Thursday, August 19, 2010

The minor orders

The "Admission of Lay Ministers and Officers" is on page 98 of the Canadian Book of Occasional Offices. Presbyteral celebration is assumed. Forms are provided for servers, and an open-ended form could be used for greeters and subdeacons, the ministry of deliverance being strictly pontifically controlled. The admission of Readers is on page 85. (It is followed by, of all things, that of deaconesses; the distinction from deacons was abolished in 1968).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Reconciliation of a Penitent

As a fresher away from home, I found myself in the position of having to reorient my ecclesiastical itinerary. I chose the local Lutheran parish, which was modern Catholic in the Haugen-and-holy water sense, for Sunday mornings and their midweek Communion. A retired couple from the parish volunteered to drive me and two other students who joined us irregularly, one young man and one young woman. Although she did not know the specifics of her church background, a little probing made it evident she attended a Lutheran Church - Canada congregation at home. The pastor's stance was the same as an Anglican priest confronted with a Roman Catholic at the altar rail: fine by us, how you square it with your people is your business.

For absolution I sought out the campus chaplain. While she could be described as having been in the theological mainstream of the Diocese of Niagara, I respected that she was well-versed in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of her upbringing and that our disagreements were mutually well thought out. And so once a month she gamely donned her purple Guatemalan stole to shrive me, as she would say with tongue in cheek, according to a truncated form of the Ministry to the Sick in the Book of Common Prayer. (My pastor himself firmly held the Lutheran line on numbering Penance as the third Sacrament).

At the time, I felt quite strongly about the older book's retention of the "I absolve thee" considered essential by Rome. The relevant prefatory material in the BAS notes only that this form is a "later development." Like the explanation offered for the gutting of the Daily Office Lectionary, I thought it a bit weak. But there are, I think, good Catholic grounds for the reversion to "Our Lord Jesus Christ ... absolve you through my ministry."

Obviously, the basic substance of the BAS revision is more satisfactory. Instead of being buried in the Ministry to the Sick, the rite is printed in a section with Baptism to emphasise the intimate relationship between the original washing at baptism and the ongoing repentance to the baptismal convenant. Orders in the psalm-heavy Byzantine and quick-and-dirty Western style are offered.

The transition from I to God reflects the corporate nature of sin and reconciliation, even when administered in private. In the same way the celebrant's vestments de-emphasize his individual identity or the humeral veil makes apparent our Lord's place as font of blessing, so the new formula points to God as the source of absolution, who "hath given power and commandment to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins." The priest is not offering forgiveness as an individual on his own behalf, but corporately, as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, in the Reformed idiom which is helpful to recall.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with the old form, and some are too eager to consign the Book of Common Prayer to retirement, but there are insights to be gained from reading the material in the Book of Alternative Services. Because our Anglican doctrine is found in our liturgy, I have been making a point of re-reading the services of baptism and of the ordination of deacons in the BAS to make sure I remember where I have come from and where I hope to be going. Anomalous as it may be, we are oddly blessed with our two-book system, which provides us with two very different expressions of our one common faith.

A few thoughts on Anglican patrimony

Much ink has been spilled over the concept of Anglican patrimony, but some of the candidates are more dubious than others. Is the reintroduction of traditional Latinate ceremonial (and I of all people mean that in no wise pejoratively) really a gift of Anglicanism to the church catholic? The Use of Sarum has been mentioned by some: others may dismiss it at as antiquarianism, but its recovery seems to have been relatively unproblematic in the Orthodox Church. (I continue to regard the Orthodox Western Rite as a more attractive options for Anglicans with swimming fever, though for various reasons I am not on the market myself. Nevertheless, TAC and its co-petitioners have won the goal of several generations of Anglo-Papalists and their integrity and readiness in "answering the call can only be commended).

Having said that, there are, I think, differences we can observe in the piety of Anglican Catholics and their counterparts in communion with Rome. Although I at first swam the Thames with Henrician intentions of remaining unchanged doctrinally and in practice, diligently praying the rosary and making periodic trips to the confession rail (boxes being nowhere to be found), there are certain things one does not generally find either in Anglican or in Roman Catholic churches.

Any kind of public Office is scarce as hen's teeth in the Roman Catholicism, although the Toronto Oratory offers the archdiocese's only Sunday Vespers (solemn, in the ordinary form, mostly in Latin, and with Benediction). There I notice that worshippers wandered in and out relatively casually - not irreverently, but clearly feeling no obligation to remain in a pew from ten minutes prior the service to the postlude or extinguishing of candles. Indeed, I have childhood memories of trips to the bathroom during the homily - you couldn't get there without passing the tabernacle and so you learned to genuflect with minimum pressure on the bladder.

Although there is the odd rosary group and Mass of the Sacred Heart, and Benediction remains a crowd-pleaser, the plethora of devotional options simply does not exist to the same extent in Anglicanism. It occurs to me that I don't know off hand where my brown scapular and Miraculous Medal are which I once doffed only to shower. Certainly the menu of Divine Mercy chaplets, perpetual Adoration, and Novenas to the Infant of Prague is not a feature of Anglican churches.

Roman Catholic churches often lack a cogent sense of community outside of worship. While many Anglicans cannot conceive of a Mass not followed by the eighth sacrament, coffee, in the church of my childhood "Coffee Sunday" was a once a month affair, and only if you happened to attend the 11am Mass after catechism instead of the 9am prior to, as most families with young children preferred. (As a teenager, I came to be partial to the Mass of anticipation and sleeping in on Sunday mornings). I certainly did not speak to other parishioners outside of the nave on regular basis. They can have a certain warehouse feel: friends tell of Masses being discontinued for attracting "only" 150 or so week by week - for Anglicans, an impressive figure for all Sunday services combined. Even outside of Anglo-Catholicism, Anglican congregations offer a "boutique" niche.

And so while communities of Anglicans received into full communion with the Holy See will be subject to the same doctrinal standards as other Roman Catholics, it seems fair to say that there are noticeable differences in the piety of Anglo-Catholicism that can be hoped to enrich the wider Roman communion in a real way.