An Anglican Priest

"Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." Bishop John Cosin (d. 1672)

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Friday, April 27, 2012

“. . .but is it a Catholic parish?”


There will always be complaints about the parishes we find ourselves in. Many people will desire to transform “what is” into what they experienced during their youth, or into what they experienced at their last parish. “You know we really ought to be doing this, that, or the other. . .” Often times it is asserted that we “really ought to have a crucifix” (or not), or that we “really ought to have incense” (or not).

The parish might be critiqued as being “too high” or “too low.” Erroneously, it is often assumed or explicitly stated that if a parish lacks the use of incense, a large central crucifix (in contrast to a cross without a corpus or with a Risen Christ), or perhaps a statue of the Blessed Virgin, it is not a “Catholic parish.” Conversely, it is assumed that if these things are not present the parish is “protestant,” which is then assumed to be “anti-Catholic.”

Again and again, I find myself coming back to Bishop Cosin’s admonition that Anglicanism is to be “protestant and reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church.”

What then makes the parish a Catholic parish?

Well, first and foremost it needs an orthodox liturgy, one that rightly proclaims the Catholic Faith (for we have no such thing as “an Anglican faith”—what we have is the Catholic Faith expressed in the Anglican Way). For Anglicans then, this means that the parish uses a classic Book of Common Prayer, rather than a modern liturgy which may teach something other than the Catholic Faith of the Scriptures and the Creeds. The liturgy of the Prayer Book might be supplemented by other sources (or by other classic editions of the Prayer Book), but I think that in keeping with the very notion of “Common Prayer” the supplementary material should not supplant nor contradict the text of the Prayer Book.

Also, what is the primary service of worship in the parish church? If there is a priest to be had, then the Prayer Book assumes that the service will be Holy Communion. Indeed, it may be preceded by Morning Prayer, but any casual observer of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer will be able to see that the Epistles and Gospels laid out for the year are for the service of Holy Communion: This is the only service of worship appointed by the Savior “for the remembrance of” Him. If the parish wishes to keep the “Morning Prayer tradition” alive, it should do so by preceding the Eucharist with Morning Prayer, not replacing the Eucharist with Morning Prayer. In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, is the text of the Prayer Book followed for the prayer of consecration, or is it replaced by something else? Again, while the Prayer Book may be supplemented, it ought not be supplanted or else we are no longer following the Anglicanism of old, but "doing a new thing."

If the Eucharist is the primary focus of corporate Sunday morning worship, is it being celebrated decently and in order, with reverence? Is the priest decently appareled in a manner of vesture traditionally accepted in the Anglican Church? The rubrics of the 1928 Prayer Book of the Church of England assume that the priest is to wear either a surplice and stole or an alb and chasuble or cope (this is defensible in that both the chasuble and cope derived from the same ancient vestment).

A “pulpit robe,” a suit and tie, or some other novel manner of dress is not the traditional “uniform” of an Anglican priest for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The celebrant is a priest in the Church, not simply an individual performing a task. A surplice with stole or alb and vestment are the normal modes of apparel for the Anglican priest, and ones that place the emphasis on the office of the priest and not the whims of taste of the individual filling that office.

Questions of incense, statuary, and ornaments are largely superficial questions in determining whether a parish is “Catholic.” It is a Catholic parish in the Anglican Way if it keeps the Lord’s Day as the Church Catholic has always done from ancient times, with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, in which we receive the Body and Blood of Christ with and under the signs of Bread and Wine. If a parish is not living up to this Anglican ideal as set forth in the Prayer Book, then it is right for people to “protest” and be rightly “protestant” in the manner in which Bp. Cosin describes. However, quarrels over other things will usually result in discord and discontent with both clergy and laity focusing on minor elements of the service instead of the corporate sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving performed in union with the rest of the Body of Christ.

"In necessasariis, unitas; In dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas."

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