Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reformation, Undone

Try this Christmas Proclamation on for size:

In the fifth century since Henry VIII's break with Rome /
the one hundred fifty-eighth year of the re-establishment of the hierarchy in England and Wales /
the eighty-second Advent from Graham Greene's conversion /
the twenty-fourth hour of Tony Blair's reception /
the whole Anglican Communion (and much of Catholicism) being at conflict...

...Britain has "become a 'Catholic country,'" the Sunday Telegraph reports:
Roman Catholics have overtaken Anglicans as the country's dominant religious group. More people attend Mass every Sunday than worship with the Church of England, figures seen by The Sunday Telegraph show.

This means that the established Church has lost its place as the nation's most popular Christian denomination after more than four centuries of unrivalled influence following the Reformation.

Last night, leading figures gave warning that the Church of England could become a minority faith and that the findings should act as a wake-up call.

The statistics show that attendance at Anglican Sunday services has dropped by 20 per cent since 2000. A survey of 37,000 churches, to be published in the new year, shows the number of people going to Sunday Mass in England last year averaged 861,000, compared with 852,000 Anglicans worshipping.

The rise of Catholicism has been bolstered by an influx of immigrants from eastern Europe and Africa, who have packed the pews of Catholic parishes that had previously been dwindling.

It is part of the changing face of churchgoing across Britain in the 21st century which has also seen a boom in the growth of Pentecostal churches, which have surpassed the Methodist Church as the country's third largest Christian denomination.

Worshipping habits have changed dramatically with a significant rise in attendance at mid-week services and at special occasions - the Church of England expects three million people to go to a parish church over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In an attempt to combat the declining interest in traditional religion, the Anglican Church has launched radical new forms of evangelism that include nightclub chaplains, a floating church on a barge and internet congregations.
...and in an op-ed piece for the paper, the editor of The Tablet Catherine Pepinster writes on the new reality:
Speak to people who have been received into the Catholic Church and the comment they make is nearly always the same: "I feel as if I have come home".

People don’t choose to become Catholics lightly....

[I]t would seem that Tony Blair has come to Catholicism slowly, getting to know the Church through his wife, his children, through friends and colleagues.

His reception into the Church on Friday evening will have taken place after months of more formal instruction from priests responsible for his spiritual formation.

Mr Blair’s conversion is certainly something that the media have talked about for a long time. And that interest is very telling.

For despite there being around a million Mass-going Catholics in Britain, plenty of them in public life (Shirley Williams, Chris Patten, Ruth Kelly, Baroness Scotland, Charles Kennedy, to name but a few of Mr Blair’s fellow Catholic politicians) and warm relations between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, there is still a view in the media that Catholicism is exotic and different.

But when a former Prime Minister becomes a Catholic, that must be a sign that Roman Catholicism really has come in from the cold in this country.

I would hope that my fellow Catholics will welcome Tony Blair into the Church, just as they welcome other converts.

That someone shares your faith is a moment for joy, but not for unseemly triumphalism.

There may be some, though, within the Catholic Church, who will not acknowledge this reception with graciousness, pointing to Mr Blair’s voting record on issues such as abortion.

Mr Blair, no longer an MP and having said during his reception: "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God", may of course take a different view today as to what he believes and accepts on controversial life issues.

This is not to say that the Catholic Church should, or does, operate its own whip on certain ethical issues.

Politicians, including those such as a Middle East negotiator, have to act according to their conscience and negotiate the tricky path between their own beliefs and their work in the public arena.

And yet, all of us who are Catholics are encouraged to realise that your belief is not parked to one side when you are not at Mass.

Life and faith are a seamless robe. As he prepares for Christmas, a new Catholic, meditating on the Incarnation, I have no doubt that Mr Blair will feel profound happiness at the step he has taken.
The great irony in all this, of course, is that Catholics -- and Catholics alone, and anyone married to one -- remain barred from ascent to the British throne.

While the UK monarch serves by law as supreme governor of the church of England, the 1701 Act of Settlement specifically prohibits the crown to be claimed by "papists" or the spouses thereof. No other religious group is similarly prohibited, and in keeping with the provision, several senior royals who have married Catholics have been forced to relinquish their places in the line of succession.

The latest -- and, to date, highest-ranking -- disqualification will likely take place in May, as Queen Elizabeth's eldest grandchild marries a Canadian Catholic.

Eleventh in line to the throne, Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly will wed in a royal -- read: Anglican -- ceremony at Windsor Castle's St George's Chapel. The firstborn of the monarch's only daughter, Princess Anne, Phillips' engagement to Kelly, a Montreal-born management consultant, has re-ignited the push to scrap the 18th century law crafted to protect the state-church (and, by extension, the kingdom itself) from the specter of Roman control.