This is a guest post, written at the invitation of Lay Anglicana, by Father Andrew Cain. We are extremely grateful to him for setting out with such clarity what it is to be an Anglo-Catholic
(An ‘ordinary’ Anglican wandering into an Anglo-Catholic (Catholic Anglican, Anglican Catholic and some Liberal Catholic) Church is likely to find themselves in a worship experience that will be familiar and yet at moments rather different from the usual pattern of CofE worship – and increasingly alien to the many whose only experience of worship is popular modern evangelicalism. They may be confronted with a Church remarkably similar in style, liturgy and practice to the local Roman parish – down to the rite, prayers for the Pope and the use of guitars. Or they may find themselves in a very traditional, rather austere and confusingly alien liturgy with much bowing, incense, many statues, and candle-lit nooks and crannies.
What unites both and many other disparate styles (given that the CofE does not impose liturgical uniformity on its clergy and people) is a theological tradition that traces its roots to the reformation debates of the sixteeth century, owes much of its spirituality to the Caroline Divines in the 17th C (and was partly responsible for the Civil War) and flourished afresh and with renewed vigour throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.)
Anglo-Catholics believe themselves to be at heart deeply Incarnational – with a powerful sense of the essential goodness of creation and the reality of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. God comes to us in the materiality of the world – first and foremost in His Son and, since His Ascension, through real physical and spiritual realities that encompass our whole humanity – engaging all our senses to enable us to appreciate the beauty of God in the world.
The tap root of how this is worked out in the world is a deep devotion to and understanding of the Church as the place where God is active and where salvation is to be found.
‘We come to share in the divine life of the risen and ascended Christ by being incorporated through Baptism into his Body, the Church. Thus, we regard the universal Church neither as an institution of merely human origin, nor as a voluntary association of individual believers, but as a wonderful mystery, a divine society, a supernatural organism, whose life flows to its members from its head, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit’
That life flows to the believer through the sacraments which both indicate the presence of and constitute the Church as a Community. The Sacraments make the Church and are physical, effective and real means of the grace of God to the believer. There is no room to discuss the niceties of Eucharistic theology – again there is some variety in understanding – but all Anglo-Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ and this has had powerful influence on ritual as the very presence of our Lord and God in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is acknowledged in the celebration of the Eucharist (Mass). In the taking of Communion the believer receives the very presence and essence of the resurrected Christ and is fed and strengthened for daily living and eternal life. The centrality of Communion, regular reception and proper preparation cannot be over-estimated.
(Perhaps the greatest, and most unacknowledged, influence of the Catholic movement in the Anglican Church as a consequence has been the transformation of Anglican worship over the period of Catholic ascendency that lasted until the 1960’s.  Regular celebration of the Eucharist, (the Parish Communion Movement), modern liturgy, the use of music and the careful ordering of worship are part of a lasting legacy.)
This belief in the Church as a divine society – unbroken and unbreakable – encompasses a devotion to the Saints – especially Mary as the theotokos, the Mother of God. The circle of the Church living and the Church in glory (and in some instances the Church awaiting glory in purgatory) remains complete, unbroken by the death that Christ has destroyed, and so conversation between and prayer for each other is possible. The presence of statues of the saints, the revival of votive candles and the popularity again of Shrines and pilgrimages is another fruit of the Anglo-Catholic tradition (and one much in evidence in churches and cathedrals where the theology behind it might be less accepted but the income welcome)
For Anglo-Catholics the importance of the Church and what flows from it has to be understood if those of other theologies are to comprehend the opposition that some of the tradition have to changes in the life, ministry and order of the Church itself. The “canon” (or rule) of St Vincent of Lerins: “What everywhere, what always, and what by all has been believed, that is truly and properly Catholic” has powerful appeal and the firm belief that neither the Church of England nor any individual Catholic Church can change the what the Church is lies at the heart of opposition to women deacons, priests and bishops. The argument presumes that the Church has not had women in orders in the past and only a Council of the whole Catholic Church can make such a change (though this view of the role of women in the early church is increasingly challenged) – and there has not been a Council of the whole Church since the split between Rome and Constantinople in the eleventh century. It is simply not possible to change the Church in this way without bringing uncertainty to what has always been certain – that the Church is the unbroken and guaranteed vehicle of the grace of God. This is the argument of ‘sacramental assurance’ that is sometimes heard in debates.
For many of us, of course, firmly in the Catholic tradition and devoted to its rich and joyful understanding of our place in this world, these arguments do not hold weight. The gender of the priest (or Bishop) is of secondary importance – since every priest acts as in the image of Christ in the celebration of the Sacraments it is His humanity and divinity that is key and not His gender. I am indebted to Mo Marjorie Brown of St Mary’s, Primrose Hill for pointing out Gregory Nazianzus’ statement ‘The unassumed is the unhealed’. If Christ did not take all humanity (male and female) into Himself then why baptise girls and if He did then a woman is as appropriate as a man to represent His humanity and indeed for completeness sake both male and female priests may be required to reflect His full humanity – and ours.
For accepting Catholics the guarantees of the Faith are found in the apostolic faithfulness of the whole Church, which ordains and commissions the clergy, and not simply in an individual’s gender (or for that matter sexuality – though that is another argument..).That Christ only appointed male disciples makes a category mistake of equating the disciples whose number is as (more?) important than their gender in representing the leaders of the tribes of the New Israel with modern priesthood against the apostolic commissioning of many, both male and female – Mary Magdalene and Paul – to serve the community and spread the faith.
An acceptance of Biblical criticism and a strong belief in the ‘leading into all truth’ promised in the Gospels as well as experience of the enrichment of ministry and worship brought by gifted and called women reinforces the welcome given to this development under God without undermining or challenging the essential Catholic Faith.
Because of its sensitivity to history and belief in tradition the Anglo-Catholic movement has always been more prone to archaism than other forms of Anglicanism. Loyalty to the Faith becomes loyalty to the ways of the past and worship ossifies and changes are resisted. In recent years the Anglo-Catholic movement has lost its way and come to be seen as the preserve of negativity and often hostility within the Church and that has to change if we are once again to find confidence and a refreshed vision for the Church. I believe Anglo-Catholics need women Bishops – because this is what God wants – and because until it happens we cannot concentrate on living out what it is to be the Church in a world which needs the sense of community, joyfulness and the ‘beauty of holiness’ that is central to our faith.
Fr Andrew Cain
Vicar, St Mary with All Souls, Kilburn & St James West Hampstead.
 What is Anglo-Catholicism? A Response in Six Parts by the Revd John D. Alexander, SSC
 The ‘mark’s of Catholic worship which were increasingly introduced into the Church of England from the 1860’s onwards and despite opposition and even prosecution have, with some variation become commonplace – vis. the use of Eucharistic vestments such as the chasuble, stole, alb; the use of bells at the elevation of the host; the use of incense; the use of candles on the altar; the use of unleavened (wafer) bread in communion; eastward facing celebration of the Eucharist (less so since the 1960’s); making the sign of the cross; the mixing of sacramental wine with water
 The Anglican Church is part of the ‘one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’ and the branch theory of Catholicsm is essential to Anglo – Catholics. There is one Catholic Church – which has many branches – Roman, various Orthodoxies, Old Catholic and Anglican. Each individual yet part of the whole.