I haven’t had time to write, or even much time to read, about the news from the Vatican that was all over the newspapers yesterday, but it would be a shame to let it pass entirely unremarked. Pope Benedict has apparently issued an Apostolic Constitution which creates a special governing structure for Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. The point is to make it easier for them to “cross the Tiber”, and to do so while retaining their own liturgies and traditions to a substantial degree.
In technical terms, the Pope has created “Personal Ordinariates” as a kind of bridge between Anglicans and Catholics. I don’t really know what that means. Despite the name, my understanding is that this provision will not be applied on a personal, individual level, but applies to parishes or dioceses who wish to be in communion with Rome — thereby breaking their communion with the Anglican church. Such parishes will be assigned their own “Anglican” Catholic bishops, so that a hierarchy is being established that is parallel to, rather than under, the Latin-rite hierarchy. To me it sounds like an “Anglican rite” is being created, similar to the Byzantine rite or Syriac rite, or any of the other rites which exist in the Catholic Church.
I don’t think anybody knows what the consequences of this Apostolic Constitution will be. I don’t know how many parishes in North American will take advantage of the opportunity. I am very curious to see what its impact will be in Africa, which has a large Anglican population and which has been very publicly alienated from the Anglican church in the West. I know several people who converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism in the past few years, and I wonder what they think of this news. There is something very beautiful and elevating, especially for English speakers, about the Anglican tradition, and, speaking for myself, the prospect of attending a Catholic Anglican-style liturgy is deeply attractive.
Pope Benedict continues to surprise with his bold initiatives. I don’t think many people saw this one coming. A primary role of the Pope is to serve the cause of Christian unity, always praying and working toward the ideal given us by Christ: “that they may all be one”. It’s a long process, but this looks to me like a step in the right direction.
If you care to read more about this development, you might try the following:
- Fr. Z comments on a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that accompanied the Apostolic Constitution.
- Long-time Vatican watcher John Allen reports.
- American Papist is collecting other reports and commentary.
The Apostolic Constitution itself is not yet available online.