UPDATE: Go here to read the response of John Hepworth, the leader of the Traditional Anglican Communion.
It will work like this: a priest or bishop will be appointed by Rome in particular areas to oversee the reception of Anglicans into full communion individually, on the congregational level and on the denominational level. He will continue to minister to them as their bishop. Former Anglicans will be able to retain their own traditions of worship. Presumably this means they will use the already approved Book of Divine Worship. Married former Anglican priests will be dispensed from the vow of celibacy and be ordained to serve as Catholic priests.
The structure will be similar to that of the military bishops who serve a dispersed flock or the structure of the Eastern Rite churches where a bishop in communion with the Holy See ministers to a dispersed flock with their own ethnic and historic spirituality and liturgical patrimony.
That’s how it will work. The big question is, how will the Anglicans respond? There will be a range of responses. The Archbishop of Canterbury seems rather stunned by the whole thing, and yet there has been talk of this happening for a couple of years now. I think the mainstream Anglicans have been putting their head in the sand about this possibility for some time, and have considered the overtures of the TAC to Rome to be ‘just a few former Anglican schismatics flexing their muscles.’ That Rome has taken them seriously will come as a slap in the face to the mainstream Anglicans who keep investing in the ‘past-the-sell-by-date’ forms of the old ecumenism.
So what will the Anglican response be? Worldwide we may see whole Anglican provinces come into full communion. They will be small ones like the Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea for instance. More likely we will see several of the Anglican splinter groups come into full communion en bloc. Many of these groups in the United States, for instance, already have their own buildings and clergy, and could come over very easily. Next you will see particular congregations vote to leave the Episcopal church or Anglican Church. Then there will be a fight for the buildings. It will be better for these groups of people to leave quietly and work with the Catholics in their area to find a suitable building and maintain their worship.
I am most interested to imagine what will happen in England. I doubt very much whether we will see whole congregations of Anglo Catholics coming over. Damien Thompson is very enthusiastic, but Anglicans love their buildings. I doubt if the Anglican Church will release any of their property, and without the beautiful church will Anglicans step out on their own? I doubt it. However, I may be wrong. What if the Anglican Church were to respond in kind and say, “You know, we have too many churches already. In each major town we are going to hand over one church to the ‘Anglican Use’ Catholics.
It could happen. Pray for the progress of this exciting step forward.
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