Being Anglo-Catholic

By Fr. Will Brown
Historically, one of the things that has distinguished Anglo-Catholics from our reformed brethren, generally speaking, is ecclesiology – how we understand the ekklesia, the Church. In the ongoing crisis in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the discussion of ecclesiology is at the forefront -- or at least it needs to be. Anglo-Catholics are therefore well-placed to be an edifying witness to our Anglican brethren of other, non-catholic theological subgenres.

One cannot think on the Church without thinking of how much Jesus loves Her. Therefore one of the main ways of talking about the Church in the New Testament is as the Lord’s bride. In our marriage rites bridegrooms are supposed to love their Brides like Jesus loves the Church. The Church is something precious, beautiful and, as we are now seeing, vulnerable.

In the old marriage rites the bridegroom said to the bride: “...with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” That is what Jesus does for the Church: He worships Her (i.e. “"proclaims her worth") with His Body on the cross, and He endows Her with everything that He has and is by sending Her the Holy Spirit. And He left His Father in heaven and His Mother on earth to cleave to Her, and to become “one flesh” with Her, and He announced on the cross: "Consummatum est!" -- "it is consummated!" (the Vulgate version of "it is finished"). And the Church’'s unity, glorification, and perfection is a part of the Lord’s work, which, in a sense, is contemporaneous with His second coming, as the visionary of the Apocalypse records: 

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away’” (Rev.21.1ff).

The visible unity of the Church, for which the Lord prayed urgently the night before He died, is a part of His plan for the redemption of the whole creation (Romans 8.19ff), which He made out of love, and which is "very good" (Gen. 1.31), but which was subjected to corruption and death because of man's sin. 

The Church is the sacrament of redemption through which the Lord's saving power is to be manifest to all nations (Psalm 67.2). She is the New Jerusalem, the icon of God's own presence, of which Jeremiah speaks in his eschatological vision of the world’'s salvation: "At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem" (Jer. 3.17).

The catholic conviction is therefore that salvation is a gathering (Hebrew: Qahal, Greek: Ekklesia) of all people to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, which is the Bride of Christ, the "ekklesia of God" as Paul often calls it. And this gathering of all people is accomplished and given through the breaking of Christ’s Body on the cross. So we see in the water and the blood flowing from the Lord’s pierced side the sacraments of initiation, the means by which we enter into the ekklesia: Baptism (the water), and Communion (the blood) with its layers of meanings. As the Apostle Paul says: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11.26). 

We proclaim the instrument and substance of our reconciliation to God and to one another in the Mass. We proclaim the act by which Jesus, by being broken, heals the brokenness and separation of all people. So the nascent Church at Pentecost mystically manifests the undoing of the separation and confusion wrought in judgment at the Tower of Babel. This is salvation: the gathering of the whole of creation into the Body of Christ to be presented acceptably before the throne of God.

And this why Anglo-Catholics ought to feel such an urgency about unity: because the Eucharist is at once an announcement that this salvation, this gathering, has taken place, "by his one oblation of himself, once offered”—and"; and a pleading to God for it. But the Church, and not least the Church's visible unity, is supposed to announce to the world that this has taken place, that the Father sent the Son to die on the cross, so that people no longer have to live in exile from God and in isolation from one another, so that they can find healing and peace in Him. 

This too is why, in the old rite of the Mass, the Peace is announced immediately after the celebrant breaks the consecrated Host: because Jesus "created “in his flesh one new man, in place of the two, so making peace" (Eph. 2.15).

So let us seek God and seek one another through our personal union with Christ's Bride the one Catholic Church.

Fr. Will Brown is Rector of Holy Cross, in the Diocese of Dallas, Texas.

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