The following is a transcript of a talk given by Gerry Lynch, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Salisbury, and strategic communications consultant to Sarum College, who worships at St Martin’s in Salisbury.
Anglo-Catholicism – a talk in preparation for a visit by Sarum Ministry Students to Sung Mass at St Martin’s, Salisbury, 19th March 2017
I’ve always believed there is more truth in a good anthology of poetry than a whole library of textbooks, so let us start our exploration of Anglo-Catholicism with a poem written by John Betjeman, entitled Anglo-Catholic Congress.
We, who remember the Faith, the grey-headed ones,
Of those Anglo-Catholic Congresses swinging along,
Who heard the South Coast salvo of incense-guns
And surged to the Albert Hall in our thousands strong
With ‘extreme’ colonial bishops leading in song;
Yet, under the Travers baroque, in a limewashed whiteness,
The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,
Our Lady’s image, in multiple-candled brightness,
The bells and banners – those were the waking days
When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.
Four things characteristic of Anglo-Catholicism stand out for me in this poem – a deeply nostalgic sentiment; a healthy sense of fun and enjoyment of the good things in life; a constant tension between a legitimate sense of the divine through beauty and an unhealthy obsession with the externalities of religion; and under it all a deep and profound Christian faith.
We’ll locate this poem in its historical context – and Anglo-Catholicism’s historical context – later on. But first, let’s look at the worship that you will encounter in St Martin’s later this morning, and the tradition it belongs to.
In many ways, the worship you will encounter at St Martin’s differs little from the main morning service at the Cathedral, or St Thomas’, or indeed a more traditional communion service at an Evangelical Anglican church, let’s say like the 9.30 service at St Francis’. There will be plenty of incense, bells, prayers to Our Lady and many more candles. More subtly, the atmosphere will probably be quieter and more restrained, even a little more restricted.
The main Sunday morning service at Anglo-Catholic churches is universally a Eucharist, often called a Mass. There may be a service of Mattins on a Sunday morning, but this will usually be a simple said affair lasting around 20 minutes, and intended as a preparation for Mass or as a convenience for those who make a practice of saying the Daily Office. But for Anglo-Catholics, it is a given that the Lord’s people should celebrate the Lord’s supper on the Lord’s Day.
The difference with a Eucharist in a more ‘Central’ parish is in the details. Worship in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, done correctly, engages all the senses. With lots of colour, movement and chanting, there is plenty to see and hear. Plenty to hear also in the Scripture readings and the sermon, taking place at the familiar point. Incense engages the sense of smell. There is plenty of physical prayer to engage the sense of touch: making the sign of the cross, kneeling and standing, and at when the Blessed Sacrament is received, the sense of taste is engaged too.
Although the order of service is overwhelmingly drawn from Common Worship, if you pay attention during the Eucharistic Prayer, you will notice some parts that probably aren’t familiar. Between the Dominical Words and the Great Amen, you will notice the priest joins his prayers and those of the people with a number of saints (although provision is made this in Eucharistic Prayers B and G), and prayers are offered for the two Bishops with oversight of the parish.
You may also notice that the between the Sursum Corda and the Sanctus is a much longer Proper Preface than you will be used to. At St Martin’s, the Roman Catholic Proper Preface for the relevant Sunday is used, as an expression of the importance placed on the hope of corporate reunification of the Church.
Not every Anglo-Catholic church will use these variations from authorised Church of England liturgies – for every one that uses them, another will be fiercely loyal to approved Anglican liturgies.
At the end of Mass, the priest and servers will process to the Lady Chapel, and will lead the congregation in singing the Angelus, a prayer which celebrates the Incarnation of Christ as a human being, and centred on reciting the Hail Mary three times. Devotion to Our Lady is an important characteristic of Anglo-Catholics. For many Anglo-Catholics, saying the Hail Mary, and perhaps praying the Rosary, is an important part of their private prayers.
Many Anglo-Catholics will make pilgrimages to the Marian shrine at Walsingham in Norfolk, or less commonly visit Roman Catholic shrines to Our Lady abroad. This is not a frequent occurrence, but does happen, especially to Lourdes in the South of France. Rowan Williams, while Archbishop of Canterbury, preached at one of the main celebratory Masses for the 150th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady to Bernadette at Lourdes.
Another practice to note is devotion to the presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament. You will notice that many people genuflect at St Martin’s. This should only be done where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a church; if it is not, a simple bow to the altar should be made instead. But in St Martin’s, the Sacrament is permanently reserved in the pyx hanging above the altar – if you don’t know what that is, it will be obvious when you arrive in the church later this morning.
