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Anglican Catholicism

Picture a Catholic parish where the priest celebrates Mass facing the same way as the congregation, where the prayers
sound like Elizabethan English and the pastor is married with five children. You're in the Church of Our Lady of the Atonement. This was the first parish in the United States established to accommodate Episcopalians who become Catholic and want to keep certain liturgical and cultural traditions.

A pastoral provision issued in 1980 by the Vatican permitted the ordination of married men who were clergy in the Episcopal church and allowed for a version of the Western Mass known as the Anglican-use liturgy. Twenty years after Our Lady of the Atonement was established, there is growing interest in setting up more such congregations.

Joe is a cradle Catholic who joined the Episcopal church and later returned to Catholic Unity. He is helping to organize the February exploratory meeting. He is reported as saying:

"There's an opportunity in a large city .... [for] outreach to Anglicans who are looking for a way [to cross over to the Catholic Church] .... you have a very strong 'high church' tradition, and many are distressed with the trend in the Episcopal church."
It is not just former Episcopalians who are drawn by the Anglican-use liturgy. Churches like Our Lady of the Atonement list many cradle Catholics as parishioners. Ray, one such cradle Catholic, joined Our Lady of the Atonement because he "just liked the reverence..... Everybody still genuflects," he said.

Father Christopher, Our Lady of the Atonement's pastor, said his parish is about half former Episcopalians or other Protestant converts and half lifelong Catholics. He was ordained a Catholic priest on Aug. 15, 1983, as 17 other Episcopalians became Catholics and formed the beginning of the parish.  He says:

"People who come here as lifelong Catholics usually have a story. They're looking for something more formal, dignified and awe-inspiring."
Father Christopher was a member of the unnamed commission that drafted the Anglican-use liturgy: "The Book of Divine Worship". The commission was convened in Rome under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship. Finalized in Rome in November 1983, it is based on the "Book of Common Prayer". For example, the penitential rite, taken from the Book of Common Prayer, reads:
"We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us."
In modifying the Episcopal liturgy to make it conform to Catholicism, some things had to be taken out and others had to be added. For example, because the Anglican Eucharistic Prayer is defective, it was replaced by an English translation of the Roman Canon, as used in the English Sarum Rite, prior to the Protestant Reformation.

In many ways, the ceremonial of the Anglican liturgical style resembles pre-Vatican II customs. However, if the recent Vatican Synod hadn't taken place, the parish of  "Our Lady of the Atonement is" would certainly not exist. Since the 1950's it has been accepted that in some regards there can be great diversity within the Church. "The Anglican use" is definitely a postconciliar idea. Of course, if the Traditional Roman Rite hadn't been all but outlawed, there wouldn't have been any call for an "Anglican Use".

The pastoral provision governing the Anglican use allows married Episcopal clergy to be ordained as Catholic priests, but does not permit them to become bishops or remarry in the case of widowhood.

Father Christopher has been married 32 years. But he says that even if he had not been granted the dispensation to be ordained a Catholic priest, he would have become Catholic anyway. He describes his conversion as:

"a matter of conscience .... [in part because of] the whole matter of abortion.....What the Episcopalian Church was teaching was incomplete and incorrect .... [current Episcopalian doctrine teaches that] abortion could be seen as a moral good and may well be necessary .... The basis of their moral teaching is immoral."
In its 20 years, Our Lady of the Atonement has grown from 18 parishioners, counting children, to around 400 families.  About one thousand people attend Sunday Mass there. The parish runs a school, and plans are currently under way to expand the
church building to accommodate the additional parishioners.

Requests to establish new Anglican-use parishes have not been encouraged by bishops, Father Christopher maintained.

"It's a pity that more bishops don't realize they have a real tool here for evangelization.... [The Anglican Use is] .... a door that opens to allow people to see there is a place for them in the Catholic Church.... [If they join an Anglican-use parish, they] don't have to abandon everything they knew and loved.... [Moreover there is] something about the beauty of the worship that appeals to many."
When asked if more people would convert if more Anglican-use parishes were established, Father Christopher responded, "I know it."

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