PORTLAND, Maine — A joint prayer service for Christian unity will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Bishop Richard Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, and Bishop Brian Marsh, spiritual leader of the Traditional Anglican Church in America, Diocese of the Northeast, will preside at the service.
The service is an outgrowth of talks between the Vatican and the Worldwide Traditional Anglican Church.
“The worldwide Traditional Anglican Communion, with members in 44 nations, seeks to uphold the Catholic faith, apostolic order, orthodox worship and evangelical witness of the Anglican tradition within the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church of Jesus Christ,” a joint press release issued Wednesday said.
Intercommunion would allow traditional Anglicans to take Communion at Catholic Masses and vice versa. Clergy also could be shared.
“The Diocese of Portland is happy to celebrate the historic progress made between the [Traditional Anglican Communion] and the Catholic church to truly become one body,” Malone said in the release. “We know that constant prayer and sincere belief in the goal of unity in Christ will lead us to his ultimate plan.”
There are 10 Anglican parishes and missions in Maine including St. Thomas Anglican Church in Ellsworth and missions in Camden and Millinocket. Congregants number fewer than 300. There are more than 200,000 Roman Catholics and more than 100 churches in Maine.
Talks between the communion and the Vatican were initiated 30 years ago, the Rev. Jeffrey Monroe, press and communications officer for the Anglican Diocese of the Northeast, said Thursday.
Five years ago, Archbishop John Hepworth, apostolic leader of the worldwide church, began conversations on inter-communion with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, according to Monroe. Once the cardinal became Pope Benedict XVI, Hepworth requested full, sacramental intercommunion with Catholics.
The joint service in Portland, however, is an idea that germinated in Maine, Monroe said.
“We are pleased to join in prayer with our brothers and sisters in Christ for unity,” Marsh said in the press release. “Our Lord’s will is that we should all be one and we hope these efforts will allow us to be guided by the Holy Spirit so that our separations will cease.”
Services at Traditional Anglican churches are almost identical to the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Mass, except they are conducted in English instead of Latin. Tuesday’s service in Portland will combine elements of a Roman Catholic and an Anglican service, Monroe said Thursday.
The term “Anglican” means English, but it is also used to indicate any national church derived from the Church of England. The Anglican Church in America was established in 1977 by Episcopal bishops, clergy and faithful laity.
The Anglican Church was formed when King Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic church because Pope Clement VII refused to grant him an annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn, mother of Queen Elizabeth I. He hoped a new wife would bear sons.
The Traditional Anglican Church in America was created when members left the Episcopal Church — the Church of England’s affiliate in America — over the denomination’s ordination of women and the rewriting of the Book of Common Prayer. Traditional Anglicans use the 1928 version of the prayer book for worship and have not “modernized” their liturgy the way Episcopalians have.
They sought to preserve traditional doctrine and forms of worship in the face of what they saw as drastic changes in liturgy, morality and order by liberals in the church. In 1996, the small Anglican denomination has less than 10,000 members in the U.S. and about 500,000 worldwide.
It has experienced slow, but steady, growth over the past five years due to what it sees as more liberal changes in the U.S. Episcopal Church, including an open and affirming position regarding the ordination of homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions.
While the Vatican and Bishop John Hepworth, head of the Traditional Anglican Communion, continue to work out the details of how a formal communion between the two denominations would work, Malone and Marsh decided to put the matter in God’s hands, according to Monroe.
“Above all, what we wanted to do was to really make an effort to begin putting this in God’s hands,” Monroe said. “So, we said let’s pray together and put this squarely in God’s hands and let God lead us.”