Reserving the sacrament was once considered a ‘dangerous’ Roman Catholic import, but has been common in C of E churches for many decades. For reasons of convenience in bringing Holy Communion to the sick or dying, the Sacrament is often reserved even in churches without a particularly Catholic tradition. This will be indicated by a white candle, usually attached to a wall, which burns even when no service is taking place. In the Cathedral, for example, the Sacrament is reserved in the Chapel of St Michael the Archangel in the South Transept, and in St Thomas’ it is reserved in an aumbry in the sanctuary by the altar.
What are only found in churches with a strongly Catholic tradition, however, are services entirely focused on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. In these services, the Sacrament will be placed in a vessel designed to make it easily visible, like a monstrance or a lunette. People will pray before the ‘exposed’ or visible Sacrament, with a period of formal and sometimes extempore prayer followed by a long period of silence; this type of worship is usually known as ‘devotions’. In some cases, a priest will towards the end of the service lift the Sacrament and make the Sign of the Cross over the congregation with it. This is known as ‘Benediction’ and in churches with a strongly Catholic tradition, often follows Sunday Evensong.
Many Anglo-Catholics experience prayer before the exposed Sacrament as a particularly close walk with God, and it usually takes place in an atmosphere of intense devotion and deep silence.
One Ministry weekend, you might consider joining the Benedictine monks next door at 12.15 on a Saturday, when they say the Midday Office of psalms and prayers, have a period of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
Another practice you are likely to find only in churches with a strongly Catholic tradition is that of auricular confession – making confession of sins personally to a priest, in private, and receiving absolution personally. Remember, though, that the first part of every Communion service in the Church of England, regardless of tradition, contains a confession said by the congregation and absolution pronounced by a priest – we are trusted to confess our sins privately to God, and should examine our consciences at that point in every Communion service.
At St Martin’s, a priest is available to hear confessions every Thursday evening, although many parishioners who make a regular practice of confession have made individual arrangements with a priest, whom they see regularly for spiritual direction. Although the practice fell into abeyance in the Church of England relatively soon after the Reformation, the availability of personal confession is clearly implied in the Book of Common Prayer.
Not everyone who makes use of the facility is of a Catholic tradition, and for many people, confession and absolution are nowadays part of a practice of regular spiritual direction, exploring spiritual growth more broadly, rather than just focusing on sins.
Although auricular confession is available, there is no compulsion on people to make use of it – as I have noted, Anglicans are trusted to confess our sins directly to God in our own hearts. The traditional formulation is that ‘all may, some should, but none must’. Many people, however, find the practice of confession to a priest useful as a means of receiving support and advice and very liberating, if not always comfortable – a bit like a visit to the dentist!
Anglo-Catholicism has always had a high doctrine of the Incarnation, understanding that God becoming human in Christ is a great affirmation of human life. From that has followed a belief that Christians should celebrate life and the good things in it. For all the quiet and solemnity during the service, you’ll find that worshippers at St Martin’s are very friendly and chatty after it.
Next Sunday, Mothering Sunday, we will bring out our Rose Pink vestments for Mass and then enjoy a glass of rosé wine or champagne afterwards!
A Post-War Heyday?
Let’s go back to that Betjeman poem again. What is odd about the poem’s nostalgia was that it looked backwards at a mythical inter-war Golden Age from the vantage of the early 1960s, a time when Anglo-Catholicism seemed poised to succeed in its core aims.
Firstly, the worship of the Church of England had been transformed over the previous 40 years. Even in middle-of-the-road parishes, the Eucharist was by then the standard Sunday service, displacing Sung Mattins, previously the norm for centuries. Vestments, candles, Eucharistic wafers, crucifixes and other externalities considered exotic at the turn of the 20th Century were commonplace by the 1960s. Even auricular confession and devotion to Our Lady, while hardly the norm, were spreading widely.
The great Anglican journalist, Monica Furlong, recalled a great sense of liberation in her North London parish in the 1950s as Prayer Book Mattins was replaced by a gently Catholic Sung Eucharist in modern language.
Secondly, even until the Second World War, some Dioceses and bishops had been suspicious of Anglo-Catholicism. By the early ‘60s, most bishops were at least gently Catholic, many of them very fulsomely so. The Central Tradition, dominant for centuries, seemed on its way out – its foremost representative, the departing Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, seemed a relic of an Edwardian Age of class distinction and authoritarian leadership, the passing of which was not mourned by most English people.
