The electrifying news recently (20 Oct.) that Pope Benedict XVI has replied to the petitions of large numbers of Anglicans desirous of entering into full communion with Roman Catholicism has predictably drawn some complaint, ridicule, and scorn.
One adverse critique leveled against the Pope’s response, as reflected in the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus (“Groups of Anglicans”), is that it fails to respect the ordinary ecumenical process, especially the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue known as ARCIC. But the Holy See has clearly explained that the new Constitution, while consistent with the Church’s commitment to ecumenical dialogue, nonetheless should be viewed in terms of opening up “a new venue for the promotion of Christian values.” (L’Osservatore Romano, 11 Nov., p.1.)
Surely, Benedict sees Church unity as an especially urgent priority. Given the poverty of religious faith in Europe – in the whole Western world, for that matter – Christianity must move forward, as quickly as possible. Things are falling apart, as Nobel Laureate W. B. Yeats foretold 90 years ago; nor can the center hold. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” (The Second Coming, 1921)
Like his predecessor, John Paul the Great, Benedict is not only a deep intellectual; he is also a doer. He keeps the goal in mind; namely, Church unity, before the decline of civilization becomes a crash. It is as if Benedict has made the judgment that we cannot wait any longer.
Consider the scene in Italy and on the European Continent as Anglicanorum Coetibus was made known. In a Strasbourg Tribunal, the European Court of Human Rights was issuing an edict which prohibited the display of a central religious symbol of European civilization in the EU’s classrooms; specifically, the Crucifix. The alleged rationale is that display of the Crucifix violates parents’ rights to educate their children according to their own beliefs as well as the children’s rights to religious freedom.
That an EU court could presume to interfere bluntly in a case “so profoundly linked to the historical, cultural and spiritual history of the Italian people,” said Father Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office, is “astonishing.” Moreover, the Italian Bishops’ Conference described the Court’s finding as reflecting a “biased and ideological vision,” since the Crucifix is both a religious and a cultural symbol.
“The Crucifix represents everyone,” explained Natalia Ginzburg, 20 years ago, in what was then a Communist newspaper, L’Unità. Ms. Ginzburg, who has since died, was recently cited widely in the European press because of the alarming Strasbourg decision. “Before Christ,” she had written, “no one had ever said that all people are equal and are brothers and sisters – rich and poor, believers and non-believers, Gentiles and Jews, Black and White.”
Again, this Holy Father sees a real threat to Christianity and all religion in the current decline of Western Culture, and he accordingly must move forward in whatever venue is available to restore Christian unity.
A second objection to Benedict’s Constitution on admitting Anglicans is that it unnecessarily complicates the quest for unity by establishing a new Rite, through the institution of “Personal Ordinariates” for the sake of Anglicans who opt for Rome.
On the contrary (as St. Thomas Aquinas repeatedly put it), the Vatican deliberately declined to establish a new Rite for the Anglicans, precisely because it viewed the Anglican situation as soluble within the Latin Rite as is – with some modifications, so as to allow Anglicans opting for Rome various adaptations based on ever-evolving Anglican liturgical practices or customs.
Interestingly, had Rome decided to structure a new Rite for the Anglicans, it had precedent in the old Sarum Rite, which coexisted with the Latin Rite before the Reformation in Britain. For a summary of the history of the Sarum Rite (which every seminarian and liturgy scholar studies in Liturgy 101), consult the “What’s Your Question?” column this month on Page 24. The center of this old Rite, recently revived in some English churches, was Salisbury (Sarum). I recall leafing through an updated version of the Sarum Sacramentary a few years after Vatican Council II.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.