Church leaders lament ‘two of the worst years ever’ in Christmas message

Theologians call on Vatican to overturn 1896 document declaring Anglican ordinations as ‘void’

Many people have had two of the worst years ever because of Covid-19 and are facing into a second Christmas soured by the disease, the leaders of Ireland’s two main churches have said.

In a joint Christmas message, Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin and his Church of Ireland counterpart Archbishop John McDowell said the pandemic had led to bereavements, cancelled plans, separated families, upturned livelihoods , bodies "overwhelmed" and minds "scrambled".

“If the Spirit is saying anything to the Churches this Christmas, might it not be to think about how we, as individuals but also as a society, can enter prayerfully and hopefully into that great mystery of the ‘Word made flesh’,” they said.

Referring to Msgr Ronald Knox, son of a Church of England bishop who converted to Catholicism, they recalled how in 1937 he wrote: "What is Christmas from start to finish but things being turned upside down?"

They added that “there is to a degree a natural instinct in us to try to turn the world back on its feet again, because God’s coming into his own creation knocks us badly off balance. So we tie ourselves ever more tightly into the world of ‘getting and spending’ and have communion in consumption.”

‘Lavishness’

At this time of the year, “perhaps, it is the very lavishness of Christmas that gives us a heightened consciousness of (and a bad conscience about) the ‘little ones’ mentioned so often in the Gospels – the homeless, the poor, the rejected and all those who long to see the world turned upside down again,” they said.

Meanwhile, a group of Catholic and Anglican theologians has publicly called on the Vatican to review and overturn a document from Pope Leo XIII in 1896 that declared Anglican (including Church of Ireland) ordinations "absolutely null and utterly void".

Members of the Malines Conversations Group, an informal Catholic-Anglican dialogue which began in 2013, said "where we once walked apart, we now walk together in friendship and love". Their document Sorores in Spe — Sisters in Hope of the Resurrection: A Fresh Response to the Condemnation of Anglican Orders, was published in Rome this week.

‘Very happy’

Bishop Brian Farrell, the Dublin-born secretary of the Vatican I Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that while his office does not sponsor the group's dialogue it was " very happy" that the question of Anglican orders is "being examined in the wholly different ecumenical context of today, when so much has been achieved in Anglican-Catholic relations".

He told the Catholic News Services that “from the Catholic point of view, it is a question of finding the theological and canonical language that would better reflect what we do in practice, which is to acknowledge a genuine ministry in other churches.

"As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the Holy Spirit does indeed work through them for the salvation of their members."