Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Covenant between a Roman Catholic and Anglican parish

The following has been taken from the website of the Roman Catholic Parish involved in this Covenant. I have (1) anonymised the two parishes involved as far as I can, but I can't do that to the photo and (2) given the full text as it appeared so that readers can see the full context. This seems to me to respect the needs of charity and fairness towards those involved. There were one or two more photographs on the original that I have not included. My comments are in red. Whilst the encouraging of positive relationships between Anglican and Roman Catholic parishes is a requirement of both charity and ecumenism, I am not sure that a covenant like this really delivers. It might be the case that content of this particular covenant is too extensive, and some of the highlighted problems might have been avoided by a much simpler covenant.

A COVENANT between The Roman Catholic Parish of ......and The Anglican Parish of St .....

A very moving and well-attended service was held in St ......., on Friday 25th January 2008, The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. Here we joined with our brothers and sisters at our neighbouring Anglican parish of St ........in a service of thanksgiving, during which the Covenant between our two parishes was signed. It appears to have been a very nice - and appropriately timed - occasion of Christian fellowship.

One could easily look at this photograph and "see" something that I don't believe was intended - no difference between the Roman Catholic priest and the Anglican priest. This could represent a serious pastoral problem - Roman Catholic parishioners might see it as a kind of recognition of Anglican orders and legitimacy vis a vis the Roman Catholic Church, and Anglican parishioners might also see it as that! I really don't know how, on occasions such as this, the photo opportunity can be managed to avoid this problem ...

Monsignor .....and Canon ...... signed the Covenant first, followed by the Chairmen of the two Parochial Parish Councils.

Fr ....., Fr ..... , Fr ...., Fr ....., Deacon ....... and Fr ...... [again, one cannot differentiate between the Roman Catholic priests and the Anglican] were joined by the Combined Girls' Choirs of the two parishes, directed by ........(Assistant Organist and Director of the Girls' Choir at St ......) and ........(Organ Scholar and Director of the Girls' Choir at the Parish of ......). ......(Director of Music at the Parish of ....) and ......... (Director of Music at St ........) were also present.

A dramatic reading by the Youth Group from St ...... portrayed the conversion of St Paul, as the scales fell from his eyes and he saw the true path.

An Act of Commitment was also read by representatives from the two parishes in which amongst other things we promised to pray for one another, for unity in the Church and for peace in the world. After the service a very joyful meeting with refreshments took place in the ....... Parish Hall. Again, appears to have been a quite appropriate occasion of Christian fellowship.

Historical Context of the Covenant

This Covenant between our two parishes is part of an ongoing tradition of ecumenical dialogue and of reconciliation through the grace of the Holy Spirit. We rejoice that our parishes have much in common, in our beliefs and in our liturgy [literally, this may be correct, but does it give an impression of much more? The parishes might have much in common as far as the liturgy goes, but if the essential core is not there in one of the parishes...]. In particular, both parishes recognise the eucharist as the source and summit of Church life, in which Christians of every time and place are united and the Church on earth is joined to the Church in heaven [But do both parishes really have the celebration of the Eucharist, as is implied here? The Anglicans might believe so, but the Roman Catholics should not]. It is therefore a cause of deep sadness that Christ’s body, the Church, has become divided so that we are not able to share the eucharist [Anglican eucharist implied as equivalent to Roman Catholic?] with one another. The expression of sadness does reflect an authentic ecumenical sense.

Since the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Anglican and Roman Catholic Communions have been in constant dialogue. The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission has published a number of documents vital to our common life and union. These theological studies, along with the discussions that led to them and which flow from them are bringing a growing agreement in faith and support our pilgrimage toward full Church unity, [subtlety needed here - the Roman Catholic view would be that there is one sense in which full unity already exists, another in which it is still to be sought - but the intent of this sentence is OK]which is Christ’s will. This journey has been marked by several meetings between successive Popes and Archbishops of Canterbury, beginning with the meeting between Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI in 1966.

