In a recent post about the perduring Anglican drama, I closed with a throwaway comment about wishing I could will into existence some reconfigured relationship between the churches of the Anglican inheritance and the Apostolic See of Rome. Much to my amazed amusement and amused amazement, a handful of commenters and bloggers ran with that statement as if it had some substantive connection to what came before it, and some really frenetic speculation ensued.
There was, in fact, no connection. It was random firing.
Yet, outside the present sturm und drang of whatever my fellow Episcopalian dissidents are plotting and hatching, the idea of some kind of corporate rapprochement with Rome is one that a certain stratum of Anglicans--the stratum in which I reside, apparently--is not going to let loose of. Over the years, I've had more than a few friends and acquaintances make (what used to be called) their "submission" to Rome. The very reason I'm in the parish position I hold is because my predecessor swam the Tiber (and is now a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton, with a wife and six kids!). Yet, I have to admit, that whenever I hear of one of these individual conversions, part of me dies inside, because this sort of thing can only forestall the day when there is an opportunity for Anglicans en masse to be restored to communion with the Patriarch of the West, which is (or should be, in my view) the normative state of affairs.
If I could write my own scenario for this, here's what it would be: An Anglican Rite Church, in communion with Rome, but not part of the ecclesial structure of the Latin Rite. This would be in every way analogous and parallel to the relationship of the several non-Latin Rites of the Catholic Church--e.g. the Maronite (Lebanese), the Melkite (Greek), the Ruthenian (Russian) and the Ukranian (in Ukraine, obviously, and also quite numerous in the Canadian prairie). These jurisdictions geographically overlap the diocesan structure of their Latin Rite (the "mainstream" of Roman Catholicism) cousins in areas where both are present, with no formal ties. They maintain their own liturgy and ecclesial culture, their own codes of canon law and disciplinary regulations. Married clergy are commonplace in most or all of these churches.
The Anglican Rite of my dreams would, of course, have a doctrinal and moral foundation that would be consistent with the teaching of the Roman Church, though not necessarily identical with it in tone, emphasis, and articulation. For instance, it would have its own catechism. Its liturgical life would be based on the broad tradition of the Book of Common Prayer, of course. Its ethos would be comprehensive of all the streams of Anglicanism--not just the Anglo-Catholic wing sliced off and grafted onto the Roman trunk. Rather, the spiritual eclecticism of Anglican piety--music, devotional practice, etc.--would be one of its hallmarks.
To be a little more pragmatic and less fantastical for one paragraph: Clergy, of course, would be allowed to marry, though it is difficult to contemplate that this would be extended to the episcopate, given the number centuries that have elapsed since married men have served as bishops in either the east or the west, save in those churches reconfigured at the time of the Reformation. Given the present position of the See of Rome, it is also surpassingly difficult to imagine that women could be allowed to serve in Holy Orders, though it is perhaps slightly less unimaginable that there could be some iteration or permutation of diaconal ministry that would be open to women.
Now, in my wildest dreams, this whole arrangement would come about as part of a covenant that would include the entire Anglican Communion, with the Archbishop of Canterbury being granted the status of Patriarch in the Catholic Church. But just remembering a word like "Sydney" reminds me how utterly insane such a hope would be. In fact, it could only be a wish, never a hope, and Christians are people of hope.
So, what I suspect is the best my Catholic heart might hope for is that, emerging from the debris of the atomized Anglicanism that looms so darkly across our path--though I pray daily against it--an Anglican Rite (or something like it by another name) could be created that would enable significant numbers--even including whole parishes and even dioceses--to make the Romeward journey together, rather than as a mere aggregation of individuals, and all the while, then, maintaining a sense of Anglican culture and continuity with the inheritance not only of Alban and Cuthbert and Bede and Julian and Anselm and Becket, but also with Hooker and Donne and Herbert and the Wesleys and Simeon and Wilberforce--and, for that matter, Gore and Maurice and Temple.
We don't want to sit down by the Tiber and weep as on alien soil, pipe organs in our hands, so to speak, hearing cries of "Sing us one of your Choral Evensongs!" We want to stay in our native land, only to be fully attached once again to the living, pulsing, messily dynamic Body of the Catholic Church--fully, unambiguously, joyfully, without the sort of asterisks and qualifiers ("We're Catholic, just not Roman Catholic") that we've had to exist with since the Elizabethan Settlement.
Of course, speaking as a priest who considers himself already to be a Catholic priest--no asterisks--the process would be greatly lubricated if Rome could find a way to receive me as a priest, rather than purport to make me one for the first time. It is presently unthinkable for me to do or say anything that could be construed as denying what I know I have been for nearly 18 years--that the sacraments over which I have presided are anything less or other than what they were intended to be, which is nothing less or other than what the Catholic Church intends them to be. They haven't come to this point yet in the exercise of the Pastoral Provision (the process that allows married former Anglican clergy to be ordained as Latin Rite priests). But I have boundless regard for Roman creativity--where they have a will, they always find a way. Even if it were a very quiet, private, overtly conditional re-ordination, that would do the trick.
Like I said, this is a fantasy--and, when I dare let it be so, a hope. If a hope is more solid than a wish, it is less solid than an expectation. In any case, I suspect no harm can be done by putting these thoughts into cyberspace, trusting that God, in His own providence, might take and bless and break and give them somehow for the glory of His Name, the benefit of His Church, and life of the world.