As the Queen and Supreme Governor of the Church of England inaugurates the tenth General Synod on 24th November, it has been announced that the ceremony will be preceded by Eucharist in Westminster Abbey, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will preside and Fr Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap (Preacher to the Papal Household – a Capuchin monk with his own website) will preach.
That’s nice and ecumenical.
According to Wikipedia (which is quoting the BBC) Fr Cantalamessa is “the only person allowed to preach to the Pope”, and is of the view that “the sensational coverage of alleged child abuse and cover-ups within the Roman Catholic Church was evidence of anti-Catholicism”, bearing similarities, he opines, to the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism”.
That’s not so nice and ecumenical.
But here’s the most interesting ecumenical bit:
On March 29, 2013, in a Good Friday homily delivered in St Peter’s Basilica, Cantalamessa preached in favor of clearing away “the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris.” He then referred to St Francis of Assisi as exemplifying the creative destroyer of ecclesial traditions: “As happens with certain old buildings, over the centuries, to adapt to the needs of the moment, they become filled with partitions, staircases, rooms and closets. The time comes when we realize that all these adjustments no longer meet the current needs, but rather are an obstacle, so we must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity and linearity of its origins. This was the mission that was received one day by a man who prayed before the Crucifix of San Damiano: ‘Go, Francis, and repair my Church’.”
Cantalamessa a radical? A reformer? A new Josiah? He shares with Justin Welby an ecclesial charismatic foundation grounded in the Alpha course:
All those who love Jesus love evangelisation, as well as everyone who takes their Christian vocation seriously – and this includes Christians of all denominations. We are no longer a transverse church but we are a people, who throughout all the different confessions of faith have in their heart the Gospel; not so much the affirmation of their particular group or particular church, but the proclamation of the Good News because they love Jesus.
Certainly in the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II and now also Pope Francis are pushing in this direction, and so any initiative in this direction – above all when it is characterised by a spirit like that of Alpha – an ecumenical spirit, a spirit of unity, not of proselytism – should be welcomed as a gift for the Church of today.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is of the view that the age of the Imperial Church is over. It appears to be an ecclesiology he shares with Pope Francis: the move is toward more localism, subsidiarity and contextual mission. Under this Pope, ARCIC relations will be less about banging Anglicans over the head with their “absolutely null and utterly void” Orders, or berating their sham of a Eucharist and their “ecclesial community” of a so-called church. Instead, the focus is on the person and ministry of Jesus. Christian unity is not a labour of man, but a work of the Holy Spirit. He sifts the wheat from the chaff and separates the sheep from the goats. He also purifies the Church: ‘For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him’ (2Cor 11:4).
Fr Raniero Cantalamessa has been called “an avowed apostle of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal” who is given to “speaking boldly like an Old Testament prophet”. He has a prophet’s beard, too. We could do with one or two more of those among the Church of England’s 468-strong voting Synod. Prophets, that is: not beards. Church House tells us:
For the first time there are slightly more elected women than men in the House of Laity – 50.5% to 49.5% (in 2005 40% of elected laity were women and in 2010 46%). In the House of Clergy, the number of women elected has increased to 32% (from 22% in 2005 and 29% in 2010). Three of the 53 members of the House of Bishops are women: the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, the Rt Revd Libby Lane and the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek…
Gender, sex, sexuality.. would it not be more useful to know that we have a Synod composed of ‘first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues‘ (1Cor 12:28)? What is the point of Synod meeting without the ministry of the prophetic? Oh, don’t expect to applaud what he (or she) has to say: it is unlikely that the prophet will have much patience for papers on global warming and the migrant crisis, or for reports on church buildings and resourcing the future. ‘A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house‘ (Mk 6:4).
But when the Preacher to the Papal Household speaks at an Anglican Eucharist without banging on about the real presence and denouncing it as anathema compared to the Sacrifice of the Mass, is he not signalling – even actualising – the end of “the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes (that are) now only debris”? Divine grace combined with human generosity is a life-giving force: indeed, it is the gift of salvation.