It is perhaps a bit premature, but I’ve been thinking for years that a new Anglican body within the Catholic Church will bring with it to Peter’s barque more than tasteful vestments and glorious formal hymnody and a sense for the quaint and antiquated. It will bring fishers of men.
That has been my hope and it seems to be confirmed here and there that evangelization will be its mission. Catholicism in English speaking lands has a crippling history which infects us still. Having gone underground for 300 years and remaining a minority to this day, we have learned to keep our head down, to not speak boldly of our faith in mixed settings, to not wear the rosary about the neck as is done in Catholic countries, to move our processions indoors rather than in the streets or rid ourselves of them altogether. Church architecture had remained the one field by which we boldly expressed ourselves literally in the public square–actually usually several blocks away in a marginal neighborhood. The coup de grace of our centuries long self effacement was the iconoclasm of the post-conciliar era which gave us the fan shaped church, its interiors inspired not by ages of Catholic artistic expression but by grand hotel lobbies. They inspire not the raising of the heart and mind to God, but comfortable idle chatter in the pews.
Worse than Church architecture, has been the suppression of the Catholic spirit in everyday life. For us our religion is not to be discussed except among fellow Catholics or in complaint. Protestants in English speaking nations do not wear such a gag. They are freer to open religious conversations, to invite newly made friends to church with them, to speak of something God has done for them recently. This subtle but constant evangelization of ones social environment is perhaps the greatest treasure that our new converts bring with them. Only, these new converts will not be assimilated into a non evangelizing local parish community. Having their own church homes will allow them to continue to cultivate their evangelizing instincts. And, they will bring with them their hospitality instincts which we cradle Romans have little sense of.
At a parish where I recently worked, we had several meetings about reaching out. The pastor was insistent that we only reach out to fallen away Catholics because only they would understand us. I believe that it is we who dont want to understand non-Catholics. We are intimidated by their probing theological questions and are embarassed by our untrained attempts to answer.
After nearly 50 years since the Council, Catholicism is still the stranger among American Christian denominations. It is not easy to approach us.
Even a small Ordinariate parish in a town can become the front porch of Catholicism where passerby can sit under the eves and chat and become familiar with the stranger’s faith. There the inquisitive can received studied, thoughtful and challenging answers that will inspire the heart and free the mind.
Those who will be attracted to the Ordinariate will not only be Anglicans seeking shelter in a storm. All kinds of Protestants will find this front porch to offer the rest and home they’ve longed for. And many Romans will find an attractive and sublime liturgy, not to mention the many Catholic converts who through the years are still seeking the awe which today is less well expressed in the Roman Rite than in the past. I suspect many Romans who would like traditional liturgy but not in Latin, will find themselves amazed and refreshed in the Church’s new front porch and foyer.