Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Anglican and Roman Catholic Religious Communities Make a Covenant.

Here at the  Monastery we will be observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18 - 25. But this year's  observance will be a very special one for our Order, as it will mark the  forty year  anniversary  that the Order of the Holy Cross and the Camaldolese monks ratified a formal covenant. 

All will agree that the ecumenical landscape has changed dramatically. But it still goes on. And in our own small ways, so do we and with an ever-growing sense that whatever the structures that separate us, it is the deep reality of our common Christian faith and monastic practice that unites us. In this we reflect the world at large, Christian and non-Christian, religious and secular.  

What follows  is an article  written by Br. Bede Thomas Mudge , originally published in  the December 1977 issue of  Ecumenical Trends, the journal of the Graymoor Ecumenical Institute.

Br. Bede Thomas Mudge, O.H.C.

Anglican-Roman Catholic Religious Communities  Make  Covenant

By Br. Bede Thomas Mudge

The increasing exposure of Christians of diverse traditions to each other, which the ecumenical movement has made possible, has not infrequently awakened a desire in a particular group of Christians to understand and penetrate the tradition of another church or communion. This attempt can bear fruit not only in the discovery of how Christ has been perceived and revealed to those who see from a different perspective, but also in the illumination of the understanding of one's own tradition. Religious communities of the different churches, because of their common experience of prayer and apostolate in a community setting, as well as of their commitment to religious vows, could occupy a special place in this process, as groups who share a considerable amount of common ground and yet reflect diverse ways of understanding the Christian mystery.

Impressed by the number of Episcopal and Roman Catholic parishes now forming covenant relationships, some members of the Order of the Holy Cross, an Episcopal religious community, began to wonder, a few years ago, if such a covenant relationship might be possible between two religious communities as well. A number of problems were encountered as we began to explore the possibility, one of the first of them being variance in size. Most Anglican religious communities are very small by Roman Catholic standards, and it was difficult to visualize any meaningful relationship between a community of somewhat less than 100 members with, say, one of 10,000 members. The smaller community could easily be "swamped" in such an arrangement, while only an insignificant percentage of the larger group would be able to participate meaningfully in that sort of relationship.

There was also the problem of divergent traditions within the religious life itself. Most Anglican religious belong to communities that are traditionally "monastic," with a roughly "Benedictine" pattern to their lives. The greatest number of Roman Catholic religious, including many of those most committed to ecumenical endeavor, come from an "active" tradition whose spirituality and outlook are quite different. While not a contemplative community in the strictest sense, the Order of the Holy Cross, along with most Anglican communities, has retained a fair amount of the strictly monastic form of life. Therefore, some "active" Roman Catholic religious, especially those who have recently gone through a process of renewal in which many outward forms of monasticism have been changed or rejected, have questioned the value of a relationship with such a seemingly "traditional" community as Holy Cross.

Recognizing these difficulties, Holy Cross nevertheless continued to explore ways in which the idea of a covenant might be realized. The actual realization finally came through one of those historical "accidents" that the Holy Spirit provides from time to time. During a visit to the Roman Catholic Camaldolese monastery at Big Sur, California, in 1975, the prior (or superior) of the order's motherhouse at Camaldoli, Italy, also toured a number of different religious communities in the United States. Holy Cross was included on the prior's itinerary because the monk who acted as his interpreter had once been an Episcopalian, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. The visit was pleasant, but did not seem particularly significant at the time. Only later we realized that there were deeper possibilities for our two communities: a letter arrived at Holy Cross thanking us for our hospitality and expressing pleasure in the discovery that our two communities "were so similar.”

This remark was at first a considerable surprise to the Holy Cross brethren. However we have conceived our ethos, it has never been as Camaldolese. Our image of their community was largely formed by Thomas Morton's description of cloistered hermits who were so severe and ascetic that they were the only order to which a member of the Carthusian order, one of the strictest in the Roman Church, could be transferred! Nevertheless, it seemed there might be some benefit in further exploration. For one thing, the numerical strength of the two communities is quite similar, and they were the first interested community we had found of whom that was so. Inquiries were sent therefore, and they met a positive response.

