The Anglo-Catholic tradition within Anglicanism is the handmaiden that nurtured many of us who have since taken the journey into full communion with Rome. Much of the liturgical flourishing associated with Anglo-Catholicism developed in the second wave of the movement, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, that became known as Ritualism. Two things became emblematic of the Anglo-Catholic movement from that time forward. The first was an extraordinary embrace of long lost High Church aspects of worship, including candles, incense, vestments, bells, and many related things. The second was a great devotion to serving the poor.
At first glance, these two ideas may seem contradictory. It is hard to justify golden chalices and silk chasubles when the people in your neighborhood are out of work and starving. Moreover, the Anglo-Catholic tradition prior to the 1860s was not exactly egalitarian. The movement had been started in the 1830s by men like St. John Henry Newman and John Keble, academics with strong Tory backgrounds. It drew its inspiration at least in part from the High Churchmanship of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that was often as invested in preserving monarchy and the social order as it was in orthodoxy and tradition.
Nevertheless, the Ritualists were deeply committed to serving the poor. Many Ritualist priests were sent to serve poor slum parishes by strongly Protestant bishops who wished to banish them to obscurity. Yet the Ritualists embraced the opportunity and often thrived ministering to the poor, the needy, outcasts, foreigners, and others who had been forgotten by the establishment of the established Church.
The Rev. Charles Fugue Lowder, for instance, was sent to the East End of London. The neighborhood in which his parish was found was deeply impoverished and overrun with crime. Children were left uneducated and malnourished. The parish did not accept Fr. Lowder easily. When he first arrived in 1856, he was shouted down during his sermons and faced regular attacks by the sailors and prostitutes who made up much of the community. On one occasion, while preaching, Lowder had to dodge a dead cat that was thrown at his head. But he persevered, staying for decades, ministering to the needs of each person without prejudice, so that when he died he was called “the poor man’s friend” and his body was carried in procession through the streets.
Lowder’s interest in the poor was not in spite of his Ritualism but because of it. He believed that the mysteries of the Sacraments were the path to salvation and that the Church of England was woefully derelict of duty in neglecting to provide them to the East Enders for so long. He described the point of Christian mission thusly:
In spite of the far greater attraction and popularity of general schemes of benevolence, of attempts to brighten the surface of society by plans of amusement or social recreation, of physical exercise or domestic economy, by friendly meetings of the poor, by lectures, concerts, or tea-meetings; however praiseworthy and useful such schemes are in their proper place, and not lost sight of in our own Mission work; yet we have ever felt that our great object must be to save souls. [Emphasis his.]
For this reason, Lowder founded the Society of the Holy Cross (Societas Sanctae Crucis or SSC), to develop a fraternity of priests who understood both the power of the Sacraments and the need to minister to those in need. The SSC was hardly the only Anglo-Catholic organization to adopt this mission though. Numerous religious orders, devotional societies, and volunteer organizations arose to meet the challenge. At Fr. Lowder’s urging, Elizabeth Neale founded an order of sisters that ministered to the poor and the sick of London, particularly during the Cholera epidemic of 1866. St. Saviour’s in Leeds, a parish established by the great early Anglo-Catholic leader E.B. Pusey, also ministered to Cholera victims and founded an orphanage. “We dare not deck our walls with pictures,” preached Pusey, “while man, the image of God and representative of Christ, [we] clothe not.”
Others were more pointed in their observations. F. D. Maurice wrote that Jesus did not offer His sacrifice on the cross “to give a few proud Philosophers or ascetical Pharisees some high notions about the powers of the soul and the meanness of the body,” but rather He “entered into the state of the lowest beggar, of the poorest, stupidest, wickedest wretch whom that Philosopher or that Pharisee can trample upon,” so that He could “redeem the humanity which Philosophers, Pharisees, beggars, and harlots share together.” For Maurice, the doctrine of the Incarnation forms the basis for both a high view of the Sacraments and the Christian responsibility not only to care for the poor but also to ask why they are poor in the first place.
There is an obvious resonance between this Anglo-Catholic approach to mission and Catholic Social Teaching. “Love for others, and in the first place love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice,” said St. John Paul II in Centesimus Annus. That encyclical marked a hundred years since Pope Leo XIII’s ground breaking 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum in which the pope wrote, “It is shameful and inhuman to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy.” An incarnational understanding of the dignity of the poor and the Church’s duty towards them is reflected in the lives of many great figures in the life of the Catholic Church over the last century and a half, including St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Katharine Drexel, St. Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, and many others.
Catholic Social Teaching offers a context into which the Roman Catholic Church can receive that part of the Anglican Patrimony that pertains to mission. A decade ago, when Pope Benedict XVI issued the apostolic constitution that created the Ordinariates, he made clear that their purpose was “transmitting Anglican patrimony” in ways that are “in full harmony with Catholic tradition.” There has been a lively conversation ever since over just what fits into that patrimony. Elements of Anglican liturgical practice have already been embraced and subsequently found a home in Divine Worship the Missal. But liturgy never exists in a vacuum. For the Ritualists, embracing Catholic teachings naturally led to both a recovery of the beauty of liturgy and a great sense of duty to the poor. For Roman Catholics today, especially in the Ordinariates, it should be no less so.
As with liturgy, the Catholic Church need not accept every nuance and detail of the Anglo-Catholic approach to mission. Catholic Social Teaching can organically sort the wheat from the chaff, allowing that which is consonant with the Church’s teaching to grow while that which needs correction will either change or wither away.
At the same time, though, a fuller engagement with the Anglo-Catholic tradition’s pairing of high liturgy with mission to the poor could be quite beneficial for the Catholic Church in our time. It is assumed by many Catholics in the west today that we can either embrace social justice or the Church’s liturgical heritage but not both. On its face, this is a false choice. Goodness and beauty, reflected in the Church’s worship and mission, are not two items on a menu of possibilities but two complementary aspects of the mystery of God. If the Anglican Patrimony can help us to recover that understanding and put it into practice, it will have more than served its purpose.