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Monday, December 29, 2008

Presentation at Conception Seminary, Christmas

            I have been asked to make a presentation about the Anglican Use Mass to the students at Conception Seminary College.  It will be a challenge to make it interesting and cover the important details in about an hour.  I’d like to give them an introduction to what Cranmer accomplished – a dignified vernacular liturgy with lay participation in prayer, worship and communion; restoration of the Prayers of the Faithful; a serial reading of much of the Bible in the language of the people.  I’d also like show how his liturgy included didactic elements opposed to the Catholic understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice.  Then I’d ask the question – If a church and its theology become anti-Catholic, is it possible that its Catholicism can be restored?  We will look at how a few of the radical Protestant ideas were toned down and some Catholic ones reintroduced.  I’ll ask whether these stylistic changes were enough to make the Anglican liturgy fully Catholic. We’ll look at how the Oxford Movement awakened a hunger for Catholicism from Patristic and Medieval English sources as well as from their Catholic contemporaries.  That would allow us to consider the possibility that some Anglo-Catholic liturgy could be an example of how a vernacular liturgy with lay participation could avoid the over-zealous introduction of 1970s and 1980s popular culture into the Catholic Mass.  Then we could look at the Anglican Use Mass as a theologically Catholic Mass that preserves much that is good from many historical periods.

            This is going to be a challenge for me.  I’m not a scholar and I often over-reach.  I’d be open to advice.

            Our Sunday morning Anglican Use Mass has progressed to the point that it is now a sung mass with incense.  As we develop and grow it will be possible that the Solemn High Mass will be the standard, but we are not there yet.  And we may have to take a step backwards.  Our gifted organist, Tyler Henderson, has decided to move on to other things.  This is a difficult challenge for Catholic organists and Tyler was up to it, but not for the long-haul.

            Our Christmas Gospel Mass on Christmas Eve was well-attended, as was the Anglican Use Mass on Christmas Day.  For several parishioners it was their first experience with the Anglican Use and they seemed appreciative.  For more than a decade St. Therese was yoked with another local parish and we did not have Christmas Day or Easter Day Masses.  Now we are able to add Masses on these and other holy days.  Soon I hope to be able to add a daily Mass.  There is almost no support for a daily Mass from the local community, but we could certainly support a Mass that would meet the needs of a special community such as the Anglican Use community.  Let me know if you are able to assist either early morning, at noon, or late afternoon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Baskets at St. Therese

Our neighbors will give us a wonderful gift this week – the gift of graciously allowing us to give them Christmas Baskets.  As much as they may appreciate receiving them, our joy in giving them is even greater.  It is probably worth thinking about just a little bit, and worth much more in just doing it. 

            For fifty one weeks of the year we worry with our neighbors as we provide help from the food pantry and with different kinds of emergency financial assistance.  We struggle along with them to help keep their homes warm and utilities on.  Sometimes we even help them bury their dead.  We keep advocating for help with housing repair and curbs on violence.  We speak out for economic development and help to restructure loans to keep families in their homes.

            But for one week of the year, no worries are allowed.  Instead of focusing on plain necessities, we provide the fixings for a family feast, and then some.  We make sure there are gifts for adults and children.  There’s nothing extravagant, but everything is clean and new, the results from months of bargain hunting that began with the post-Christmas sales last year, and continued with the delivery a semi-truck load of frozen turkeys and tons of other food and staples.

            People who work here during Christmas Basket Week tell us that this is what Christmas is all about – the joy of giving.  And our neighbors make that gift possible.  If you’d like to help out beginning Saturday, December 13, beginning with unloading the semi, or to assist in other ways during the week, give B.J. a call at 816-444-5406.     

