D.C. cardinal confirms former Episcopalians

First slide

WASHINGTON - During a Mass marked by a joyful homecoming of faith, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl welcomed 71 members of a former Episcopal parish into full communion in the Catholic Church with the rite of reception Oct. 9 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

"Today is a day of rejoicing for all of us," Cardinal Wuerl said in welcoming the St. Luke community from the Maryland suburb of Bladensburg at the beginning of the Mass in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

He noted that during that Mass, the new Catholics from St. Luke, and the other Catholics in attendance, could come together "to the altar of the Lord, filled with joy and gratitude."

"The church is the body of Christ, the beginning of the kingdom, the family of God, and the way to salvation," the cardinal said in his homily. "Today, as part of your faith journey, you come to the church to complete your initiation into the body of Christ."

"The heart of our communion, our bonding, our spiritual life, is this altar," Cardinal Wuerl said, adding, "Today, we will invite everyone (here) to that table of the Lord, to receive that Communion that bonds us with Christ and with one another."

Mark Lewis, the former rector of the St. Luke community, who as an Episcopal priest shepherded his parishioners through the process of joining the Catholic Church, said after the Mass, "I'm so glad to be home."

Row by row, the members of the St. Luke community filed up to be confirmed as new Catholics by Cardinal Wuerl, who made the sign of the cross with sacred chrism on each person's forehead, saying his or her name and the words "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."

After his former parishioners had received the sacraments of initiation during the Mass, Lewis -- who hopes to begin studying for the Catholic priesthood next year -- walked up to be confirmed and later to receive his first Communion as a new Catholic, following his parents, his wife, Vickey, their daughter and grandson.

"I was brought to tears several times," Lewis said afterward. "As I watched my people come forward for their first Communion (as Catholics), I was praying and thanking God. They're so open to what God is doing in their lives. I've been honored to be their pastor."

Under "Anglicanorum coetibus," an apostolic constitution issued by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009, the church has provided a way for entire Anglican parishes or groups to become Catholic while retaining some of their Anglican heritage and liturgy.

"This is the first former Episcopal parish (in the United States) to be formally received into the Catholic Church since the announcement of 'Anglicanorum coetibus,'" said Father Scott Hurd, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington and former Episcopal priest now serving as chaplain of the St. Luke community.

Cardinal Wuerl, the Vatican's representative for implementation of "Anglicanorum coetibus" in the United States, is being assisted by Father Hurd in that effort.

The Vatican is expected to announce the formation of an ordinariate for former Anglican parishes seeking to enter the Catholic Church as a congregation. An ordinariate is a geographic region similar to a diocese, though typically national in scope. Until the U.S. ordinariate is established, the St. Luke community will be under the care of the Archdiocese of Washington.

At the Oct. 9 Mass, 58 members of St. Luke were confirmed and received Communion for the first time as Catholics. Another 10 members already confirmed in the Catholic Church renewed their commitment to Christ as Catholics, and three younger members received their first Communion as new Catholics.

Another 10 to 15 St. Luke members are expected to be confirmed at a later date.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl emphasized how the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out on the apostles at the first Pentecost continue to be poured out onto the faithful today. Today's followers of Jesus, he said, are invited to walk with Christ through life, not just as individuals, "but as members of his family, his church."

From that day forward, he said, the St. Luke community members will stand as part of a faith community who look to the pope as their chief shepherd and the touchstone of their faith.

After the Mass, members of the St. Luke community spoke of their belief that the Holy Spirit had guided them to unity with the Catholic Church, and they described how their journey of faith was only beginning.

Susan Mathis of Laurel, Md., a homemaker who entered the Catholic Church with her husband, James, and their daughter, Maggie, said after receiving first Communion as a Catholic, she was moved to watch her fellow Catholics come to the altar.

"I thought, these are our family (members), these are our brothers and sisters, come to welcome us home. That's when I got emotional. That meant the world to me," she told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese.

Then-Rev. Mark Lewis had announced in early June that the St. Luke's community, after several years of prayerful discernment, felt called to join the Catholic Church. Under terms of an agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, the St. Luke congregation will continue to worship in its current church in Bladensburg. The agreement is a lease with a purchase option.

Lewis has praised the support offered to the St. Luke community by Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970