Prospects for better understanding between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in Canada may not seem as bright in some ways as they did 40 years ago, leaders of the two communions implied Nov. 13 at a worship service at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.
But the liturgy during a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Anglican-Roman Catholic (ARC) Dialogue of Canada expressed a commitment to press ahead, with gratitude.
“Genuine faith is more than assent: it is expressed in action,” said one of the texts read by a “lector” near the close of the bilingual gathering, attended by a few hundred people—nowhere near the capacity of the Basilica Church of Oratory. About five Anglican and 10 Roman Catholic bishops from different parts of Canada attended the service.
“As Anglican and Roman Catholics seek to overcome the remaining obstacles to full visible unity, we recognize that the extent of our common faith compels us to live and witness together more fully here and now,” the lector said, reading from the texts.
The service was an adaptation of the evening prayer service known to Roman Catholics as vespers and Anglicans as evensong. Anglican Bishop Barry Clarke of Montreal and Auxiliary Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Dowd of Montreal presided, the latter representing Archbishop Jean-Paul Cardinal Turcotte.
Hot-button issues since the formal dialogue began in 1971 were not explicitly mentioned in the liturgy. It was prepared ahead of time by three members of the ARC Dialogue: Archdeacon Bruce Myers of the Anglican diocese of Quebec, Roman Catholic Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon and Rev. Luis M. Melo, a Roman Catholic who teaches at St. Paul’s College in the University of Manitoba.
In another forum, however, the homilist at the service, Roman Catholic Bishop François Lapierre of St. Hyacinthe, Que., co-chair of the dialogue, was more explicit. In the current issue of Ecumenism, published by the Montreal-based Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, he writes, “It has become commonplace to say that the enthusiasm for ecumenism that came about during the Second Vatican Council has cooled, [to] the extent that sometimes people wonder if ecumenism has now been reduced to simply being on good terms with other Christian denominations.”
He adds that the ordination of women as priests and bishops in the Anglican Church and issues related to sexual ethics, more specifically same-sex unions, “may have created the impression that the dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics was entering a desert period.” A recent move by the Vatican to set up a special structure for Anglicans who want to unite with Rome “may also seem to have put the brakes on dialogue.” He goes on to cite a number of positive developments, however.
In his homily, the bishop spoke in more general terms.
“Each church has made decisions that the other found difficult to understand,” he said. “Begun in the enthusiasm after Vatican II, the dialogue is now experiencing more difficult moments.”
He said the two partner churches are even having difficulty coming up with funds for dialogue activities.
Referring to the two disciples who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus but did not recognize him, he said the two churches also do not always see Christ clearly but still keep talking and praying together. (Luke 24: 13-35 was the Gospel reading for the service.)
He said efforts to achieve communion should always go together with seeking to carry out the church’s mission in the world.
Welcoming members of the congregation, Bishop Dennis Drainville of the diocese of Quebec (in central and eastern Quebec), the other co-chair of the dialogue, said, “One day all barriers will be down and we will know each other as God has made us.”