Are We Catholic?

We give thanks for the tens of thousands of people who visit our website each month. From time to time we are asked, "Are you Catholic?" And we tell them, "Yes, but we are not Roman Catholic per se." Quoting the great twentieth-century theologian Henri Cardinal de Lubac, the Catholic spirit is not either-or, but both-and. The priest who serves our Community has descent in both Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic Apostolic lines. More important, we reverence each person's path as being holy: each begins in God and ends in God.

Our Church of St. Mary and the Angels is an Anglo-Catholic church of the Diocese of Quincy of the worldwide Anglican Communion — an organization of 90 million souls and the third largest expression of Christianity on earth. Nonetheless, some of our members are in communion with the Roman Communion, some with the Anglican Communion, and some who are still discerning their path. Our Pastor is a Yale-educated Anglo-Catholic priest who served as a professor of Catholic Theology at a Roman Catholic college.

Both our Bishops stand in Apostolic Descent in both Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catholic lines. Our Franciscan community is in the care of an Anglo-Catholic bishop who gave Franciscan vows more than fifty years ago. And our church is in the care of an Anglo-Catholic bishop who for decades was abbot of an ecumenical Benedictine religious order. Like the Taizé Community in France, we live out a richly spiritual life rooted in the ancient centuries of the Church.

When Taizé's founder, Br. Roger, received the Blessed Sacrament from the future Pope Benedict XVI at Pope St. John Paul II's funeral Mass, many people assumed that he must be Roman Catholic. No, he was not. But he was, and the Community he founded is, a sign of an important principle: there are many ways to live a rich, sacramental Christian life without being Roman Catholic. Like the Taizé Community, we welcome all Christians to join us in our religious life. The Roman Catholic Church is one way to be Catholic (and a large one to be sure), but not everyone's spiritual journey ends in the Roman Church.

Before Jesus ascended, He founded His Church upon Twelve Apostles. The Temple was no longer to be made of stone and mortar but rather living stones cohering into a spiritual temple, into His Body, the Body of Christ. That is, the Church was to be made of the only permanent material in the Creation and the only material capable of becoming holy, which are His precious, human creatures.

The Apostles were appointed to be special stones, for invested in them were the sacraments including the sacrament for consecrating additional Apostles, whom we call bishops. The Church is a living web made of living webs with a bishop at the center of each. Does this mean that every diocese or eparchy is a Church? Technically, yes. And these particular Churches cohere into a larger body based on communion among their bishops. To say it simply, each gathering (ecclesia) of a bishop with his priests, deacons, and people is an instance of the Church. Needless to say, there are many, many dioceses and eparchies in the world, even many communions.

The three largest are the Roman Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Communion, and the Anglican Communion. Both Roman and Eastern Orthodox Communions think of themselves as being "the Catholic Church." Anglo-Catholics, who have been careful to preserve their sacraments and especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, share this view. As the term Apostolic refers to descent from the Apostles by consecrating bishops, so the term Catholic refers to the authenticity of belief rooted in the most ancient centuries of the Church. Anglo-Catholics in particular place a very high premium on the theology of the Early Church. By contrast, Roman Catholics are particularly rooted in Vatican II and the culture, belief, and values that have proceeded from what they call "The Great Council" (of the 1960s).

Finally, as Catholic Churches descend from the Apostles, individual communities revere their particular Apostles. We at the Hermitage descend from the three men whom St. Paul called the pillars of the Church (Gal 2:9), St. John, St. Peter, and St. James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem:

Apostolic Descent

Our bishops also descend down the Roman Catholic line, but due to a fire or some other calamity in which their documentation was lost, the Roman Catholic Church cannot trace its Apostolic Descent any further back than a sixteenth-century Cardinal, Scipione Rebiba.

We are a sacramental community. The validity of our sacraments depends upon our descent. But nothing is more important to us than the love we pray for among our brothers and sisters in Christ. An Evangelical Christian pastor recently traveled to Taizé and asked them if they were Catholic. A Taizé brother told him that Brother Roger's aim was "reconciliation rather than conversion" to one specific church. Br. Roger himself was asked this question and replied that he constantly discovered his own Christian identity by reconciling the faith of his origins with the faith of other Christians without breaking with anyone. Amen.