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

First Anglican Use Mass at St. Therese

We celebrated our first Anglican Use Mass at St. Therese on Sunday morning, November 30, the first Sunday of Advent. Our organist was off for the day, so it was a Low Mass, which is probably the way it should have been – simple and quiet. Except for the Eucharistic Prayer, Rite I in the Book of Divine Worship is almost identical to Rite I in the Book of Common Prayer. The flow of language is almost the same as what we used every Sunday growing up. There was no choice then. I used that language for the first Mass I ever celebrated as an Episcopal priest and I used it every Sunday for at least one Mass from the time I was ordained until I moved to Missouri in 1992. As far as I can remember, I have not said those words in sixteen years. And I have not celebrated Mass ad orientam for twenty-five years.

Without trying to sound like a media critic the celebration seemed graceful. Its gracefulness had more to do with the liturgy than the celebrant. I was aware of the congregation as all of us faced the same direction. I felt that they were backing me up. We all seemed to be in the same arc of prayer and worship as we focused forward, upward and outward. I do not mean to say that facing the congregation I am not aware of God’s immanent presence in the community. But this is different, and it is good, too.

On occasion as I turned to the people I had the experience of not knowing what I was to say next, but I heard myself saying it. Apparently the words still reside somewhere deep within. On occasion, I heard some of our group who never experienced the somewhat simplified 1979 Book of Common Prayer continuing to pray in the more expansive words of 1928. And it was OK. The words reside in them, too.

I wonder what this all means to those who have never experienced either. What could it mean to Catholics who have no experience with the Book of Common Prayer, or Episcopalians who have never experienced the traditional liturgy or the eastward orientation? That remains to be seen. I seemed to detect a note of respect from one of our Catholic parishioners who had been faithfully participating in the Liturgies of the Word since September. Finally being able to participate in the Mass, I think she got it. “I can see that our Church can be the home of two liturgies.” That is progress. God willing, there will be more.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Anglican Use Mass at St. Therese

Their Excellencies Archbishop John J. Meyers and Bishop Robert Finn granted permission and faculties for me to celebrate the liturgies of the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite at St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City, Missouri. Our first Mass was Sunday, November 30.

Today six new members of St. Therese Little Flower from Anglican and Episcopal backgrounds made affirmations of faith, were confirmed and made their first communions as Catholics. A former Episcopalian from Visitation Church in Kansas City and a former Lutheran from St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood joined them. Others will be ready to be received as soon as marriage cases are completed. Several Catholics are already participating in the Anglican Use community through marriage, and one is a Catholic former member of an Anglican Use community in Austin, Texas.

The Anglican Use Mass at St. Therese is now celebrated on Sundays at 11:15. We use the traditional form of the Mass (Rite I) from the Book of Divine Worship. The morning Masses on Christmas Day and Easter Day will be Anglican Use and the evening Masses of Christmas Eve and The Great Vigil of Easter will continue to be “Gospel” Masses. Religious education takes place on Sundays at 10: 15 in classes for pre-school through high school students. Contact Diana Rose at 816-444-5406 for more information about religious education classes.

I keep getting inquiries from Episcopalians asking whether we have “open communion” or at least communion privileges for Episcopalians. While Episcopalians and Lutherans share so much of the Catholic faith that preparation to make an affirmation of faith can be much shorter than for most, the amount of the faith we share does not mean we have open Eucharistic sharing. I would ask whether it is reasonable to expect that people who can take opposite positions on the sanctity of human life should share the same sacrament. The question the Catholic Church asks is, “Do you it all?” It may have been my imagination, but this morning it seemed like the Catholics at Mass today were in awe as adults, children and teenagers stated publicly, “We believe all the Catholic Church teaches.” In the meantime, I heartily welcome visitors seeking a respite while they wrestle with that question. You will have plenty of company with others who are on the way, but have not arrived at the point of making their own affirmations.

