Roman vespers unite pope, archbishop of Canterbury in prayer

Williams preaches at St. Paul's Within the Walls Episcopal parish

By Matthew Davies
Posted Mar 12, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop of Canterbury Williams prayed together and lit candles in the chapel of St. Gregory following a March 10 service at San Gregorio Magna al Celio in Rome to mark the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Italy’s Camaldoli monastic community. Photo/Matthew Davies

[Episcopal News Service] Anglicans and Roman Catholics share a somewhat turbulent history, but differences were brushed aside March 10 when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI prayed together during an ecumenical vespers service at San Gregorio Magna al Celio in Rome.

The service marked the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Italy’s Camaldoli monastic community, which includes a presence at San Gregorio, a site of major significance to the origins of the Church of England.

Both Christian leaders, who held a private meeting earlier in the day to discuss human rights issues and concerns for the Holy Land, delivered a homily during the vespers and lit candles together in the chapel of St. Gregory.

Echoing the words of his two predecessors, Williams described the relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church as “certain yet imperfect” during a sermon that extolled St. Gregory’s virtues of humility and prophecy.

“‘Certain’ because of the shared ecclesial vision to which both our communions are committed … a vision of the restoration of full sacramental communion,” he said. “And ‘yet imperfect’ because of the limit of our vision, a deficit in the depth of our hope and patience.”

The pope, according to a Vatican Radio translation of his address, which was delivered in Italian, expressed hope that “the sign of our presence here together in front of the holy altar, where Gregory himself celebrated the eucharistic sacrifice, will remain not only as a reminder of our fraternal encounter, but also as a stimulus for all the faithful – both Catholic and Anglican – encouraging them … to renew their commitment to pray constantly and to work for unity. …”

Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe participated in the service. He told ENS that the event “means that the ecumenical movement is not dead. For some years, it has been frozen, as the major partners have had to deal with serious issues in their own churches. But these meetings keep showing that things are different now and we will not go back to the bad old days. That encourages cooperation at the grassroots level, which is where the church really happens.”

The church is built on the site from which St. Gregory the Great, in the 6th century, sent St. Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, along with 30 monks to re-evangelize England. They landed in 597 and are credited with laying the foundations for the renewal of English Christianity.

The March 10 vespers marks the third time in recent history that a pope and an archbishop of Canterbury have worshiped together at San Gregorio. (Pope John Paul II prayed at the church with Archbishop Robert Runcie in 1989 and again with Archbishop George Carey in 1996.)

Pope Benedict XVI (center) listens as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivers a homily during papal vespers March 10 at San Gregorio Magna al Celio in Rome, during a service to mark the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Italy’s Camaldoli monastic community. Photo/Matthew Davies

“This archbishop of Canterbury has made far more trips to Rome than any of his predecessors,” said Whalon, adding that the two leaders share a personal relationship and are “top theologians in their respective churches.”

Throughout the weekend, Williams also preached and presided during a March 11 service of Holy Eucharist at St. Paul’s Within the Walls, an Episcopal Church parish and the first non-Roman Catholic church to be built inside the walls of Rome. The St. Paul’s congregation was joined by members of All Saints Anglican Church in Rome, a parish in the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe.

A video of the archbishop’s sermon is here.

Whalon said he loaned Williams his crozier for the service as a sign of the Episcopal Church’s hospitality.

Following the service, Williams told ENS that the Anglican and Episcopal churches’ presence in Rome is “a reminder to our Roman Catholic friends that we are a worldwide communion, and look at the international character of the congregation here this morning and you see that the point is made.”

The relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church has been strained in recent years due to differences concerning women’s ordination and the Vatican’s efforts to offer a spiritual home to former and disaffected Anglicans while enabling them to retain aspects of their liturgy and traditions. The provisions are made through a “Personal Ordinariate,” a geographic region similar to a diocese yet typically national in scope.

The first ordinariate was formed for England and Wales in January 2011 and plans are still being finalized to set up ordinariates for Australia and Canada.

Most recently, an ordinariate was formed on Jan. 1, 2012 in the United States to welcome former Episcopal parishes and priests – including married priests – seeking to enter the Roman Catholic Church. Jeffrey Steenson, the former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, was named as its first “ordinary.”

