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Bishop Carl Reid with Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, of Ottawa. Photo by Robert Du Broy, courtesy of the Archdiocese of Ottawa

Rejoice in the day the Lord has made

  • April 17, 2012

OTTAWA - “I have never been in a church this big,” said one soon-to-be ex-Anglican priest to Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Basilica on Divine Mercy Sunday.

The occasion was a solemn Mass in the “Anglican Use” to receive some 40 members of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada into full communion with the Catholic Church. The several dozen new Catholics will form a quasi-parish that, while fully Catholic, will celebrate the Eucharist according to approved liturgical books which draw upon their Anglican heritage.

For this small group of Anglicans, whose cathedral church in Ottawa is tiny, it was a novelty to be in such a large church. And of course there is even a bigger Catholic church a few blocks away — Notre Dame Cathedral. The meaning of course is metaphorical. To belong to the Catholic Church means to belong to a Church that is not 500 years old, but apostolic, and is truly universal, not limited to a few hundred people in structures fashioned a few decades ago.

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When Pope Benedict XVI promulgated Anglicanorum coetibus a few years ago, making it possible for groups of Anglicans to become Catholic together, preserving their own heritage and governed by their own ordinary, it was a generous act toward a rather small phenomenon — and for that reason a good lesson about the Church.

To put the numbers in perspective, when all the former Anglicans who have become Catholic in this way, whether in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada or Australia, are added together, it is significantly less than the annual number of converts received into the Church in Hong Kong or Seoul. A large parish in the Philippines or Mexico would easily baptize more people every month than Archbishop Prendergast received on Sunday.

So why the great joy in Ottawa? Because the logic of the Church — the logic of salvation — does not proceed by numbers as the world sees them. Every soul is precious, and every fragment of the body of Christ restored to the fullness of the flock is an occasion, as the Lord Jesus told us, for rejoicing in heaven. And if they rejoice in heaven, why would we not rejoice on Earth? Of course the sheer emotion and happiness of those becoming Catholic on Sunday was deeply moving itself. After the rite of reception, when the congregation burst forth in spontaneous applause, one of the former Anglican priests turned to me with moistened eyes and quietly said, “I never thought I would see this day.”  The only response? That which the liturgy gives us during the Easter Octave: This is the day that the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.

Realistically, I know that the addition of a few dozen souls from a rather mature congregation is unlikely to have much impact on the life of the Church in Ottawa, let alone across Canada. I fondly hope though that their impact is much greater than their numbers would predict, for I think our newly Catholic brethren have two important lessons to teach us.

First, as with all adult converts, they teach us that the faith needs to be chosen, not just assumed, and that one must be willing to make sacrifices for it.

“I commend the courage and fortitude of our brothers and sisters of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada; your journey has not been easy,” Archbishop Prendergast preached on Sunday. “I commend your humility and your sacrifice; you have suffered much. I commend your tradition and your zeal; you will bless and strengthen the Roman Catholic Church by your presence.”

Second, the Anglican liturgical tradition has something important to offer us — and not just that they sing good hymns with passion! (I found myself wondering how they could sing so well in a small church — their voices demand a grand one!) The Anglican Use liturgy — which I celebrated myself for the first time in January — is roughly a combination of the rubrics of the Tridentine Mass, but with the English of the Book of Common Prayer tradition. Especially with our new translation of the Roman Missal, no Catholic would have difficulty following the Mass, but it would expose him to a new experience of reverence and beauty. The “prayer of humble access” alone, recited before Holy Communion, would reinforce our teaching on the Real Presence.

While I have reverence for the Tridentine Mass, there are aspects of it that seem opaquely curious to me and to those who are not already well accustomed to that liturgical form. The Anglican Use is far more accessible, by which I mean that it more clearly teaches at the same time as it sanctifies. My own view is that the Anglican Use may well be of greater help in our liturgical renewal than the more widespread offering of the Tridentine form. Yet all that is for the future. For now, it is enough to rejoice in the day the Lord has made!

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