Finally, and most importantly, if the C of E had gently tacked a little in the direction of Roman Catholicism, the Second Vatican Council seemed to confirm that Rome was making a sudden dart in the direction of reforms that looked a lot like Anglicanism. The idea of corporate reunion, ending the sundering of the Western Church at the Reformation, no longer seemed a deluded fantasy.
Yet even at that moment of triumph, there was a deeply backwards-looking strain to Anglo-Catholicism. That can hardly be surprising. The movement’s very existence was about regaining what its adherents felt was lost in English Christianity at the Reformation – that is, a Church of and for the English people that was truly Catholic, and truly part of the mainstream of Western Christianity.
A (Very) Brief History of Anglo-Catholicism
From the beginnings of the English Reformation, there had been a tension between those who wished radical reform in the direction of puritanism and Protestantism; and those seeking a more modest winnowing of medieval innovations precisely so they could return to a ‘purer’ tradition of English Catholicism that stretched back to Augustine in the 6th Century.
To cut a very long story short, by the end of the English Civil War, both the radically reforming Protestants and those who wished to retain more of the Church’s pre-Reformation character had lost political power games, and indeed actual wars. In 1662, after the end of the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy, the final revision of the Book of Common Prayer was published. It would fix the character of the vast bulk of the Church of England for three centuries – a hybrid Church, but more Protestant than Catholic.
As we are going to St Martin’s, I must make one very specific detour down a byway of Church history. There were discontented High Churchmen after the settlement of 1662. After William and Mary became monarchs in 1688, many clergy, especially High Church clergy, felt morally bound by their oaths to the deposed James II, and refused to swear allegiance to the new monarchs. These clergy were known as non-jurors.
That led to the creation of a sort of semi-detached movement that was part of the Church of England while retaining its own bishops. (I am summarising a complex story to a possibly dangerous degree here!)
Then, around 1717, that movement split between a majority who, freed from needing to conform to the settlement of 1662, wanted to reintroduce some Catholic practices, and a minority who wished to focus solely on the issue of the oath. The then Rector of St Martin’s, Nathaniel Spinckes, was one of the leaders of the minority faction of this minority movement. We in St Martin’s have a centuries-old tradition of being not only a High Church parish but also an especially awkward one!
Despite later attempts to invent a continuous stream of tradition that never really existed, the Catholic strand of the Church of England had essentially died out by the middle of the 18th Century.
The Church of England has always seen itself as part of the Church Catholic in its broadest sense, that is one of those churches that retained the teachings of the universally accepted councils of Christianity’s first eight centuries, in common not only with the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Orthodox Churches and most Lutherans.
The history of modern Anglo-Catholicism began the 1830s, when a group of young Anglican clergy began reviving a Catholic tradition of worship and theology in the Church of England, claiming it was the logical conclusion of any commitment to being part of that universal church. For the following ninety years, this tradition would spread slowly but relentlessly, particularly among the urban poor, where the colour, beauty, and mystery of Anglo-Catholic worship was a welcome antidote to the squalor of industrial slum life.
This met resistance so fierce that several Anglo-Catholic priests were imprisoned in the late 19th Century, some for several years, for practices such as using incense and praying for the dead. The gaoling of transparently good men for reasons of religious conscience caused public revulsion, and Parliament intervened to stop this happening. Consequently, a tense accommodation was reached between the Anglo-Catholics and the moderate Protestant church leadership.
That was the position when World War One decimated a generation of young English men. Unlike most Anglicans and all other Protestants, Anglo-Catholics offered prayers for the dead, and people desperately wanted to pray for their deceased sons, brothers and fathers. Keenest of all were those who were devoutly religious and knew their deceased family members were anything but. So, the years after the First World War – those of Betjeman’s poem – were a period of extraordinary growth for Anglo-Catholicism, starting a process where previously exotic Catholic practices filtered into the mainstream. And from there, in a matter of a few decades, Anglo-Catholicism had become the dominant tradition in the C of E.
It remained in a position of strength until the late 20th Century, leaving a particularly deep mark on the common liturgy of the Church – Common Worship, especially when its many ancillary books are considered, is perhaps its deepest legacy.
From about 1980, however, it began to lose influence rapidly. Secularisation began to bite heavily into church attendance; young Christians increasingly looked for inspiration to the suddenly growing Charismatic and Evangelical traditions, whose musical idiom and informal culture seemed to chime more with the post 1960s cultural landscape; but the Anglo-Catholic movement was particularly hurt by division, especially over the ordination of women.
Since its beginnings, there had been tension between Anglo-Catholics who sought the return of Anglicans to the Roman fold, and those who saw Anglican Churches as being sufficiently Catholic of themselves and instead sought to give that catholicity a more prominent expression.
