There has been a great deal written lately about whether or not the term “Anglican” is appropriate for “branding” purposes by the Ordinariates. As with so much in these still relatively early days of the Ordinariates’ existence, there is much emotion generated by trying to be “truly” Catholic while retaining what Benedict XVI very clearly called the “Anglican Patrimony.” Some are of the opinion that the “A-word” should never be used.
Now, let me be clear – I have never been an Anglican, nor other than what I am – a practising Latin Catholic of French descent – a “Gallican,” if that word too had not fallen prey to theological opproprium. But I owe my lifelong retention of the Faith – apart from my parents, my late confessor, James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, and the venerated though deceased Fr. Feodor Wilcock, S.J., a Russian Rite Jesuit born into an old Lancashire Recusant family – to my experiences as a teenager with the tragic Anglo-Catholic parish of St. Mary of the Angels, Hollywood. I first went there at the Cardinal’s suggestion on Septuagesima Sunday, 1976. His Eminence was of the opinion that lack of exposure to decent liturgy was sapping my faith away – so, knowing I would never become Episcopalian, he counselled me to receive and fulfill my obligation at a Saturday Vigil Mass, and then see St. Mary’s. It was a revelation.
That revelation was not only liturgical – though it was that too. There was the pamphlet rack – filled with explanations of Catholic practises that I should have received in Catholic school, and did not. But beyond that, it was the people: educated, witty, funny, sophisticated – but serious about applying “Catholicism” to everyday life – it was something I had encountered in French, but never in English.
Despite the terrible straits that the Faith is in, in tradtionally Catholic countries, she nevertheless has a cultural tradition in those places that the Faith’s defenders in those places – especially the younger ones, unaffected by the 60s – can bring up to aid in evangelising in the here and now. I am especially gratified to see some small signs of this in Quebec, wrecked as the Province’s religion and culture were by the Quiet Revolution of the 60s. But Anglophone Catholicism, concerned as it was for centuries with mere survival, does not have that. Certainly, there was and is the noble Recusant traditon; but that was – for the same historical reasons – inward looking, and in the United States to-day lives on only in parts of Maryland and Kentucky (although the great Flannery O’Connor descended partly from it).
Although Anglicanism to-day may imply for many of the theologically minded only the dogmatic freakshow it has become, I advise against giving up the term to the loonies, still less the phrase “Anglo-Catholic.” On the one hand, to the casual observer, “Anglican” does not mean Mrs. Schori: It means Shakespeare and the BCP, the Cavalier Poets and half or more of his favourite writers (and possibly Lessons and Carols and Boar’s Head festivals). For the more scholarly, it is the source of Anglican Chant, of 19th century literary scholarship, of slum priests and the missions of the Cowley and Mirfield Fathers overseas. For everyone, it is the biggest chunk of inspiration for most of what ends up on Mastepiece Theatre.Does anyone seriously doubt that if T.S. Eliot, M.R. James, Lord Halifax, Dorothy Sayers, Ralph Adams Cram, Ninian Comper, Arthur Machen, or Charles Williams were alive to-day, they would not pole-vault into the Ordinariate?
I am very happy that both the Societies of Mary and of King Charles the Martyr have formed local branches at Ordinariate parishes, because it is indicative of the course the devotional societies must take if they wish to survive in the longterm. There is simply no room for authentic Anglo-Catholicism in the Canterbury Communion – a fact which shall be inescapable when, as is inevitable, an Archbishopess of Canterbury is appointed. But what remains is the glorious opportunity to accomplish what the Papalist Anglo-Catholics said they wanted – a truly Catholic church based in the deepest cultural roots of the Anglosphere, and yet integrally united with the Pope and the rest of the Catholic world.
What about the word “Anglican” itself? Can it be other than an embarassment? Well, in 1951, devout cradle Catholic writer Anthony Boucher published in a Science Fiction magazine a short story entitled “The Quest for Saint Aquin.” During a far future time when the Church is once again underground and persecuted, the Pope sends a priest on the trail of the allegedly incorrupt body of a rumoured saint. It is a brilliant tale; but in the midst of it occurs the line: “Under your own Pope priests of other rites such as the Byzantine and the Anglican are free of vows of celibacy.” At that time, nothing seemed more natural (at least to Catholic futurists) than that at some future time Anglicanism would reunite with Rome under the Pope while retaining its identity. To the clergy and people of the Ordinariates are given the chance of making that vision reality.