Sadly, developments within the Anglican Communion over recent decades have introduced obstacles to unity both within the Anglican Communion and between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Whilst such developments have made dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole more difficult, that should not prevent us from taking the opportunity to continue dialogue at a more local level. A note of realism here that seems in tension with the reference to "growing agreement in faith" in the preceding paragraph.

We hope and pray that this covenant between the Anglican Parish of St ......, and the Roman Catholic Parish of .........., will become part of a wider journey towards unity and full communion between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and that one day Christ will bring all Christians into that final union which he alone can give.

+ In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

With gratitude to God, we publicly proclaim our faith in the Holy Trinity and our belief in the will of the Lord Jesus Christ who prayed for us and for all who are His Church, “that all may be one.” Baptized into the mystery of God’s holy life, we, Monsignor ......and Canon ......., in the name of our Churches do solemnly enter into this covenant.

We affirm our common beliefs: these attempt to express beliefs that are common, so it is perhaps legitimate that some key Roman Catholic beliefs are not fully expressed - but that does create a potential for pastoral problems if the Anglican parishioners take it that these beliefs fully express a Catholic position

- that God has revealed himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that sacred scripture and the apostolic tradition, inspired by the Holy Spirit, bear witness to this perfect revelation. [no mention of the magisterium]

- that the unity of the Church is God’s will; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that manifests the mystery of the Triune God, and one we seek to bring into rightful expression [an extremely clever choice of words, but it does actually leave completely undefined what "rightful expression" means with the possibility that it means different things to the two parishes involved] in our communions.

- that Christ Jesus, Saviour of the World, is present to us in His Church [a use of the word "Church" that really needs more precision - it could be taken here to refer to at least three different things] through the sacraments [how many?] and that they make present His victory over sin and death; moreover in the sacrament of the eucharist we believe Christ to be truly and substantially present under the forms of bread and wine, [the Roman Catholics will believe this to be so in the celebrations in their own parish, but they won't believe it to be so in the Anglican celebrations; a good can be seen in the sense in which this statement was intended, but I wonder what impression it is creating in the two parishes involved?] and that sharing in this sacrament would be the fullest expression of Christian unity.

- that Christ has given to His Church order and authority [again, no real expression of magisterium as a binding teaching authority], expressed chiefly through the ministry of the bishops, as successors to the apostles.

- that Christ draws all people to himself from every nation and tongue, every race and people, and bestows a special dignity upon all men and women, who are created in the image of God. fine

- that our hearts and minds will continue to be nourished by the Word of God in Scripture and the action of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s Church. Fine

- that prayer is an essential part of the work of the Church and the life of the individual believer, and that through prayer we can express our desire for unity. Fine, and echoes Pope Benedict XVI's references to "spiritual ecumenism" during his visit to Cologne in 2005

- that Mary as Mother of God and Mother of the Church is a model of holiness, faith and obedience, and that her prayers, together with those of all the saints, aid us in our pilgrimage. Fine, and encouraging to see this recognised by the Anglican parish.

- that the diversity of gifts and graces in the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions [I think the sense in which this is intended is a good one, though, as recognised above, there is a diversity within the Anglican communion that is actually an obstacle to unity] will enrich the celebrations we share and the dialogues we pursue.

- that with the grace of the Holy Spirit, we pray that we will be enabled to overcome the separations which currently keep us apart. Spiritual ecumenism.

We commit ourselves:

- to pray for each other and with each other and to ask the faithful of our communions to pray for one another especially at Mass. Again, the implication of an equivalence between Mass celebrated in the two parishes, which would not be recognised by the Catholic parish

- to seek to remove any obstacle to union whilst maintaining the traditions of our communions.

- to pray for unity in the Church, with the special intention that one day we will both be able to share the Eucharistic Communion at the same altar.

