, including the Episcopal church that was across a busy street from our neighborhood.
I remember being too shy to sing out loud there. I also remember making plaster-of-Paris nativity figurines during Sunday school using a red rubbery mold. I recall having a child’s quiet veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus figures I brought home to put under our Christmas tree. Thankfully, all this veneration has been restored to me.
I remember church bazaars in the parish hall adjacent to the church, and the fact the minister had a boy named Joel and a huge Great Dane. Once when I was around eight years old, Joel had come across the busy street with his dog and got into a wrestling match with Joey, a Catholic boy from a family of ten kids that lived up the hill from us. Joey was on top of Joel, so the dog quietly used his teeth to grab Joey by the seat of his pants and lift him off. Joey ran crying home, saying the dog bit him.
Then a kid in my younger sister’s class in elementary school set the church on fire, so during the time it was getting renovated, we were sent to the Congregational Church, which also had church bazaars, white elephant tables, surprise gift bags and such. It also had a Sunday School where we drew pictures of Bible stories—or mostly colored in mimeographed versions.
When I started coming to the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary around the year 2000, then a parish of the Traditional Anglican Communion, I did not find the choral singing tradition as the parish is too poor to have a music endowment.
What I did find though was a beauty and reverence in worship that transported me despite the humble surroundings. We have kept that reverence in worship and more because our Mass is now a Catholic Mass and we have no doubts about our Holy Orders or our Sacraments.
And we had a tremendously gifted cantor in Fr. Carl Reid and now with our organist and cantor Michael Trolly and a tradition of congregational singing —in four part harmony if we’re familiar enough with it—that we have also retained, thanks be to God. You can always tell who are the former Anglicans in a Roman Catholic parish—they’re the one’s singing lustily with a loud voice.
We also have brought with us the tradition of theologically weighty hymns that go with the readings of the Sunday (or Solemnity or Feast Day) and we sing all of the verses except when it says in the hymn book, only use these during Advent or on the particular saint’s day. Sometimes no one knows the hymn tune but we gamely try anyway and by the end of verse 19 we know it. (Just kidding, but 7 or 8 verses is not uncommon.)
Thus we have brought with us a treasure trove of wonderful hymns with beautiful tunes and poetic English translations of the original Latin in many instances.
We have also retained our old-fashioned version of inclusive language, i.e. ‘mankind’ and ‘men’ including all of us in the human race. Even though someone has written in pencil in some of our old hymnals politically correct inclusive terms, we have never bowed to them. We even sing Onward Christian Soldiers from time to time and rock the house.
Another Anglican tradition we have been able to preserve is our immersion in the liturgical year with all the various seasons. Coming from the evangelical world as an adult, where in the parish I attended only marked Christmas and Easter with a little nod to Advent with an annual Advent ladies’ breakfast or dessert evening, what a joy to live inside the liturgical year in a much deeper, prayerful sense. To observe a penitential Advent (and no Christmas carols until Christmas Eve!) and a rigorous Lent, complemented by the way people would decorate our humble parish to mark various seasons and holy days. We’ve kept that.
Another treasure we have brought with us, though a final Rome-approved version has yet to be unveiled, is the habit of cultivating among lay and clergy alike a daily recitation of the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. The daily office has also been a way of living inside the Church Year and the life of Christ and His teachings, immersing myself in them.
We have also brought a tradition of fellowship and feasting together that has a typical Anglican flavor to it: from our breakfasts after Mass on Saturdays and Sundays that offer lots of good things to eat and times for all kinds of meaningful conversations and the joy of being together and welcoming newcomers into our midst to our annual celebrations of Thanksgiving and Epiphany dinners; a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper; and Mothering Sunday with a simnel cake and I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff.
UPDATE: We had a tradition of great preaching in addition to beautiful liturgy by clergy who believe the prayers they pray, and the Bible they expound upon. We have retained that, as well, thanks be to God, though enhanced by care they interpret Holy Scripture with the Catholic Church.