In the nearly-two years that have elapsed since then, several more "accidents" have occurred to deepen the relationship. A number of Holy Cross monks have been able to visit Camaldoli on their way to conferences in Europe or on trips to Africa, where Holy Cross has mission work and a novitiate. The Prior General of the Camaldolese monks has toured several Holy Cross houses during a visit to the Camaldolese hermitage in California, and was able to be at Holy Cross's motherhouse in West Park, New York, during our 1977 annual Conference and Chapter, thus meeting nearly two-thirds of our members. Such visits have confirmed the initial impression of the Camaldolese monks that our two communities are very similar. While it is true the American Camaldolese house is exclusively an eremetical foundation, the community in Italy has a much broader range of life. St. Romuald, the Camaldolese founder, was deeply influenced by Greek monasticism, and the Camaldolese have inherited a pattern somewhat broader than that of most Roman Catholic contemplative communities. Though a majority of the monks live either at the monastery in Camaldoli or in one of the Italian hermitages, several monks also teach in Rome, one is engaged in missionary work, and others in parish ministry.

Our mutual discussions have revealed that the approach of the two communities to the issues raised by renewal have been remarkably similar, and the communities have dealt with these issues in very similar ways. In addition, Holy Cross has been developing a community house in Pineville, South Carolina, where the monks live in individual huts, giving us an approach to the Camaldolese life in that way as well. We have discovered that the communities have a similar range of interests, similar approaches to problem-solving, and a similar spread of life styles, though the Camaldolese community, naturally, leans much more heavily toward the classic contemplative style. Those monks who have been able to visit houses of the others' community have noted from the very beginning that the language barrier was not the problem we had expected, and this was because we have such basically similar approaches in so many areas of our lives. Obviously, deeper conversation will require a common language, and several members of both communities are working on this challenge presently.

Handmade paten presented to
The Order of The Holy Cross
by the Camaldolese in 1977
From the first visits, it seemed to many of us that a formal covenant would be not only a possibility, but also very desirable. After joint work on a covenant document, it was ratified during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January 1977, with the expectation that it will be reviewed yearly during the initial period and adjusted according to the insights gained from the experience of the previous year. At present, the covenant document contains most of the provisions that can be found in covenant arrangements be- tween parishes: the communities bind themselves to pray for each other and for reunion, to make formal prayer in public worship for each other, and to involve members of each community in one another's liturgical worship as seems suitable and possible. We also pledge to do as much as we can to make the reunion of our churches possible and not to place roadblocks in the way of union.

The covenant also contains some material appropriate to the special nature of our relationship: each community observes the principal feasts of the other; we exchange all of our informational material - newsletters, minutes of meetings, and so on; and each community has opened itself to the possibility of having members from the other group live with them for various periods of time (and there has been considerable interest expressed in this phase of the covenant). Currently, one Holy Cross brother is spending a month at the California Camaldolese hermitage, and other plans are being discussed. It will be some time before any statement can be made about the results of our covenant, because it is still very much in the opening stages. But the nearly tumultuous welcome accorded the Prior General of the Camaldolese during his visit to Holy Cross indicates that each community is embracing the covenant with much enthusiasm, and that there will be profound effects in our individual and corporate lives.

One definite result has already emerged with the promise of some significance. During meetings in the Spring of 1977 the two communities announced the founding of the Fellowship of St. Augustine and St. Gregory, membership in which is open to all who are interested in working for the reunion of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. 

Handmade Chalice and Paten presented to 
The Order of The Holy Cross
by the Camaldolese in 1977
The Fellowship will have the shared prayer and life of the Order of the Holy Cross and the Camaldolese monks as its foundation, and members will pledge themselves to serious prayer and work for the cause of reunion. A definite plan of action will develop as we come to see where the members' interests and strengths lie, but among other areas we hope the Fellowship will assist parishes who have entered into a covenant relationship and need guidance in implementing a meaningful program to express that relationship. Conferences, meetings for shared prayer, and suggestions for shared apostolates will also be considered.

Even though no formal publicity work has yet been undertaken, the response to the idea of the Fellowship has been surprisingly large, and letters have begun arriving from people who have heard rumors of its establishment. Among those who already agreed to be patrons of the Fellowship are the noted Roman Catholic theologian, Gregory Baum; Bishop Arthur Vogel of the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri (Co-Chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States); Archbishop Theodore Scott, Primate of the Anglican Church in Canada and a Moderator of the World Council of Churches; George Maloney, S.J., from the Pope John XXIII Center, New York; and Cardinal Michael Pellegrino, the recently retired Archbishop of Turin, Italy. Holy Cross and Camaldolese monks thus have reason to hope that sharing their common consecration will have significant repercussions in efforts to reconcile our two churches.

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