Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a Year of Faith beginning today because October 11 is the 50th anniversary of opening of the Second Vatican Council (1962) and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Second Vatican Council is a subject far beyond the reach of this blog, but there is an important aspect of the Council, a specific document in fact, that has a connection to the whole issue of Catholicism and Anglicanism that is certainly a theme of my studies and interests.
In the Decree on Ecumenism, UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO, CHAPTER III, CHURCHES AND ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES SEPARATED FROM THE ROMAN APOSTOLIC SEE, paragraph 13, the Fathers of the Council specifically mentioned the Church of England:
We now turn our attention to the two chief types of division as they affect the seamless robe of Christ.
The first divisions occurred in the East, when the dogmatic formulae of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon were challenged, and later when ecclesiastical communion between the Eastern Patriarchates and the Roman See was dissolved.
Other divisions arose more than four centuries later in the West, stemming from the events which are usually referred to as "The Reformation." As a result, many Communions, national or confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.
These various divisions differ greatly from one another not only by reason of their origin, place and time, but especially in the nature and seriousness of questions bearing on faith and the structure of the Church. Therefore, without minimizing the differences between the various Christian bodies, and without overlooking the bonds between them which exist in spite of divisions, this holy Council decides to propose the following considerations for prudent ecumenical action. . . .
Blessed Pope John XXIII had previously established the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited the Vatican in 1960 (unofficially). Anglican observers were present at the Council and there was an Anglican reaction to this statement and the entire program of the Second Vatican Council.
In 1966 Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey made an official visit to Pope Paul VI and then in 1967, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was established. One of the fruits of the dialogue taking place under ARCIC's auspices was the 2005 document on the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in salvation history and devotion, "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ".
Just as Canterbury visited Rome, Blessed John Paul II met with Robert Runcie during the former's 1982 pilgrimage to England, while Pope Benedict XVI met with Rowan Williams (set to retire at the end of 2012) during the Pope's official visit in September 2010, speaking at Lambeth Palace:
It is a pleasure for me to be able to return the courtesy of the visits you have made to me in Rome by a fraternal visit to you here in your official residence. I thank you for your invitation and for the hospitality that you have so generously provided. I greet too the Anglican Bishops gathered here from different parts of the United Kingdom, my brother Bishops from the Catholic Dioceses of England, Wales and Scotland, and the ecumenical advisers who are present.
You have spoken, Your Grace, of the historic meeting that took place, almost thirty years ago, between two of our predecessors – Pope John Paul the Second and Archbishop Robert Runcie – in Canterbury Cathedral. There, in the very place where Saint Thomas of Canterbury bore witness to Christ by the shedding of his blood, they prayed together for the gift of unity among the followers of Christ. We continue today to pray for that gift, knowing that the unity Christ willed for his disciples will only come about in answer to prayer, through the action of the Holy Spirit, who ceaselessly renews the Church and guides her into the fullness of truth.
It is not my intention today to speak of the difficulties that the ecumenical path has encountered and continues to encounter. Those difficulties are well known to everyone here. Rather, I wish to join you in giving thanks for the deep friendship that has grown between us and for the remarkable progress that has been made in so many areas of dialogue during the forty years that have elapsed since the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission began its work. Let us entrust the fruits of that work to the Lord of the harvest, confident that he will bless our friendship with further significant growth.
Pope Benedict concluded his remarks by citing Blessed John Henry Newman (before the beatification Mass):
In the figure of John Henry Newman, who is to be beatified on Sunday, we celebrate a churchman whose ecclesial vision was nurtured by his Anglican background and matured during his many years of ordained ministry in the Church of England. He can teach us the virtues that ecumenism demands: on the one hand, he was moved to follow his conscience, even at great personal cost; and on the other hand, the warmth of his continued friendship with his former colleagues, led him to explore with them, in a truly eirenical spirit, the questions on which they differed, driven by a deep longing for unity in faith. Your Grace, in that same spirit of friendship, let us renew our determination to pursue the goal of unity in faith, hope, and love, in accordance with the will of our one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Another major development in the relationship and dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, certainly, is the establishment of the Personal Ordinariate, founded by Pope Benedict XVI in response to "groups of Anglicans" requesting some provision for communion with the Catholic Church as communities maintaining some aspects of their Anglican heritage. The Ordinariate Portal has several posts on the effects of the Ordinariate on ARCIC, which last met in May of 2011. Major obstacles to reunion between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion remain (certainly, the ordination of women as both priests and bishops in the Anglican Communion and the infallibility of the Pope in the Catholic Church are the really big issues) and yet those obstacles become vehicles of conversion for individuals or groups of Anglicans!
Note that Rowan Williams will attend the Mass celebrating the Year of Faith and the Anniversary of the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council today in Rome. In the U.K. the Catholic Truth Society is offering a wide range of resources for the Year of Faith.