After a day filled with Masses celebrating the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, there was one more group of worshipers eager to fill the pews at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, Va. on June 26.
Bringing with them their own hymns dating back to the 18th century and prayers devised from the Book of Common Prayer and adapted to Catholic teaching, more than 50 members of Anglican churches from around Northern Virginia gathered together for the first time at Holy Spirit to praise God with the liturgical and musical traditions they’ve held for years and the Catholic theology they have just adopted.
As members of the St. Thomas of Canterbury Anglican Use Society of Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia, these local Anglicans hope to enter full communion with the Catholic Church as a community. Their decision comes after the November 2009 apostolic constitution, “Anglicanorum coetibus,” in which Pope Benedict XVI made it possible for Anglicans, who so desired, to be reconciled with the Catholic Church while maintaining certain aspects of their own traditions.
The St. Thomas of Canterbury Society was formed in response to that effort. Its first meeting drew five people to an Alexandria library last June. Since that day, the group has grown gradually with Anglicans and recent converts to Catholicism, as well as family members. Starting in September, the group began holding monthly evening prayer services at St. Anselm Abbey in Washington.
The group began to attract more members from Northern Virginia. Looking for a new place to worship, the group approached Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, who gave the society permission to use the facilities of Holy Spirit for prayer services, programs and classes. Sunday’s evening prayer and Benediction was the first service held at the church.
James Farr is president of the St. Thomas of Canterbury Society. He estimates there are 75 members in the group. So far, he says the efforts of the society have been “extremely positive.”
“People in our society love Pope Benedict XVI,” he said. “They want to come into the Catholic Church, but are used to our more English traditions. This will be the Catholic Faith with the Anglican patrimony.”
Last September, the Vatican appointed Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl to oversee the incorporation of Anglican groups into the Church in the United States. In a report released to bishops earlier this month, the cardinal said as many as 100 Anglican priests and 2,000 laypeople could be the first members of an ordinariate in the United States for former Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church. The ordinariate, similar to a national diocese for Anglican converts, will be headed by an ordinary, a priest yet to be appointed by the Vatican.
So far, under “Anglicanorum coetibus,” the only ordinariate is in England with 60 former Anglican priests and approximately 1,000 laypeople. In addition to the ordinariate in the United States, two others are under consideration in Canada and Australia.
In a conference earlier this month, Cardinal Wuerl said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Vatican established the ordinariate in the United States by the end of the year. Once it forms, the Anglican-Catholics from the St. Thomas of Canterbury Society could enter full communion, along with two formerly Anglican congregations in Maryland — St. Luke in Bladensburg and Mount Calvary in Baltimore.
For members of the St. Thomas of Canterbury Society, this process has been a long time coming. Frustrated by a rising number of disputes within the Episcopal Church, many Anglicans have been attracted to the Catholic Church because of their desire for a clear sense of authority.
One local Anglican, who wished to remain anonymous, drove up from Woodbridge to attend Sunday’s prayer service.
“(In the Anglican Church,) there is no authority,” he said. “If there are 2,000 members in the church, there are 2,000 popes.”
He said he and other like-minded Anglicans have been hoping to come into full communion with the Catholic Church for years.
“It is requiring a lot of patience, but we’re patient because we’ve been waiting for this for 10 years and it has to unfold correctly,” he said. “It takes time for this to be done right.”
The St. Thomas of Canterbury Society has attracted the involvement of recent converts from the Anglican Church. One such Catholic is Heide Seward, a Holy Spirit parishioner who entered the Church from the Episcopal Church four years ago.
For Seward, the Anglican-use liturgy has given her the best of both worlds — the Catholic theology she lives by and loves and the traditional hymns and language of liturgy she remembers.
“It’s the same liturgy I grew up with,” she said. “I know the phrases and the prayers by heart and they don’t leave you. It’s nice to know there will be somewhere I can go to hear these liturgies.”
Father Terry W. Specht, pastor of Holy Spirit, is liaison for the St. Thomas of Canterbury Society in the diocese. His role in this process is to create a welcoming atmosphere for the Anglicans as they continue their discernment process toward the Catholic Church.
“Our role is to offer hospitality and encouragement and a place for common prayer and catechesis, to make sure the community as a whole is ready to make a corporate decision as a body and ready to be accepted into the Church,” he said.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Herald, newspaper for the Diocese of Arlington, Va.