by the Most Revd Dom Alistair Bate OSBA, M.A.Div.
Like most other Old/Independent Catholic jurisdictions founded in English speaking countries the Holy Celtic Church draws membership from both Anglican and Roman Catholic communions. The “Anglican Patrimony” (heritage) is, therefore, in our blood. My own ancestors and family were devout Anglicans and brought me up as one, for which I thank God. Additionally, the Liberal Catholic tradition which, along with Celtic Christianity, is one of the foundations of our church, draws much inspiration as well as it’s distinctive style from the Anglo-Catholic liturgical tradition. Bishops Wedgwood and Leadbeater were both former Anglicans and might indeed have remained Anglo-Catholics were it not for the fact that they sought a church at once more Catholic (having valid Old Catholic Apostolic succession) and more mystical.
A visitor to St Gall’s Retreat, or any of our missions and hermitages throughout the world, will not fail to be impressed by the beauty of our liturgy, even within the simplicity of a home oratory, and Anglican visitors in particular will find a great resonance with their own tradition. In English speaking countries we zealously celebrate the original Liberal Catholic liturgy, or its variant the “Liberal Celtic Liturgy”, with their beautiful Cranmerian English, so familiar to Anglicans before the liturgical reforms of the 1970s and 80’s.
As well as lines of Apostolic succession from Roman Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox sources we also hold several lines of Anglican succession, some of which may be viewed on our website here.
Hopefully, therefore, we have now established the claim of the Holy Celtic Church to a share in the “Anglican Patrimony”, however, to be clear, we do not identify with the Anglican continuum, for three reasons. Firstly, our own Liberal Catholic tradition is now 100 years old and has an established tradition of its own. Secondly, a majority of our members come from a Roman Catholic background and so do not particularly identify with Anglo-Catholicism. Thirdly, unlike the Anglican continuum, we do not hold with outdated views of human sexuality and whilst we are liturgically traditionalist, like our Liberal Catholic forebears, we are also liberal, at least when it comes to certain issues of “social teaching”. This means of course that we fall between two chairs; we don’t appeal to 21st century liberals because we are two traditional and we don’t appeal to many of the traditionalists because we are two liberal. Actually we occupy a niche which would suit quite well the average Anglo-Catholic priest of the mid twentieth century.
That which Bishop Wedgwood himself wrote almost a hundred years ago is still true of many of us who share his succession, “That our Church should be made a storm-centre is not surprising. We stand between, not two, but four, fires. The Church people find us too theosophical. Theosophists find us too “Churchy.” Catholics and ritualists consider us too free in our beliefs; Protestants too Catholic in our worship. We, however, believe firmly in our principles; and the hope and courage that people derive from the teaching of our Church, the inspiration they gain from our worship and the phenomenal growth of our membership, are the true test of the work we do.”
Of course, due to the regrettable tendency towards secularisation in our times, particularly in Europe, we do not expect to grow significantly and certainly have no intention of trying to compete with the mainstream, but for those who wish to join with us in maintaining and handing on this beautiful tradition we offer a spiritual home.