The former view usually came in tandem with a hostility to liberal theology (although not necessarily to left-wing politics). This tradition historically might best be exemplified by Edward Pusey. John Henry Newman followed this tradition to what he considered its logical conclusion, conversion to Roman Catholicism.
The latter view had tended to embrace cutting edge liberal developments – e.g. higher criticism of Scripture in the 19th Century – and tended to see the Anglican Churches, if anything, as superior to Roman Catholicism: less inclined to add to the teachings of the early church without warrant, less authoritarian and more open to the Holy Spirit leading the Church in new directions. This tradition might historically be exemplified by John Keble, Charles Gore and Percy Dearmer.
Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics regarded the ordination of women as an uncrossable line in the sand. Some believed women simply could not represent Christ at the altar and therefore, ontologically, could not be priests; others felt while women could in principle be priests, Anglican Churches had no right to ordain them unilaterally, until the Church Universal as a whole agreed to do so. Many also felt that reunion with the Roman Catholic Church was a realistic prospect and that the ordination of women would derail it entirely.
For more Liberal Anglo-Catholics, however, the priesting of women was not only possible – what was important about Christ was that he was human, not that he was male – but soon came to be seen as a Gospel imperative. For them, the movement towards women priests was a response to a genuine move of the Holy Spirit, a consequence of God always calling His Church to ever greater commitment to justice and inclusivity.
These divisions were paralleled on other issues, notably on the degree to which same-sex relationships should be accepted or celebrated (it would be fair to say even Conservative Anglo-Catholics have usually been more pastorally accepting of homosexuality than Open Evangelicals).
Change came quickly. While in the 1960s, a Liberal Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, in the shape of Michael Ramsey, famously said that he expected the ordination of women to come “in millions and millions of years”, by the 1980s, a successor in the same tradition, Robert Runcie, was actively working for that change.
During the debate around and immediately following the ordination of women in the Church of England in 1994, there were painful splits among Anglo-Catholics, with parishes dividing, lifelong friendships between priests breaking down and people being excluded from groups they had been members of for decades.
After 1994, several hundred priests left for Roman Catholicism, and a majority in some parishes followed. In 2010-11, after Pope Benedict announced the creation of a ‘Personal Ordinariate’ for those who wished to become Roman Catholic while retaining Anglican worship, there was a final wave of moves ‘across the Tiber’. On Ash Wednesday 2011, the then Rector of St Martin’s announced he would be joining this Ordinariate, and around half the then congregation went with him. There have been many new arrivals at St Martin’s since, but on your visit you should keep in mind this painful experience and how recent it is.
Anglo-Catholicism and the Anglican Communion
Let us look briefly at the rest of the Anglican Communion. Anglo-Catholicism was never restricted to the Church of England. As Anglicanism spread both through emigration from the British Isles and the activities of mission agencies, so did the Catholic tradition within it.
Most mission agencies had definite Catholic or Evangelical traditions, with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, now merged into USPG, long the largest Anglican mission agency, developing a Catholic tradition by the mid-19th Century. Agencies like the Melanesian Mission and Universities Mission to Central Africa had Catholic traditions so pronounced they did not accept the service of married priests. Mission agencies agreed not to compete unhealthily once one was established in a particular area, so in contrast to the Church of England, whole Dioceses or even Provinces in other parts of the Communion tend to have one dominant tradition.
The Catholic tradition of Anglicanism is overwhelming on the smaller Pacific Islands, in the West Indies, in most of Southern Africa, and in Ghana. New Zealand also tends to be a Catholic Province. In Australia, there are deep differences from one Diocese to another, but there is a definite ‘biretta belt’ in Victoria and rural New South Wales.
There is a strongly Catholic tradition in Scotland, where Anglicanism has a very different history, and this was carried to the United States after the American Revolution and then to places where Anglican mission activity was mostly carried out by Americans, such as Japan, the Philippines and Central America.
Worthy of special note is South Africa, where a very Catholic expression of Anglicanism produced a huge proportion of the country’s political, cultural and moral leaders, exemplified by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It played a vital role in the largely peaceful transition to democracy in a country where pundits had long predicted a bloody race war. We Anglicans sometimes take too little notice of our greatest achievements.
While we’re looking at international issues, it is worth noting that Anglo-Catholics have been very interested in ecumenical relations with Orthodoxy, with significant contacts since about the middle of the 19th Century. This has been an important part of Anglican mission and ministry in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and India. Relationships with some – not all – Orthodox Churches, have come under strain in recent decades given our deep differences on questions of gender and sexuality.