Please say a special prayer for Luther Chandler Toole who made his affirmation of faith today. Luther Toole has been a priest in the Anglican Church for a number of years. He was brought into the Episcopal Church at Stetson College in Florida while Fr. Leroy Lawson was rector of St. Barnabas’ in Deland. (Fr. Lawson was Dean of St. Peter’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg when Valerie and I were married there and he passed on his copies of Kenneth Kirk’s books to me.) Dean Lawson is almost certainly offering his affirmation from heaven. It is a tremendous sacrifice when an Anglican priest enters the Catholic Church. Pray that we might have the wisdom to continue to use Luther Toole’s pastoral and spiritual gifts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Abraham's Way to the Catholic Church

Visiting the Holy Land helped make me a Catholic and two of my professors at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church laid the groundwork for it. First, Fr. J. Robert Wright, the noted ecumenist and Professor of Church History, ensured that all of his students were familiar with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  With his Xeroxed copies of articles and floor plans, he introduced us to its history and its place in the development of the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter.  Dr. Boyce Bennett, Professor of Old Testament, introduced us to the intersection of Biblical and Archeological studies.  Both of them encouraged a spirituality of place, of the expectation of encountering the Divine in the places which enshrine the memory of previous human encounters with God, places where “prayer has been valid.”
            Episcopalians on a pilgrimage are at a disadvantage in the Holy Land.  Episcopalians are not just Protestants who encounter God mainly through a Biblical text with geography providing interesting background.  Episcopalians can share the Catholic and Orthodox experience that places themselves are holy and that the Bible witnesses to that holiness.  We resonate with the na├»ve offer made by Peter, James and John on the Mountain of the Transfiguration:  “Let us make three booths for you.”  For us a church can in some way mediate the experience of the event that is remembered and celebrated.
            The Episcopalian disadvantage is that while we may think of ourselves as Catholics at home, in the Holy Land we are almost always treated as Protestants.  Except for the Chapel of Abraham at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Episcopalians and Anglicans cannot join in celebrating Mass at the holy places in the Holy Land. We may visit the churches but we do not belong there.  Episcopalians’ Catholic illusions have no meaning there.  We are expected to read the bible and we pray like other Protestants. 
            For Catholics but not for Episcopalians, the Incarnation is not up for debate, and neither is the Resurrection.  Catholics do not make pilgrimages to the places which illustrate interesting articles of a faith in which we no longer believe, but places made holy by living faith. We are in communion with Peter, and with all of those throughout the world who are in communion with Peter’s successor. During our November pilgrimage we said Mass at the “Rock of Peter” on the shore of the Sea of Galilee before visiting Peter’s House in Capernaum and later the Church of St. Peter Gallicantu in Jerusalem.  We encountered Peter.  We prayed the Angelus at the Virgin’s Well in Bethlehem before visiting the Church of the Annunciation and celebrating Mass at the Church of St. Joseph and visiting the Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem. We encountered Mary.  We celebrated Mass on Mt. Zion beside the Upper Room and Mass in the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  We encountered Christ.
            While I was still an Episcopalian seminarian, Fr. Wright made sure that we knew there was one holy place in the Holy Land at which Episcopalians had the privilege of saying.  And on my first actual visit to the Holy Land as an Episcopal priest, Dr. Bennett made sure that I had the opportunity to say Mass there: the Chapel of Abraham at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
            The privilege of saying Mass at the Chapel of Abraham was granted to Anglicans by the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem back in 1885.  It is literally a “back door” privilege.  As gracious a concession as it is, Anglican priests must relay their request to use the chapel through the Dean of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral who must send a messenger to the Orthodox convent whose nuns maintain it.  Sometimes the request is inconvenient to the Dean, as was my request back in 1998, and sometimes it is inconvenient to the nuns.  When the request is granted, the entrance to the chapel is not found inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which might imply that Anglicans are on the same level with the other churches which have rights in there. The chapel is not visible from inside or from the outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Episcopalians must enter through the Russian Hospice next door and find the way though hallways and staircases.  But once in the chapel, one is very close to, or even above Calvary.
