CALGARY – Many groups of Anglicans have been asking Pope Benedict if they could become Roman Catholic but still maintain their 500-year Anglican traditions, such as liturgy, music and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
In November 2009, the Holy See responded to these requests by establishing a new structure that allows Anglicans to become Catholics.
An Anglo-Catholic Church in Calgary was the first to respond in Canada. Many parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church decided a year ago that their spiritual journey was leading them to enter into the Roman Catholic Church.
"We had a corporate body of parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church accepting the pope's invitation in accordance with Anglicanorum Coetibus ('Groups of Anglicans')," said Calgary Roman Catholic Bishop Frederick Henry.
As a result, a special, unprecedented service was held Dec. 18 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Calgary. Always Anglican, St. John the Evangelist Parish will soon be received into the Roman Catholic Church and be designated as a Roman Catholic Anglican use congregation.
"It was really a delightful experience, one of those emotional highs to be able to see such a concrete expression of the Lord's desire that we should all be one," said Henry.
He was pleased the Catholic parishioners from the cathedral gave the Anglicans an extended applause both at the beginning of Mass when he introduced them and again when they were confirmed afterwards.
The parishioners have been studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church for some time. Father Michael Storey, a Catholic chaplain, has been walking them through the catechetical process.
They voted collectively to enter the Roman Catholic Church, with the hopes of moving towards an ordinariate. Until Canada has an ordinariate, Rome has suggested that it become an Anglican use parish.
Given their small numbers, it has also been recommended they join eventually with the Anglican ordinariate in the United States, which will be established Jan. 1.
About a year ago, the 70-member congregation voted 90 per cent in favour of joining the Catholic Church.
At the time, Anglican Father Lee Kenyon told the WCR, "Essentially, St. John's and parishes like it have been trying to live out a Catholic life, a Catholic sacramental life, Catholic devotional life and a Catholic spiritual life.
"But they've been doing so without the full communion of Peter."
On Dec. 17, Kenyon ceased being the parish's priest-in-charge, and Father John Wright ceased being its honorary assistant. Both men were received into the Catholic Church Dec. 18, and are now intent on gaining permission to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests, with a dispensation from celibacy since they are both married.
"Any Anglo-Catholic who has always had these goals in mind of corporate reunion cannot ignore the offer," said Kenyon.
Storey has been assigned the new congregation for Christmas services and through this early transition period, until Kenyon and Wright are ordained.
Henry said Anglican parishes in Waterloo, Ont., and Toronto have also expressed interest in becoming Catholic. The Anglican-Catholic Church of Canada, a splinter group, is also exploring this possibility.
"At this stage it doesn't look like we'll have enough for a full ordinariate, so in all likelihood we are going to be part of the American ordinariate," said Henry.
Arrangements are being made for the new congregation to use the Anglican church buildings in 2012.
The agreement has been assisted by the good ecumenical relationship which exists between the two dioceses, said Henry.
"This is something we are quite proud of in Western Canada. Our spirit of ecumenism is strong, and our relations have been very cooperative, bishop to bishop," said Henry.
Henry and Anglican Bishop Derek Hoskin pray that this group of people will continue to experience God's blessing and their faith in Jesus will deepen as they become active members in Calgary's Catholic diocese.