by Fr Benedict Kiely
The VERMONT CATHOLIC TRIBUNE
I owe a great deal to the Anglican Church. Educated from the age of eight to 18 at an Anglican private school, the heritage of the Anglican
Church, or Episcopal Church as it is more commonly referred to here in the United States, certainly prepared the good soil for my vocation to
Even though I was born and brought up a Catholic, my parents felt that
the local Anglican boarding school would give me the best start in life.
We were required to go to "Chapel" every morning, to attend what was, effectively, the Anglican Office of Matins. Always accompanied by a full organ, we learned the great hymns which have made English
choirs the envy of the world: the average small Anglican Cathedral choir puts the screeching, chubby Italian boys of the Sistine Chapel choir to shame.
Attendance at a religious service seven days a week allows the words and phrases of Scripture - King James Bible, of course - to become part of one's soul.
Even now I still say the Anglican Compline prayer as my last prayer of the night "... Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and by Thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night."
Religious education classes, or "Divinity," as it was known, was compulsory - no separation of Church and State there. At the age of 16
we could give up divinity and study things which would help us in our future careers, like economics and politics; I chose to continue with divinity, studying it at Advanced level, with two other boys.
We used to gather in our Anglican chaplain's house and, after class, enjoy tea and biscuits (cookies in American English).
On Tuesday evenings I would attend the quiet Anglican Communion service which was optional, and then we would all, once again, go over
to the chaplain's house to watch the television, a rare treat as we were not allowed to see the television at night in the school.
I learned to pray in the Anglican Church, I learnt who Jesus was, I learned Church history, albeit somewhat distorted when it came to the history of the Church in England. I also learned the place of beauty and its importance in the worship of the Almighty from my experience of Anglican prayer: no one can attend the Office of Evensong, sung in Canterbury Cathedral, and fail to be elevated and transported, and to realize that humans are called to devote the very best of their talents,
time and treasure to the worship of God.
I learned the place of good English in our prayer - as my friend the great Father George Rutler once so wittily responded when asked what he would miss about the Anglican Church on his conversion to
Catholicism, he replied: "Praying in English."
Classic Anglicanism always described itself as a "via media," a "middle way" between the Protestantism of Geneva and the Catholicism of Rome. Anglicans claimed to be the authentic Catholic Church of England, that little dispute in the 16th century over papal supremacy
being merely an "unfortunate incident" - so very English and polite. Sadly, the "via media" proved to be untrue for some of the greatest minds the Anglican Church ever produced, and a succession of brilliant
converts - Newman, Chesterton, Knox, Benson and Muggeridge, to name but a few - found that the true Catholic Church of England was the Church the martyrs died for, in union with Peter.
However, even until comparatively recently, while the Anglican Church held to the ancient creeds of the Church, the possibility of eventual union with Rome could still be prayed for, and worked towards.
All that is now, tragically, a thing of the past; we have all seen on our television screens the implosion of the Anglican Communion over its abandonment of the traditional morality of Christendom for the
last two thousand years.
The Anglican Church is now completely divided - split here in the United States into at least three distinct groups. Large groups of the
Anglican Church in Africa will have no contact whatsoever with the Episcopal Church in America.
First with its unilateral decision to ordain women and then with the consecration of an openly homosexual man as a bishop, the U.S. Episcopal Church signaled that the "via media" was over, and the Anglican Church had decided to join the mainstream of other Protestant churches who were rejecting the consistent witness of Scripture and tradition over ordination and sexual morality for the "zeitgeist" of contemporary culture, whatever it may be.
The Russian Orthodox Church, once very close in ecumenical
gatherings with the Anglicans, immediately broke off all contact with the
Anglican Church and all hope of unity is now ended.
This should not be a source of glee for those of us who, while wishing that all would find their way home to Rome, still cherish a love for all that was good about the Anglican Church. Historically, we can say that an ecclesiastical body founded on the lust of a libidinous and gout-ridden monarch, who desired to bed a comely wench named Boleyn, and would happily sacrifice the Church of God and a lawful
marriage for his crapulous desire, has come to its expected end. As the martyrs testified, no king or queen could claim to be the head of the Church, only Peter and his successors received that commission
from Christ Himself.
We must prepare a welcome for the many converts - clergy and lay - who are already seeking admission to the Catholic Church. In England, many hundreds of former Anglican clergymen have been ordained as Catholic priests. We must use their talents well - they bring all that
is best about their denomination, and our Church will be the richer for the gifts they bring.
Above all, we should see the hand of Divine Providence in this moment and the lesson it teaches - as the great Anglican, Dean Inge once said: "The Church that marries the spirit of this age will be a widow in the next."
----Father Benedict Kiely is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Stowe and St. John the Apostle Parish in Johnson, director of Continuing Education for Clergy for the Diocese of Burlington, and Burlington Police Department chaplain.