Diocese of Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo has issued a directive to a one-of-its-kind Virginia Beach church to bring its liturgical celebrations, primarily the Mass, into conformity with the universal Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, he has offered options for additional combined worship and prayer services that would affirm the unique character of the 35-year-old ecumenical community.
Bishop DiLorenzo met Thursday evening with the two priests and members of the Vestry Council of the Church of the Holy Apostles, the world’s only combined Anglican-Roman Catholic (ARC) Community, to reiterate a plan presented last fall and again in January to Catholic priest Rev. Msgr. Raymond Barton and Episcopal priest Rev. Michael Ferguson. The meeting was held at St. Bede’s Catholic Church in Williamsburg.
“I’m grateful to all who were involved in these proceedings, and for the friendly, productive and constructive nature of our conversations,’’ said Bishop DiLorenzo.
The liturgical directive, effective Feb. 28, would bring Holy Apostles back into compliance with the norms established by the Roman Catholic Church for celebrations of the Mass. Namely, the directive requires that the Catholic and Episcopal liturgies be separate. The directive encourages the two communities to come together in an ecumenical spirit for Morning or Evening Prayer before and after the liturgy of the Mass.
Church norms require that a Catholic priest preside over the celebration of the Mass beginning with the Introductory Rites; the Liturgy of the Word, which includes the reading of the Gospel and a homily, or sermon; and during the Liturgy of the Eucharist — the portion of the Mass when Catholics celebrate the Real Presence as the bread and wine are consecrated into Jesus’s body and blood.
“As the shepherd of the Diocese of Richmond, it is my prayerful desire that this ecumenical community at Holy Apostles continues and flourishes,’’ Bishop DiLorenzo said. “The work of the Church demands efforts to promote ecumenism, since our Lord expressed his desire that the Church be one body, not divided as it is today. Our coming together with people of other Christian faiths should be motivated by a desire to seek the truth, and unity in prayer is always appropriate. ’’
Currently, the Holy Apostles priests alternate who reads the Gospel and gives the homily. Both Catholic and Episcopal priests celebrate each church’s communion liturgy concurrently at separate altars in the same room, a practice contrary to liturgical norms and Church doctrine on the Eucharist, according to a letter from Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, who advised Bishop DiLorenzo.
Since he was named Bishop of Richmond in 2004 Bishop DiLorenzo had repeatedly sought and received assurance from Holy Apostles’ two succeeding Catholic priests that the Church was in compliance with the Church’s liturgical norms. However, the issue resurfaced in early 2012 when Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio for the U.S. — responding to a letter from a New York man who had read an article written by both priests in an Episcopal magazine — sought a clarification of how Holy Apostles was celebrating its divine worship. A formal study into Holy Apostles’ practice was followed by the directive to conform to Church norms, as identified in the Church’sDirectory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, published after the Second Vatican Council.