Page 6, 8th April 1949

8th April 1949
Page 6
Page 6, 8th April 1949 — A "HIGH CHURCH" ROAD TO THE CHURCH
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A "HIGH CHURCH" ROAD TO THE CHURCH

by PETER F.

ANSON

THIRTY-SD( years ago, on March 5, IOU, Abbot Aelred Carlyle and 22 of his Anglican monks, dressed in their picturesque black and white habits, knelt on the marble pavement of the choir in the Abbey Church on Caldey

Island. MgrMostyn, Bishop of Menevia, vested in cope and mitre, sat op the altar steps. Around him stood a group of clerics which included three Benedictine abbots, Among those monks who made their Prefession of Faith and were absolved from ecelesiasticiii censures was myself. One who watched this unusual function from the tribune said it was the most moving sight he had ever seen in his life, and was ugable to keep back his tears. What I remember most is a sense of tiredness, and the wish that this last stage on the Road to Rome could ha* been made without so much fuss and external ceremony. Why. so I asked myself, had I put off the inevitable step foe nearly three years?

As a boy. I had been brought up in a very clerical atmosphere. Most of my father's family were devom members of the Church of England. Three uncles were parsons, and I could count several more distant relatives who held higher positions in the Church. It was eot until the age of sixteen that I began to be interested in religion. This awakening was due to assisting at Evensong in a church in Suffolk where a cope was worn, and six tall candles stood on the altar. The private tutor under whom I was studying was a rigid Evangelical of the aid fashioned type. He and his wife were much shocked that I had attended this neighbouring church. They advised me to read a bulky volume entitled The Secret History of the Oxford Movement, supplemented by numerous tracts which professed to expose the errors of " Ritualism" and " Rornanism." A course of this literature produced exactly the opposite effect to what was intended. Before the end of that year I left this Suffolk rectory. Staying with my grandmother in Windsor my curiosity was roused by the sinister reports of what went on at Si.

Stephen's, Cie;wer. Rather in the mood of a young man paying his first visit to a night club I slipped away unbeknown to my relations one dark foggy night. Feeling rather nervous 1 arrived at the door of this church, and went in. The first thing that struck me was the smell. From that moment I became

an " incense addict."

Religious Ballet Facilis descensus Averno—easy is the road to hell—so Virgil reminds us. Doubtless these words sum up what was said by my family after began to desert them on $unday mornings to assist at a Sung Eucharist instead of Choral Matins. Very soon the rhythm of Gregorian psalm tones and plainchant such as it was, meant much the same thing to me as Jazz or Swing music means to most lads to-day. The movemots of the three sacred ministers at these Anglican High Masses, as they performed their religious pas de 07)4, vested in chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle, affected me as the ballet does so many of the present generation. We had not heard of psycho-analysis in 1905, and when I informed some of my family that I had been to Confession as the result of listening to sermons on " The Sacrament of Penance," 1 was warned that it was a dangerous practice, likely to weaken the character, but if I found it " helpful," then perhaps it would do no serious harm, if I unburdened my conscience once in a while. For this concession I must thank one of my parson uncles who was more "High Church " than the rest of the relations.

So step by step I evolved into an Anglo-Catholic. In 1906 I got so far as to become an Associate of the Anglican Benedictine community which not long after moved from Yorkshire to Caldey Island, South Wales, Now I was well on the road

to becoming a monk. I climbed higher and higher with extreme rapidity. The little Anglican books of devotion were discarded and replaced by the Latin Horae Diarttae of the Monastic Breviary. Before

was twenty I had started to recite the Breviarium Mona.stieutn.

One day I bought a Catholic Directory which enabled me to discover What my Anglican spiritual advisers described as " Italian Mission "

churches. Despite their warnings that it was a grave sin to worship in these schismatical churches, I now often went to Mass. At first this Roman worship struck me as d poor show compared with what I had become accustomed to in some of the more extreme Anglo-Catholic churches. Then it dawned on nic that there was a subtle difference it did not rest on the private opinions of an individual as to what was nice or edifying, hut on an authority recognised throughout the world. Perhaps it was due to a strong sense of discipline inculcated by my father, an officer in the Royal Navy, that I grasped the idea of authority in religion so quickly. It was the lack of any final authority in the Church of England that drove me on towards Rome. The wind filled my sails and I could not change my course.

At Caldey

Nat before I came of age I entered the novitiate of the Caldey Benedictines. Some people might

say that I did so in '' bad faith," for by the summer of 1910 1 had aban

doned any probable opinion I once held that the Church of England Was a true but severed limb of the Catholic Church, or perhaps it

would be more true to say that I clung on to this opinion like. a

drowning man clings to anything that will keep his head above water. There were frequent moments when I felt I could hold on no longer and would sink.

So I laid bare these acute symptoms of " Roman Fever " to Abbot Aelred Carlyle. His reply was that he him self was in much the same spiritual state, and that he had little doubt that before very long he and his community would have no alternative but to abandon " the sinking ship " of Anglicanism. For two years and a half I managed to convince myself that there were suffi ciently strong reasons for postponing my own reception into the Catholic Church, but how often was I not on the point of leaving Caldey !

Abbot Aelred was right: within little more than two years Bishop Gore of Oxford had shown us how utterly illogical was our position. He pointed out that many of the doctrines, customs, and ceremonial which we maintained were essential to Catholicity " could not be justi fied on any other than a strictly Papal basis of authority." There was no room even in the compre hensive Church of England for a aommunity of monks who had adopted most of those " medieval abuses" which Anglicanism had rejected at the Reformation, But did this episcopal advice to " clear out " because we would not obey orders necessarily mean that

myself had "received the gift of

Faith "? Strange as it may seem. none of its were ever given any in struction in the Catechism before our reception into the Church. It was taken for granted that because we practised most of the externals of Catholic monastic fife, we must therefore be familiar with the foundations of the Catholic religion. Several of those converts of 1913 proved later on that they had not grasped the Faith—they left the community and drifted away from the Church.

Speaking for myself, T don't think ever really became a Catholic in the full sense until twelve years after my actual reception. A new and much more real conversion " took place when I joined the Third Order of St. Francis. All that con centration on ritualism and ceremonial: the consciousness of having to revive a purely contemplative form of monastic life for the benefit of the Catholic Church to which we had only recently been admitted. faded into the background. The simple matter-of-fact Friars Minor in Italy made me realise that Christianity, so far as I was concerned, was something infinitely less camplicated—merely " to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to live in His footSteps" — as St. Francis bade his disciples. It is the Octave of St. Francis, 1925. when made my Tertiary Profession in the St. Clare's choir at S. Damian°. Assisi, that I now look back on as the real end to my Road to the Church.




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