Dialogue, proselytism and ecumenism

Colin Podmore reflects on inter-church relations in an ecumenical age

This year, bishops of The Society celebrated fifteen chrism masses for priests who look to them for episcopal oversight and cannot concelebrate a chrism mass of the ordinary who has jurisdiction over them. At present, the reason for that inability is that they cannot recognize some concelebrants as priests; soon they may not be able to recognize their ordinary as a bishop either. The Church of England resolves this problem (at present through the Act of Synod, in future through the House of Bishops' Declaration) by arranging episcopal oversight from a bishop who presides at a chrism mass which they can concelebrate.

The chrism mass celebrated for the Ordinariate on the Monday of Holy Week neatly illustrated the ecclesiological problem that Anglicans perceive to be at its heart. The Ordinary who has jurisdiction could not be the principal concelebrant because he is not recognized as a bishop (even though he is permitted to wear episcopal insignia), but the Roman Catholic Church does not provide the Ordinariate's priests with oversight from a bishop who can preside at their chrism mass. The Ordinary's jurisdiction being vicarious, their real bishop is the Pope. As he clearly he could notbe in London on the Monday of Holy Week, it was another of his deputies, the Apostolic Nuncio, who presided.

Need for communication

The Ordinary did preach, however, and his sermon makes interesting reading. In it he acknowledged that the Ordinariate was in danger of forgetting the vision, set out in Anglicanorum Coetibus, 'to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church': This vision needed to be communicated 'with our fellow Catholics...with our friends and former colleagues in the Church of England and equally Anglicans who have lapsed from the practice of the faith'. Such communication he described as an important work of ecumenism'.

Dialogue aimed at understanding is indeed at the heart of ecumenism. Mutual understanding deepens fellowship within the body of Christ. But dialogue is a two-way process; it is about listening, not just communicating. Any dialogue established on such a mutual basis is to be welcomed.

The Ordinariate

The Ordinary also commented, 'We must be honest and say the Ordinariate has not grown as much as we hoped it might' because 'the vision has not been caught'. (The Tablet estimates its membership at around 85 priests and 1,500 laypeople fewer than 18 people per priest.) For this reason he called upon each cluster of Ordinariate groups to organize an event on 6 September under the title 'Called to be One' and 'invite those who might be interested to learn more about that vision'.

If this is intended to inform Roman Catholics about the Ordinariate, or to be an opportunity to (re-)evangelize the unchurched or lapsed, or for genuine two-way ecumenical dialogue, it is much to be welcomed.

A generous response

Anglicanorum Coetibus, it should be remembered, was not an unsolicited offer but a generous pastoral response to requests from a number of Anglicans. Its description of 'the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion', developed outside the communion of the Roman Catholic Church, as 'a precious gift' and 'a treasure to be shared was a remarkable ecumenical statement (and an implicit reproach to any who might be tempted to deride Anglican liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions).

After Anglicanorum Coetibus was published, it was Anglicans who invited their fellow Anglicans to discussions about whether to accept the offer. For those who are now Roman Catholics to invite practising Anglicans to discuss joining the Ordinariate would be quite different not be a generous pastoral response but an exercise in proselytism (sheep-stealing); not an important work of ecumenism but deeply damaging to ecumenical relations.

Not a competition

Forward in Faith churches should be inviting communities, engaged in evangelization and outreach, welcoming all who come to worship whatever their background. We will not be issuing unsolicited invitations to practising members of other churches to consider (re)joining our churches: they should know that the door is always open.

If Anglican members of Forward in Faith receive invitations to discussions organized by members of another church, which they believe are intended to encourage them to leave the Church of England, they should please let me know.

Evangelism

In today's Britain the task of all the churches is to evangelize those of no faith or commitment, and to re-evangelize those who have become separated from the life of the churches. This is not a competition, and we can rejoice in any success that our ecumenical partners may have in such work; there are plenty of people out there who need the Gospel. Church growth that results from proselytism may fill empty seats, but it will not build up the body of Christ.

ND

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