As Catholics and Anglicans come together, the Church of England pulls apart

Mar 18, 2017 by

by Fr Dwight Longenecker, Crux:

In many ways, the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion are on closer terms than they have ever been in their history. Despite this relationship, the situation for Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England itself is getting worse: An Anglo-Catholic bishop withdrew his nomination as the Anglican Bishop of Sheffield due to protests over his opposition to the ordination of women.

There was a kind of ecumenical triumph for the Anglicans in Rome last weekend. For the first time ever, the beautiful service of Choral Evensong was sung in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, director of the Anglican center in Rome, presided, the Choir of Merton College, Oxford sang, and English Archbishop Arthur Roche, Vatican Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, preached.

It was the sort of event both Anglicans and Catholics could not have imagined just sixty years ago. Furthermore, the little triumph of church unity comes just five months after Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby celebrated Vespers together at the Basilica of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome.

In addition, last month Pope Francis observed the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Anglican church of All Saints in Rome by visiting the church and blessing an icon.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Anglican service of Evensong, it is a version of the monastic offices of Vespers (evening prayer) and Compline (night prayer) adapted by the Reformation Archbishop of Canterbury.

Over the centuries, the Anglicans have maintained the medieval monastic tradition of male voice choirs. Originally the choirs would have been composed of monks and boys from the abbey schools. Now the choirs are based in a few Oxford and Cambridge colleges that had monastic roots, as well as Anglican cathedrals.

Anglicans not only maintained the medieval choral tradition, but they also developed and enriched the tradition with new settings of the psalms and canticles for the evening and night offices. To participate in Choral Evensong in the ancient soaring collegiate chapels and cathedrals of England is one of the long lasting treasures of the Anglican patrimony, and it is one of the great gifts Anglicans can share with Catholics.

Unfortunately, while Anglican voices were raised in praise in the magnificent setting of St. Peter’s in Rome, things continue to be turbulent at home in England.

In January, the Church of England bishops published a long awaited report affirming that marriage can only be between one man and one woman. However, London’s Guardian newspaper reported that “Gay campaigners within the church denounced the report as “cruel” and an “utter failure” that could herald an increase in clerical disobedience over issues around sexuality.”

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