Martha Eischen: Anglican Patrimony or The Anglican Way

1 08 2011

Martha Eischen writes at VirtueOnline:

At the recent presentation of Anglicanorum Coetibus to the USCCB in Washington, one of the bishops asked, ” just what is the Anglican Patrimony”. It was clear that it was not exactly clear to what the Holy Father was happily opening up the doors of the Roman Catholic Church. Certainly he felt, and I assuredly agree that the Anglican Way brings a special rich heritage of worship and hymnody that the Catholic Church wishes to embrace as it adds significantly to the expression of the Faith. As a former Anglican, who spent 71 of my 72 years as an Anglican, I would like to attempt to share the mystique and the character that an Anglican would readily claim as his or her heritage.

Before I make my humble attempt, I should like to make a disclaimer. First, this is not a theological position paper. Those qualified to make such a presentation as Anglicans have probably already done so. Likewise I shall make no attempt to bring specific historic events or persons which have contributed to the schism between Anglicans and Roman Catholics into my discussion. My attempt here is to give a view from the pew, as one born into a particular place in the vineyard, happily grazing, and rather certain of my affinities.

By way of introduction, I was received into the Roman Catholic Church on Advent Sunday, 2010, at the age of 71. It was a most blessed day, which was shared by some of my family, friends and my priest. I have been the beneficiary of great grace and blessing as I have journeyed in my new “home”. My parish is Our Lady of Lourdes, Philadelphia, PA. We are surrounded with so much of what I grew up with as a privileged Anglo-Catholic, that I hardly know that I am “across the Tiber.” I was raised in a devout Catholic family (Episcopal Church), one of six children. My parents lived their faith daily and raised us in it, as they lived it. Two of my father’s brothers were Episcopal priests, one a religious in the Order of St John the Evangelist, in London, England. To be fair, ours was not a normal upbringing. We were extraordinarily blessed. My father often said of his own roots, “The lot has fallen unto me in a fair ground; yea I have a good heritage.” Psalm 16:7. Ours was just that. We were raised, it would correctly be said, in the glory days of Anglo-Catholicism. I am an Associate of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, in Catonsville, MD, which order was received into the Catholic Church in 2009. For many years, I worshipped at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, PA, and thus know Fr. Jeffrey Steenson very well.

Why did I “leave” my roots? The answer to that question may or may not be obvious. However, the disintegration of moral values plaguing our society, has become the “norm” in the Episcopal Church, for certain, but also widely around the Anglican Communion. The implosion simply spoke loudly to me regarding discipline and authority. That was a seed planted in my soul. Was there some reason why I was out of communion with the homeland of Mother Church, the See of Peter? I tossed the question around in my heart. The decision became simpler as I prayed. I moved on, bringing with me all that shaped my Christian identity, all that was given to me as my “goodly heritage.”

Perhaps this introduction in some small way qualifies me to presume to “answer” the good bishop’s question, “What is the Anglican Patrimony.” From the pew…….

Every culture rightly contributes its own unique and wonderful gifts to the rich splendor of Catholic worship from all peoples and nations. From Africans’ high pageantry to the breathless floral beauty of the East, they all express the “beauty of holiness”. So it is therefore, that from Britain, there arises a unique gift worthy of being counted in that beauty.

The answer to the question of Anglican Patrimony has more than one dimension. Some of it can be explained, some of it touched, some of it lived. But all of it is sensed. I give you my “sense” as a lay person, of the solemnity, wonder, solace and joy that surfaces in the best of environments when the word “Anglican” is used.

There are several broad categories to which one can point that most clearly contribute to the Anglican Patrimony. They are intertwined yet clearly identifiable. Alone they are not the whole story. And often they can be found in other corners of Christendom, especially Catholic Christendom. Yet together, they somehow bear the Anglican insignia.

1. The “place” of worship

When you walk into an Anglican Church, and one in which traditional Catholic worship is practiced, you get a distinct feeling of the presence of the Lord. Indeed He is most likely present in the Blessed Sacrament. Nonetheless, upon entering one is given to silence. One becomes immediately “worshipful” in manner. If you are so fortunate, you can look around and see the glorious stained glass windows which are not just lovely stained glass, but they are filled with the “story” of our redemption. You can look around, drinking in the “beauty of holiness” (I Chronicles 16:29) in silence and reverence.

Just being there brings you into a sense, however slight, of being one with the company of heaven, for a time. You have just stepped off the “A” train for a moment and feel different. It is inspiring, and it tends to open you just a bit to receive the Holy Spirit in that reverent moment. God’s peace is there. In a church built before the twentieth century, even “the stones” breathe the witness to the Savior from down through the centuries. There is a solemn grandeur that lifts the humble human being out of the hubbub of the world for a brief time and unites him with the hosts of heaven as he worships or simply “abides in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1.

One is given to repeat the Psalmist’s declaration, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to visit His holy temple.” Psalm 27:4. Such an atmosphere is indeed a part of the Anglican Way.

2. Pageantry of the Liturgy

Whether the congregation is small or large, everything is dignified, and reverent as the “Lord of Hosts is with us”. Psalm 46:7. The vestments are rich and beautiful, often handmade, and the finest of fair linens are usually lovingly laundered for the King. Then the solemn manner in which sacred ministers and acolytes perform their part in the eternal drama, absolutely contributes to the piety of all. This tone and manner is shared by the congregation, who fully participate in response. They are intimately involved in the liturgy. One knows he is before the Holy of Holies. Whether a congregation of one or one thousand, the attitude is the same – before God, we render, corporately and personally, the awe, reverence, and dignity of our finest worship.

