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Bridge Over Troubled Tiber: Holy See Welcomes Anglican Christians into Catholic Church
By Deacon Keith Fournier
October 20th, 2009
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The prayers of millions have been answered and Christian history has been made on October 20, 2009. 'May They Be One'.ROME (Catholic Online) - In an absolutely stunning announcement on the morning of October 20, 2009, the Holy See has, by Apostolic Constitution, provided the canonical vehicle for Anglican Christians to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Throughout the evening expectations rose throughout the world along with the fervent prayers of millions who have longed to see this day. Many Catholics have watched in prayer with hopeful, heartfelt longing for their Christian brethren in the Anglican Communion. Many Anglican Christians have suffered from the ravages of their community from within brought about by moves away from Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Now,there is a way to the safe harbor of the Catholic Church.
This morning the Vatican offered a lifeline into the Ark of Peter for Anglican Christians who wish to avail themselves of the invitation. Expectations had been that, in response to the formal petition of the “Traditional Anglican Communion” for a vehicle for corporate entry into full communion, the Holy See would offer a juridic structure under Canon Law similar to the “personal prelature” which is the global organizing vehicle for the ecclesial movement Opus Dei. In essence it provides a “floating” global Diocese wherein the prelature has its own Bishops and its own priests while welcomed alongside of the existing Dioceses of the Catholic Church.
However, the announcement from Rome is much farther reaching and, for Vatican watchers, nothing short of spectacular in its implications for Anglican Christians seeking a place in the Church captained by the successor of Peter. Pope Benedict XVI has offered to establish “Personal Ordinariates”, the structure offered for those in the military, within which to care for Anglicans, lay and clergy, while enabling them to maintain the liturgical and spiritual unique distinctives of their tradition. That is correct, the Roman Catholic Church by way of an “Apostolic Constitution” will provide the process which will allow for Anglican Christians to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith said this concerning the Apostolic Constitution in a statement just released: “In this Apostolic Constitution the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony”. That spiritual patrimony will include enabling married men called after marriage to serve as priests. Following the ancient Christian tradition they are allowed to do so now in the Eastern Christian Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic. However, again following the practice of the ancient Christian tradition, the Bishops of these Ordinariates will be chosen from among the ranks of the celibate clergy.
The prayers of millions have been answered and Christian history was made on October 20, 2009. Pope Benedict XVI has fashioned, after much serious theological and pastoral work, a way home for many of our Anglican brethren. This canonical vehicle will allow for a form of corporate entry into full communion which could conceivably enable not only the “Traditional Anglican Communion” a path over the troubled Tiber but also provide for other groups of Anglicans including parishes, religious communities and even entire Dioceses. So monumental is this announcement that a nearly simultaneous Press Conference was also held in London including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. They issued this joint statement:
“Today’s announcement of the Apostolic Constitution is a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church.
“Pope Benedict XVI has approved, within the Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure that provides for Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.
“The announcement of this Apostolic Constitution brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church. It will now be up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution.
“The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
“The on-going official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing cooperation. The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) agreements make clear the path we will follow together.
“With God’s grace and prayer we are determined that our on-going mutual commitment and consultation on these and other matters should continue to be strengthened. Locally, in the spirit of IARCCUM, we look forward to building on the pattern of shared meetings between the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England’s House of Bishops with a focus on our common mission. Joint days of reflection and prayer were begun in Leeds in 2006 and continued in Lambeth in 2008, and further meetings are in preparation. This close cooperation will continue as we grow together in unity and mission, in witness to the Gospel in our country, and in the Church at large.”
There is only one word for this historic announcement - extraordinary. The Apostolic Constitution signed by Pope Benedict XVI will dramatically affect the ecclesial landscape of the entire Christian world. It will also change Christian history going forward. To this observer, who has been writing about these events for a long time and holding firm to the hope of just such an opening while others dismissed it, this is only the beginning of an historic period of Church history, a new missionary age.
In the midst of the darkness of the hour the Catholic Church has done what she has done for over two millennia, shine the light of the Truth to offer the way to salvation for all the Nations. The Church is not some optional organizational “extra” we fashioned, she is the Body of Christ, the new world, the seed of the Kingdom to come, the place where all men and women can find their fulfillment and the only path to authentic peace. The prayer of the Son of God “May They Be One” (John 17) still echoes and heaven itself is responding. Today’s historic news is the sign of the coming plan of that loving God who “…so loved the world that He sent His Only Son”. (John 3:16)
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