On a recent evening, about 60 people—ex-Episcopalians, curious Catholics and a smattering of earnest Episcopal priests in clerical collars—gathered downtown for an unusual liturgy: It was Evensong and Benediction, sung according to the Book of Divine Worship, an Anglican Use liturgical book still being prepared in Rome.
Beautiful evensongs are a signature of Protestant Episcopal worship. Benediction, which consists of hymns, canticles or litanies before the consecrated host on the altar, is a Catholic devotion. We were getting a blend of both at St. Mary Mother of God Church, lent for the occasion.
One former Episcopalian present confessed to having to choke back tears as the first plainsong strains of "Humbly I Adore Thee," the Anglican version of a hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas, floated down from the organ in the balcony. A convert to Catholicism, she could not believe she was sitting in a Catholic Church, hearing the words of her Anglican girlhood—and as part of an authorized, Roman Catholic liturgy.
And that was not the only miracle. Although the texts had been carefully vetted in Rome for theological points, the words being sung were written by Thomas Cranmer, King Henry VIII's architect of the English Reformation. "He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel," the congregation chanted, "as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever."...
The recent liturgical evening in Washington was arranged by Eric Wilson, a 24-year-old layman and former Episcopalian. "I believe the Anglican Use is a model for meaningful ecumenism—insisting on the fundamentals of faith while providing charity in other areas," he said.
The service was conducted by Father Eric Bergman, a Yale Divinity School-educated former Episcopal clergyman who was ordained a Catholic priest in 2007. Father Bergman stresses that this is not an overture to effete Episcopalians who are angry about changes in their church and want to sneak into the Catholic Church bringing nothing more than their pretty music. Being "angry about Gene Robinson," he says of the openly homosexual bishop of New Hampshire, isn't enough reason to become a Catholic. There must be a real conversion to the tenets of Catholicism.
Father Bergman says he began his journey to the Catholic Church by thinking about something that has taken many liberal Catholics out of the church: contraception. He regards Anglicanism's 1930 embrace of contraception as a mistake: "Out of that came a confusion about the roles of men and women, a theology of androgyny," he says.
Father Bergman and his wife, Kristina, have six children. They and more than 60 members of his Episcopal parish came into the Catholic Church in 2005. He is now chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society in Scranton, Pa., which seeks to establish Anglican Use parishes.
Read the whole thing here.
(HT: Albert Mohler, Jr.)