Anglo-Catholics and Women’s Ministry
Although the Bishop of Salisbury is legally the ordinary at St Martin’s, the parish is under the pastoral care of a ‘provincial episcopal visitor’ – what you may have heard called a ‘flying bishop’, in this case the Bishop of Ebbsfleet. The Provincial Episcopal Visitors were created under the Act of Synod which permitted the priesting of women in 1994.
This Act allowed PCCs to pass up to three resolutions: one stating they would only accept a male incumbent, one stating that they would only accept a male priest celebrating Holy Communion, and one requesting oversight from a Provincial Episcopal Visitor.
The presence of flying bishops was always controversial, not only on grounds of gender equality, but also because many felt they compromised the integrity of the Church of England’s episcopate. The formal process of resolutions was ended with the legislation that permitted the consecration of women bishops in 2014, but as part of the package of compromises agreed at that time, PCCs can continue to request that they are only served by male priests and receive sacramental oversight from Provincial Episcopal Visitors. At the same time the legal authority of the Diocesan Bishop was restated clearly. St Martin’s passed a resolution of this nature in late 2015.
As is the case in most parishes of this type, there is a variety of views on the ordination of women among the congregation at St Martin’s, with many parishioners quite happy to receive the sacramental ministry of women priests in other churches, while others, on grounds of conscience, cannot do so under any circumstances.
It should be noted that no other Anglican Province made formal provisions of this nature, and mostly this caused little tension. An exception was the USA, where it could reasonably be argued that this was a major factor in the continuous splits in recent decades.
While the Catholic tradition in the Church of England has declined in recent decades, it is far from moribund. There are large and flourishing congregations in Catholic parishes of both traditionalist and liberal views, with two of the largest C of E congregations in the country being Southwark Cathedral and St Alban’s Abbey, both of which have strongly Catholic traditions. Oxbridge college chapels, which have seen strong growth in the 2010s, are mainly in the Liberal Catholic tradition.
Especially in the bigger cities, Anglicans immigrating from other parts of the Communion have seen Catholic parishes continue to flourish and retain vibrant children’s ministries which in turn attract young White British families.
The rise of the Anglo-Catholic movement in Victorian times was entirely unforeseen, neither was the emergence of the Charismatic revival of the past fifty years. The Spirit blows where it wills, and the only thing we can predict about the next revival of the Church is that it will be unpredictable.
Our popular culture is dominated by messages that are too loud, too shrill, too high-paced and too simplistic. We suffer from a growing ignorance about even our own history, with a little sense of how we got to where we are today. In that context a tradition with a deep respect for silence, for tradition, for complexity and for diversity has much to offer.
The Five Guiding Principles, agreed by the House of Bishops of the Church of England in November 2014, intended to ensure the mutual flourishing of the ministry of women priests and bishops, those fully supportive of them, and those who cannot in conscience receive sacramental ministry from them. The House of Bishops confirm that the Principles need to be read ‘one with the other and held in tension, rather than being applied selectively.’
The principles are not lengthy and are reproduced in full below.
Since January 2015, all candidates coming to a BAP have been required to give their assent to all of the Five Guiding Principles.
Anglican Theology (Chapters 1, 2 and 7), Mark Chapman. (2012)
Lift High The Cross: The High Noon of the Anglo-Catholic Movement, 1919-1950, John Gunstone. (2010)
Silence: A Christian History (final section of Chapter 7), Diarmaid MacCulloch. (2013)
Walsingham Way, Colin Stephenson. (1970)
Easter, Michael Arditti. (2000)
Against the backdrop of the Easter Triduum services at a Liberal Catholic parish in North London, a fast-paced tale unfolds involving sex, corruption, death, AIDS and, ultimately, resurrection.
The Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay. (1956)
A real classic. Fantasy, high farce and profound thoughts mix in the story of a curious group of Londoners who travel to Turkey seeking to ‘liberate the women’ by converting them to Anglicanism.
Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton. (1948)
An Anglican priest in rural South Africa travels to Johannesburg to assist a sick sister and to search for his son, who moved to the city for work and has lost touch. As a tragic situation develops, the priest is assisted by an Anglican monastic community.
Tell England, Ernest Raymond. (1922) A coming of age novel. Three friends become devout Anglo-Catholics under the influence of the same priest, who helps them grow from silly boys into fine young men. They go off to World War One together.
…and any Anglican worth his or her salt should at least have leafed through a copy of John Betjeman’s Collected Poems. Brilliant not just on Anglicanism but often acting as an insightful commentary on English society in the middle half of the 20th Century.
- Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
- Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
- Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
- Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
- Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.