Whalon told ENS that the way the arrangement initially had been decided and announced by the Vatican in November 2009 “was insulting to us” but he noted that Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was made aware by the Roman Catholics that Steenson would be named in charge of the ordinariate in America.

“The advance notice given seems to be a new awareness that ecumenical relations matter,” Whalon said. “In any event, as the arrangement does not have an ecclesiological basis, but is really a pastoral gesture, it will not last more than a decade or two.”

Mary Reath, a lay Episcopalian from the Diocese of Jersey and a member of the governing board for the Anglican Centre in Rome, told ENS via e-mail from her Princeton home that while it is “a time of exceptional challenge for both Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders … theological reconciliation in the past 40 years has actually been especially fruitful. It naturally moves us toward more concrete questions of co-existence and cooperation.”

The Anglican Centre in Rome houses an extensive library, serves as an ecumenical meeting place and educational center, and includes the offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s diplomatic representative to the Vatican, the Rev. Canon David Richardson, who accompanied Williams throughout his visit.

“Does anyone deny that if there were more coordination between two of the world’s most global, organized and influential church bodies, that the word’s poor, and poor in spirit, would not be better served?” asked Reath, who authored Rome and Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity (2007). “The time is ripe for human and practical ecumenism.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivers a sermon March 11 at St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church during a service for Anglicans and Episcopalians in Rome, as Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and the Rev. Austin Rios, St. Paul’s rector, listen. Photo/Matthew Davies

A third phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) is currently underway, grappling with questions concerning the church as communion, local and universal, and how the church comes to discern right ethical teaching. ARCIC is an ecumenical dialogue between the two churches that was established in 1967.

In the U.S., the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue (ARCUSA), of which Reath is a member, has been meeting regularly since the 1960s, making it the Episcopal Church’s oldest dialogue relationship. Its most recent meeting Feb. 27-28 was hosted by the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

The Rev. Margaret Rose, the Episcopal Church’s deputy for ecumenical and interreligious relations, told ENS that the work of ARCUSA, “as with other dialogues … emphasizes the desire to share work in mission and shalom that helps to put both life and work, faith and order in perspective.”

The ARCUSA group participated in two services of the Eucharist in the Church Center chapel, one led by the Episcopal Church and the other led by the Roman Catholic members. While the Episcopal Church welcomes all baptized members of the Body of Christ to receive Holy Communion, the Roman Catholic Church officially reserves the sacrament for its own baptized members.

“The sharing of worship space and the altar and our fellowship during the meeting, as well as the frank conversations, are a mark of our desire for unity and our friendship, even as we are aware that we do not have a common sharing of the Eucharist,” Rose told ENS.

Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee Bishop John Bauerschmidt, co-chair of ARCUSA, told ENS that the Episcopal Church’s “grassroots relationships with Roman Catholic neighbors, friends, and family members makes this dialogue more than a theoretical matter … The members of the dialogue are discovering agreement in substantial matters as well as some familiar differences in both ecclesiology and moral issues. ”

Bauerschmidt said that prayer together “is a significant marker of the fellowship that Christians share, and itself furthers the union we are called to.”

He described the weekend’s events in Rome as “a cause for rejoicing.”

Later on March 11, Williams teamed up with Fr. Robert Hale, prior of the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, to present a conference on “Monastic Virtues and Ecumenical Hopes.”

Concluding hia visit to Rome, on March 12 the archbishop is visiting the monastic community at the Abbey of Montecassino, founded by St. Benedict around 529, where he will attend vespers and deliver an address on “Monks and Mission: a perspective from England.”

Summing up the relations between the two global churches, Williams told ENS: “We’re working together for the kingdom, we’re praying together, and of course we have a huge agenda institutionally, which we’ve no idea how to sort out, but meanwhile we go on working and praying in great affection.”

— Matthew Davies is editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (9)

  1. Kenjiro M. Shoda says:

    As a young Roman Catholic layman who has a deep respect for our our Roman Catholic traditions and values, I find it appaling that this Pope would join in an ecumenical prayer service with the Archbishop of Canturbury. Like it or not, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Communion have practically nothing in common, either liturgically and certainly not with regards to Faith and Morals. The soon to be introduction in England of women “BISHOPS”, which are already common in the USA and elsewhere, not to mention your priestesses makes and talk of union, or gatherings such as this with the Pope in Rome on Saturday to be scandelous. It seems that the only sourse of true Catholicism is the Society of Saint Pius X which maintains the traditions and values of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church.
    Personally, I would go to the Greek Orthodox Church, or to the SSPX before I would ever stay in the Roman Catholic Church if ever they finally achieved their goal of Christian union with Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and other Protestant groups. They are all honorable faith communities, but I don’t want to join them!

