Anglican service at the Lateran: a grave episode

I would like to comment on an episode that seems to me to be grave and significant. We learned of this from an official statement of the venerable Chapter of St John Lateran, released on 20 April 2023. The statement reads: 

“The Lateran Chapter, in the person of His Excellency Guerino Di Tora, Chapter Vicar, expresses deep regret for what happened last Tuesday, 18 April, within the Basilica of St John in Rome. In fact, a group of about 50 priests, accompanied by their bishop, all belonging to the Anglican communion, celebrated at the main altar of the cathedral of Rome, contravening the canonical norms. Bishop Di Tora has also explained that the regrettable episode was caused by a lapse in communication.”

Bishop Di Tora is the Vicar of the Archpriest of the Lateran Basilica, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, who is in turn Vicar General of Pope Francis for the Diocese of Rome. Bishop Di Tora has attributed the occurrence to a “lapse in communication”. According to the reconstruction of the newspaper Il Messaggero, the group of Anglicans was passing through Rome and one of them supposedly asked a Roman religious to forward to the Lateran a request to celebrate Mass. An embassy thought to have been carried out without specifying that the group was Protestant.

But it seems strange that a group of fifty priests would get permission to concelebrate at the high altar of the Lateran Basilica without exhibiting the celebret, the document that ecclesiastical authorities issue to allow priests to licitly administer the Mass and the sacraments. If this was just a matter of a misunderstanding, one would have to say that the superficiality of the Lateran authorities was of the utmost, so much so as to heap those responsible with ridicule. Even assuming that this was so, one still cannot assume good faith on the part of the Anglicans, as they could not have been unaware that the religious service they conducted was in open conflict with the canonical laws of the Church of Rome. In any case, their action has a provocative flavour, whether the Lateran authorities were complicit or not. But apart from the attribution of responsibility, what remains is the very grave scope of the event.

The cathedral of Rome is not St Peter’s, as many believe, but St John Lateran, which is called the “Archbasilica” because it is the most important of the four major papal basilicas. The Latin inscription carved on the marble of the facade of the Archbasilica reads: Omnium Urbis et Orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput — “Mother and Head of the Universal Church”.

The Lateran is the site of the papal throne, a symbol of the authority and magisterium of the Bishop of Rome. And it was none other than the altar of the Bishop of Rome (meaning the papal altar) on which the Anglican ceremony took place. It was on the chair reserved for the pope that the bishop who presided over the service would have sat. Jonathan Baker was a Masonic leader for many years and is divorced and remarried, as permitted by the Church of England, but above all, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, he is not even a bishop.

The Anglican schism dates back to King Henry VIII of England (1534–1547). During his reign, all priestly ordinations were done according to the Roman Ritual and were considered valid. But in 1550, the Book of Common Prayer of Edward VI came into force, in which the Roman Pontifical was replaced with a new ordinal, which manifested, according to Catholic theology, defects of form and intention. This ordinal not only denied the Sacrament of Holy Orders, but it eliminated from the celebration of “the Supper”, which replaced the Mass, every idea of sacrifice and of the consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603) chose as Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker, who was ordained a priest according to the Edwardian ordinal, and therefore invalidly. Parker then consecrated other Anglican bishops, all according to the ordinal of Edward VI, so they were also invalid. From them, through successive consecrations, came the Anglican episcopate whose validity the Church has never recognised.

Leo XIII, in the Letter Apostolicae curae (13 September 1896), confirmed and renewed the decrees of his predecessors, solemnly proclaiming that, by defect of form and intention, “ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void”. “These letters,” Leo XIII added, “are and shall be always valid and in force and shall be inviolably observed both juridically and otherwise, by all of whatsoever degree and preeminence.” Benedict XVI confirmed this decree in the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (4 November 2009).

This means that the Anglican bishops are not bishops, the priests are not priests and the Masses they celebrate are not real Masses. The papal altar of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran has been made the stage of a pantomime, offensive to the authority of the Holy See and to the Catholic faith. A statement like the one issued by the Lateran Chapter, apart from its good intentions, is entirely inadequate, because what has occurred is an outrage which deserves solemn reparation. And if there was no malice on anyone’s part, the matter appears even more grave, because it means that this has been permitted by Divine Providence to show the abyss of confusion in which the Church is immersed today.