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.


Anonymous said...

"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." I have some issues with this remark. The TAC group has not been Traditional, Anglican, nor a Communion (a borrowed quote). It seems to be made up of various dissident right-wingers, several of whom have never been Anglicans. They are not Anglican in any formal sense and do not represent Anglicanism. Some of their clergy are fine, I'm sure, but they are even an odder, quirkier lot than the mainstream, but they do love titles and dressing up and they treat liturgy as a hobby with as much eclecticism as they can muster. Their view of Anglican traditionalism would be unfamiliar to the vast majority of Anglicans-it seems to be Roman antiquarianism with whatever they like to throw in-as long as it's in Tudor/Jacobean English. If they have petitioned Rome, it will be interesting to see how their orders, especially their episcopal ones are regarded and the issue of divorced clergy will be sticky, especially in the case of their Primate in Australia, Hepworth, who is a former Roman priest. As to the gay issue, their closets will be even deeper and darker. Let's not inflate this group into representatives of anything. Someone quippped that they might actually hneed to discover Anglican Patrimony first before bringing it with them to Rome.

Geoff said...

While TAC is small and may have its quirks, I'm loathe either to deny a place in the church to the quirky or to claim proprietary rights to the name Anglican in the way Rome does with Catholic. I do think they credibly represent a particular strand of traditional Anglo-Catholicism and the ordinariates are a logical step in their ecclesiology; for that I do commend them. I do not see why they should not be said to be "Anglican Catholics." They have been thoroughly advised that they will be subject to the same standards of obedience as other Roman Catholics but they will continue to share much of the same heritage of piety as their counterparts this side of the Thames. I think Newman would not have dreamed of the day when he would have recourse to such an offer. Nor do I object to ACNA's choice of name, even if I do not regard it as the Anglican Church in North America.

It is certainly true that the Anglicankeit, if you will, of many proposed candidates for "Anglican patrimony" is dubious. You will see posts at The Anglo-Catholic touting strikingly Latinate celebrations as Anglicanism's gift to the wider Church. Yet even Orthodoxy has been able to accommodate imports: Antioch has been on the cutting edge of this and has taken some flack over their incorporation of things like Benediction, Stations of the Cross, and the Sacred Heart.

Anonymous said...

I am more than willing to be generous and they can do whatever they wish. I do quibble over their concept of Angicanism, even as Anglo-Catholics. There is a strange sense of a do-it-yourself Catholicism that is oddly Protestant. The ones I know vary widely in their concept of liturgy and ecclesiology, but they all like being to do as they please, which may not be their best trait in Rome. Some of them do not go along with the rush to Rome (which is cynical of Rome, in some ways) and there has been a dust-up at their "Cathedral" in Victoria B.C. Their only real common trait is antipathy to women in ordained ministry. They have been a small, but relatively happy clan left to their own devices, but will this be their future? What about the next generation? If there is one, they probably won't care much about Anglican Patrimony or the Anglican issues of the 1970s.