    1. John Kirk says:

      It is painfully ironic that one would have to defend the Holy Father in this forum from the slanders of a fellow Catholic, but here goes:

      1) If you think we have nothing in common liturgically with the Anglican communion, then you obviously know nothing of liturgical history or development (this is not surprising in one who advocates for the schismatically-minded SSPX, who seem to think Our Lord handed the Tridentine Mass gilt-edged and bound in leather to the Apostles five minutes before the Ascension). Both spring from a common Western liturgical tradition. This can ACTUALLY be seen even in the Tridentine Mass, if one follows along with the translation. Any heretical bits get expunged in the Anglican-Use of our own Latin Rite (we’ve been expunging heretical bits since the Council of Jerusalem).

      B) The pope is the visible principal of unity for the Church. It is his job as the one who succeeds to the Fisherman to do just this very thing…let down his nets into the deep waters, even the deep water of error and heresy. This was not an offering of the Holy Sacrifice. This was a Vesper service. There is a difference. The Holy Father’s participation was not a ratification of the errors that the Anglican Communion has fallen into (and as a former Episcopalian, the old Communion is dear to me). It doesn’t affirm gay marriage/sex/bishops/priestesses/bishopesses any more than it affirms the old heresies of Sola Sriptura/Sola Fide. It simply affirms that we want them to come back, to the unity to which we are all called in our common baptism and which already exists in communion with the successor of St. Peter. We need to guard against the attitude of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal. Where the Holy One (or His Vicar) deign to show mercy, we can’t show anger. If we possess the fullness of Truth and Light, then it is a Truth which is given by Grace and a Light in which we ourselves all too readily stumble.

    2. Andy Hook says:

      I find it fascinating then Mr. Kirk, based upon your obvious disdain for both Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, that you would be reading an article about ecumenical ties between these two great churches on an Episcopal News website. You sir, are a conundrum.

      1. Andy Hook says:

        Sorry, this was meant for Brother Shodo. I echo Brother Kirk’s statements.

    3. C. Fisher says:

      These are rantings of a biased and uninformed person!

  2. Joyce Ann Edmondson says:

    When Jesus said the following:

    “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35

    He was including those who do the will of God in the Body of Christ, not excluding his mother! Why cannot all of us do the same and recognize that we all together are indeed the Body of Christ, his brothers, sisters and mother, and He alone is the head.

    Let it be, let it be, let it be.

  3. On Jan. 1 of this year Pope Benedict XVI established an American Anglican Ordinariate in the United States headed by a former Episcopal bishop. The Pope, by offering disaffected ex-Anglicans a place in the Roman Catholic Communion, has raised the issue—indirectly—of what we Anglicans can do about disaffected former Roman Catholics without proselytizing. I believe that it is time for the Anglican Communion and, most especially, the Episcopal Church in the US, to welcome into this branch of ‘Christ’s holy catholic church’ those disaffected former Roman Catholics who are no longer able in good conscience to remain in the Roman Communion.

    In an article in the National Catholic Reporter, January 11, 2010, Fr. Richard McBrien, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University, wrote: “In late February 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a major survey that found that nearly a third of U.S. Catholics have left the Catholic church. Some have joined other churches, but most have simply slipped from active membership in the Catholic church to become part of a group once described as “lapsed Catholics.” This means that about 10 percent of all Americans today are former Catholics. “ It also means that most of the some 20,000,000 former Roman Catholics have not yet found a spiritual home.