- to pray together for peace, justice, dignity and solidarity for our society and for the resolution of hostilities in other parts of the world.

- to pray for the leadership of our Churches; for wisdom and prudence in response to the needs in our dioceses, the nation and the world.

- to support those who live an Anglican-Roman Catholic covenant in their families [this I do find an interesting idea - it is possible to very glibly assume that every marriage between an Anglican and a Roman Catholic should be seen as an ecumenical sign, a sign of the future unity of the churches, but I don't think it is an assumption that can be made for most mixed marriages. However, as a charism - ie a specially given gift of the Spirit, given to a particular couple - I think it is a possibility. It would be interesting to see a pastoral strategy that can effectively promote this] . to collaborate in planning liturgical [care and discernment needed!], educational [care and discernment needed!], and social programmes [this has the greatest possibilities] and sharing physical and human resources whenever possible.

- to seek unity in teaching the Christian moral life. Well expressed, I think, but there are clearly limits to what might be achieved here.

- to support the proclamation, the living out and the annual renewal of this covenant.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20, 21


The Right Reverend Monsignor ........,
The Reverend Canon ........

Together with the lay chairs of the respective parish councils


Joe said...

In the light of Dominus Jesus nn.16-17, the use of the word "Church" in such a way that it does not have a clear, univocal meaning appears misleading. Whilst recognising that elements of the reality of the Church are present in the Anglican Church, Dominus Jesus does not allow the Catholic side of this Covenant to use the word "Church" to apply to the Anglican Church as an institution. At some points, the Covenant is ambiguous on this - eg where it says "Christ has given to His Church order and authority", saying this equally of the Anglican Church and of the Roman Catholic. In other places, the Covenant more carefully uses words like "traditions" or "communions" to refer to the two bodies. Perhaps this terminology could have been used more consistently in the text of the Covenant.

Joe said...

And a further context that I have discovered since posting. It appears that the Anglican parish involved may be under the oversight of (an Anglican) "flying bishop", rather than the local geographical (Anglican) bishop. This is an arrangement that allows traditional Anglican parishes that do not want to accept women priests to opt to be "overseen" by a traditional bishop rather than the local bishop. A typically Anglican solution ... I probably need to do a bit more checking to confirm this, but it does shed some light on the willingness of the Anglican parish to refer to "Mass" etc in the text of the Covenant.

Monica said...

I share your concerns.

I assume this took place in the diocese of Brentwood. Having lived in that diocese and having two shared churches forced upon us in the one Catholic parish (because it covered two anglican parishes), I'm not surprised. It's what I would expect given the ecclesiology of the Ordinary.

Joe said...


The more I have thought about the issues raised by this post, the more I think that "covenants" of this type (and, by implication, shared churches) are just not the way forward. For one thing, this particular "covenant" seems to reflect a dialogue with a certain "corner" of Anglicanism, and not with the whole, and one can wonder at the usefulness of that.

I am reminded of an earlier post I put up, the gist of which was that named "ecumenical" activities are not really where the Catholic Church expresses her ecumenical identity - it is in the ordinary life of charisms such as that of Focolare ("spirituality of unity") and the Bridgettine order (a monastic charism of hospitality and prayer for Christian unity)within the Church that this ecumenical identity is expressed. See Prayer for Unity among Christians .

A big question is - is there a similar internal living of ecumenical identity by the Anglican Church, or are the "developments within the Anglican Communion over recent decades [which] have introduced obstacles to unity both within the Anglican Communion and between Anglicans and Roman Catholics" the only thing they have to offer in this way? In which case, their contribution to dialogue needs to be better supported by deeds in the reality (and I mean this in all charity, not as a personal attack of any sort on Anglicans who are involved in dialogue with Roman Catholics).

miss book said...

doesn't all this blurring at the edges foster confusion?If I was in such a parish, I think I would have to move-perhaps to Lancaster, where they know a thing or two about the mission of the Catholic Church.