Two personal examples come to mind: i.) Baptisms are intimate expressions of God’s love (usually one child at a time). The priest reverently and lovingly takes the infant in his arms, pours upon his head the waters of Baptism, receives him as a precious child of God. The entire liturgy is filled with the awesome wonder of the meaning of the Sacrament. God’s child is restored to Him. The child is important – not just to his natural parents, but to his whole Christian family. Everyone present feels the import of the moment. It’s sacred. It’s eternal.

ii.) As for receiving communion in one’s hands – The communicant makes a simple, humble “throne” of his hands, whereon is placed the precious Sacrament. From there, the Body untouched is raised to the mouth of the communicant, who declares in heart, “My Lord and my God.” “The King of Glory has come in.” Psalm 24:7.

This pageantry, dignity, and reverence, great or small, are a part of the Anglican Way.

3. Hymnody

Probably the most dramatic contribution to the Anglican Patrimony is its hymnody. Magnificent music, sung in the most venerable traditions of choral greatness, shared by a congregation singing to the rafters literally lifts the soul to the heavenly throne. When you hear every voice lifting high their praises such as was heard at the Mass of Beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman, while singing his “Praise to the Holiest in the Height”, you begin to get a real, awesome sense of the best the Anglican Way has to offer Catholic Christendom. Real tears from deep in the soul flow freely as the faithful are so often touched by the powerful theology expressed in some of the greatest hymns contributed to the Church. It’s hard to imagine that the dignity, reverence, worship and praise, all wrapped up in one, could be more glorious – the whole body of Christ singing to the highest heavens, followed by the great solemnity of the Canon of the Mass. There is no better expression of the Anglican Way.

4. Sacramentals –Lending to Reverence

Use of the sacramentals contributes to personal and corporate reverence. Such things as bowing the head at Our Lord’s name, making the sign of the cross at timely points of prayer, genuflecting at the Incarnatus in the creed, acknowledging the Lord at the elevation of the Host at the time of consecration – all these “engage” the faithful in the act of worship. The faithful are not only involved, but their participation lends to their understanding and their personal piety. They are raised up in spirit, joining in with the saints as they worship together the King of Kings. It’s a sacred time, and sacramentals in a real way help to create a courtesy, in body and spirit, which in turn contributes not only to sanctity but to keeping the attention and focus on the object of our worship, Our King and Savior.

The tone and manner in which we bring ourselves before God – the manner in which we speak, act, dress, and present ourselves before Him – these outward symbols of our identity and attitude encourage our inward disposition of soul. They help us to present ourselves as a “living sacrifice” ready to receive the great gifts of the Holy Spirit in sacrament and song. They help to shape a humble, contrite, awe-inspired heart when we come before Him. That reverent participation is also a part of the Anglican Way.

5. Language

The language of the most widely used prayer books and hymnals in traditional parishes is Elizabethan English. Its formality, poetry, and beauty add a special dignity, and once again reverence, to the order of worship and contribute to the piety of the people. It helps to establish in a unique way, a humble, separate, not presumptuous, relationship between creature and Creator. It doesn’t put off, but rather gathers together reverently. Formal expression can be inspiring. Therefore those prayers and hymns employing that formal language tend to put the faithful in a reverent attitude before the Holy of Holies.

For Anglicans great emphasis is placed on the pillar of the written Word. Of all translations of the Holy Bible, The King James Version is one of the chief treasures. Its translation pours off the lips of so many of the faithful, and is used in the traditional version of the Book of Common Prayer, the official book of worship in all of the Anglican Communion.

The Book of Common Prayer is itself a work of great spiritual and practical genius, a rich gift to the faithful. The universal Catholic disciplines of prayer and worship are arranged in their fullness, yet easy to follow. The daily monastic offices are consolidated into simple forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, enriched by many prayers for all occasions. The form for the Eucharist follows, including the Scriptures for the full liturgical year, saints’ days, other holy days and days of special remembrance. The rites for all the sacraments follow the Eucharist, and finally, the book of Psalms, in support of the Offices. This prayer book is rightly called “Common” as it provides not only for the clergy and religious, but also for the laity, engaging them in the daily discipline of the Church’s life of prayer. Anglicans know it as well as they know their Bibles. Anglicans throughout the world can pick it up and know they are “at home.”

The traditional and poetic language along with the written Word and Prayer Book are a very big part of the Anglican Patrimony.

I close these few thoughts by saying that my emphasis is on the expression of the Faith in the Anglican Way, not on the content. It is the expression that is the “glue” that holds together those in the Anglican Patrimony. It can be counterfeited, for sure. But with the temptation to pageantry for pageantry’s sake comes the glorious sense of being before His throne and “worshipping in the beauty of holiness.”

Not all Anglicans are thus formed. Many are truly Protestant in their understanding and expression. Some are Protestant in their understanding only, some in their expression only, some both. Thus, the “big tent” claim. “Big tent” is wonderful when it means that it embraces all of God’s people, but not when it means that it embraces all theologies. The best and most beautiful of liturgies is most counterfeit without the heart, mind, soul, and spirit embracing the “Faith once delivered to the saints.” Jude 3. Then it becomes a hollow play instead of the great outpouring of our devotion and offering to God.

At our best we can say with the Preacher, “When ye glorify the Lord, exalt him as much as ye can; for even yet will he far exceed: and when ye exalt him, put forth all your strength, and be not weary; for ye can never go far enough.” Eccl 43:30.

And, we can joyfully echo St. Paul, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Colossians 3:16.

In Jesus,

Martha C. Eischen
Wynnewood, PA
July 29, 2011