    In the Episcopal Church they will find a reformed Catholic church (the third largest Christian communion in the world) that already exemplifies many of the characteristics that they had hoped to see in the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council:

    · A democratic church in which every office holder—lay or clergy—is elected by the people. From the parish priest to the diocesan bishop to the national presiding bishop, all are elected by the chosen representatives of the clergy and laity.
    · The Eucharistic liturgy with the Sacrament of Holy Communion as the principal act of worship on Sundays and major saints’ days. All baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion in both the consecrated Bread and Wine. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available on an ‘all may; some should; no one must’ basis.
    · The freedom of clergy to marry.
    · Admission to Holy Communion of divorced and remarried people without annulment of the previous marriage.
    · Full equality of women including their admission to all of the ordained ministries of the Church: diaconate; priesthood; and episcopate.
    · Full equality of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
    · Artificial contraception is not considered to be sinful; the freedom of women to follow their own informed consciences in regard to the termination of an unwanted pregnancy is approved by a majority of Episcopalians and is not censured by the church. Children and adults are taught the Christian faith in order to apply it to their own lives; priests and trained spiritual directors are available to assist them in their decision-making.

    I share with many of my Roman Catholic friends—both practicing and no longer practicing—a concern for the spiritual welfare of those who have left the Roman Communion but who have not found a church within which to continue their Catholic faith and practice. I believe that ignorance of the reformed Catholic nature of our church prevents many former Roman Catholics from finding a new spiritual home among us. I believe that we have an obligation to address their plight and that the Pope’s offer to former Anglicans allows us to reciprocate in the same spirit of concern—on our part—for the welfare of former Roman Catholics.

    I propose that the Episcopal Church engage in a campaign at the national, diocesan, and parish level to inform former Roman Catholics that “we recognize [them] as [members] of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive [them] into the fellowship of this Communion”. Former Roman Catholics already in our church, including clergy, could be enlisted to help others understand the needs of former Roman Catholics as they seek further information about our church. I—and, I am sure, others—have conducted workshops and seminars to explain the similarities and differences between our church and the Roman Catholic Church. Most of us, I am sure, would be willing to do that at the diocesan and parochial level as we welcome former Roman Catholics to become part of our church.

    Using the figures provided by Fr. McBrien, there are c. 20,000,000 former Roman Catholics in the USA, most of whom have not found a spiritual home. I trust that our attempts to provide a Catholic and Reformed spiritual home for these, our sisters and brothers, will meet with the same spirit with which Anglicans have met the Pope’s concern for those who have left our part of the ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church’.
    There is no need to create separate ‘ordinariates’ [as the Roman Church has done for former Anglicans] for our former Roman Catholic sisters and brothers—they will feel at home with the liturgy of the Episcopal Church: it is practically identical to the liturgy that they have become accustomed to in the last three generations since Vatican II.

  4. Joyce Ann Edmondson says:

    Rev. Bronk’s words reflect his understanding of the plight of “inactive” Roman Catholics who have found that they are alienated from their “faith” by their choices, but believe they are following God’s will and desperately seek the unity they once sought and for which they still pray.

    However, many of us do not accept all of the practices of the Episcopal church, such as terminating life as a woman’s right. A woman can make a choice to use contraception, but if she becomes pregnant, her only choice is to support life at its conception. There is no other moral choice to make. What we need is more education on the purpose of life, who we are and what we are called to do in this life, which many children have never been told. They have not heard the word of God because the messengers have not shared it with them.

    Our message, no matter what church we either belong to or have left, is to let people know through word and deed that God loves them, accepts them and has a purpose for them as well as those they bring into existence through their choices, his grace and support. That is the ultimate purpose of a Christian.

    Our nation is in flux but I believe each person must stand for what he/she believes and not accept less from any church or denomination. We all need to include people in the Body of Christ, and not exclude them because God loves them and died for them as well as for the “righteous” who do not seem to have any imperfections or problems keeping the “rules.”

    I pray that they may be one, as the Father and I are one. Jesus is right. We need a lot more trust in his words and the desire to fulfill them through our actions. At least I know that in the next life we will be one, if not in this. There is no high wall separating us in the next life. When God calls us he will not ask us what denomination or church we were called into, but whether or not we loved one another. I am 80 years old and have learned a great deal from churches and I am grateful for them, but at this time of my life, I ask God to send his Spirit to enlighten me and show me the truth and the way. Peace be with you.

  5. Noel E. Gutierrez says:

    I think the Episcopal Church and The Roman Catholic Church are theologically united. Their respective ontological approaches may seem to be a little different, but they are both the same CHRISTIAN CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST though its Sacraments. This makes me very happy because I like both Churches. I hope and pray to God that someday soon, they will become one and then all other christian denominations may embrace our Christian Tradition in this new Millennium.

    God bless you

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