Incense smoldered. The men thumped their chests in a gesture of contrition.
The elaborate ritual would seem unusual to most Catholic priests, who pray silently before Mass as they don their vestments, or quietly focus on the sacred work ahead. But Liias, who is 65, is different. He entered the church through a new doorway that lets members of the Anglican Communion return to the mother church in Rome while retaining their congregational communities â€” and, if they wish, much of their ornate ritual, including old Catholic traditions that Rome changed or left behind.
Pope John Paul II extended to Anglicans, including married priests, the opportunity to become Catholic in 1980. During the next 30 years, 100 or so Anglican priests entered the Catholic Church and were incorporated into local dioceses.
But some in the worldwide Anglican Communion â€” particularly the Episcopal Church, the religious bodyâ€™s US province â€” wanted to make it easier for whole congregations to come in, and to be part of a group of like-minded churches.
At their request, Pope Benedict XVI established special â€œordinariatesâ€ â€” basically superdioceses â€” especially for Anglican priests and congregations. The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which spans the United States and Canada, was created last year. It includes more than 30 congregations, including Liiasâ€™s St. Gregory the Great, which held its first Mass in April.
â€œThey are on a pilgrimage together, as opposed to an individual journey,â€ said the Rev. R. Scott Hurd, the ordinariateâ€™s vicar general.
It is a tiny movement so far, with fewer than 2,000 people spread across a vast continent, an infinitesimal proportion of the worldâ€™s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
In many respects, the ordinariate resembles the Eastern Catholic Churches that returned to Rome from the Eastern Orthodox Church and have been allowed to preserve their own worship traditions and structure. [More]