            The Mass I celebrated there in 1987 with seminarians from General Seminary gave me one of the insights and images that allowed me to trustingly lay my Episcopalian priesthood aside for the greater good of becoming a true, not an imaginary Catholic.
            Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac is one of the Old Testament “types” of Calvary.  The Father’s sacrifice of his Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ and Christ’s trusting willingness to offer himself on the Cross is prefigured in this dramatic story from Genesis.  It is one of the seven readings from the Old Testament at every Easter Vigil.  As Kierkegaard elucidates the story, Abraham makes a full and complete offering of his son to God without any reservation.  In his offering, Abraham is expressing absolute trust and hope that God remains faithful to his promise to give him a future through his son.  In this absolute sacrificial offering of his future in the person of his son Isaac to God, Abraham maintains hope because it is the God to whom he is sacrificing who is the guarantee of his hope.  He is sacrificing the sign of his hope to the God of Hope.  As Kierkegaard puts it, Abraham hopes against hope.
            At the Chapel of Abraham at Calvary, an Orthodox fresco shows Abraham with his knife-wielding hand upraised, ready to thrust it into his son. A pudgy angel speaking from the cloud stops Abraham just in time.  Having offered his son to God, Abraham receives him back from God.  Abraham does not withhold his son, and the God of Hope keeps his promise.
            Priesthood, whether Anglican or Catholic, is a gift.  It is a person’s identity and character, a vocation in a spiritual sense as well as professional and economic.  It is a priest’s life and livelihood.
            When an Episcopal or Anglican priest considers becoming Catholic, it is impossible to bring one’s priesthood along. It must be left behind. While the Catholic Church does not require us to renounce our orders or admit heresy, she does not make deals.  The sacrifice must be absolute.  Episcopal clergy must make a sacrificial offering of priesthood back to the one who gave it in the first place.  Any Episcopal priest who has ever considered becoming Catholic has struggled with whether to make this sacrifice.  It is a fearful thing to consider taking one’s own identity, vocation, and hope for the future, to give it back to the God who is the giver of the gift, and let go of it.  The most fruitful image I can imagine for the depth of this sacrifice is the image of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
            Like Abraham also, it is also possible to maintain faith in the God of Hope, to hope that the sign of hope, one’s priesthood - like Abraham’s son Isaac - might be returned as a gift.  But there is no way to make the sacrifice without accepting the possibility that it will not be returned, that the voice will not speak from the cloud, that the hand will not be stayed, that God will allow Isaac to die and one’s priesthood to end.  There is no way to find out without making one’s own journey to Mt. Moriah.
            We cannot know what would have happened had Abraham been allowed to kill his son.  Yet that is exactly what happened on Calvary.  Christ died, and the Father accepted his sacrifice.  But inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, through the front door and not through any hidden entrance or side staircase, is the Anastasis.  Christ is risen.  The tomb is empty.
            I cannot promise how the God of Hope will respond to the sacrifice made by Episcopal and Anglican priests who enter the Catholic Church.  I cannot promise that the way back home from Mt. Moriah will be any easier than the journey to Mt. Moriah, or that the Way of the Cross promises that the Way of the Resurrection will be pain free.  But I can promise that God remains the God of Hope.  I trust that the God who raised Jesus is still at work in the world and that he will continue to work in the life and ministry of anyone who offers one’s best self and one’s future to him.  I believe that God is glorified in such sacrifices and that being in Christ’s Catholic Church with Mary, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and all the pilgrims who are still on their pilgrimage and those who have found their way to the heavenly Jerusalem, is worth the sacrifice.
            It is not necessary to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem to meditate on the sacrifice of one’s priesthood.  The image of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is as close as one’s Bible, the stained glass in church, a holy icon, or in the heart of every priest at Mass.  If I could speak individually to any Episcopal or Anglican priest considering becoming Catholic, I’d tell each one that it is my conviction that the only way to come into the Church is Abraham’s way.  Make the sacrifice to the God of Hope.  Be ready to live as if you are not a priest.  Be hopeful.  And if God wills it, perhaps he will offer it back to you.