(From the May 2021 edition of Prescot Parish Magazine)
We’re at an important juncture in our life together. A few weeks ago we were asked as a parish where we were, where we wanted to go, and what sort of vicar we’d like to take us there.
Our answers helped the PCC create a Parish Profile, a sort of brochure for prospective vicars. This will play a key role in attracting the right candidate and ensuring we get a vicar we are confident understands Prescot.
One word that came up in our discussions, which a priest looking for a new job would certainly understand but which occasionally raises questions in the pews, is Catholic, or Anglo-Catholic. It is one way to describe who we are and how we worship.
For many people Catholic suggests Roman Catholic—and we’re not Roman Catholic, although we’ve much in common. Asked to describe ourselves, many of us would say Protestant, Church of England, Anglican or simply Christian.
So what does Catholic mean in this context? It literally means ‘universal,’ and it suggests that the Christian faith is a journey made in the company of Christians of all times and all places.
It is an ancient faith, whose roots we trace back through the centuries to the very first believers, the Holy Scriptures, the traditions formed prayerfully and thoughtfully by theologians, bishops and church councils over the centuries, and expressed in the creeds: ‘We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,’ and so on. We do not look primarily to the Reformation to define ourselves, but we see ourselves spiritually as part of the ‘one holy, catholic and apostolic church’ in continuity with the Church stretching back long before Henry VIII.
But we don’t simply look to the past. We look to the future and beyond, to eternity: We believe in the Communion of Saints. When we gather at the Eucharistic altar to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we are in the presence of all heaven and all Christians, living and departed. As Father Jeff has often described, the communion rail around which we kneel stretches invisibly around the other side of the altar, completing the eternal circle, uniting all who are in Christ, seen and unseen.
And when we read and interpret our Bibles, we do so with our eyes, ears and hearts open to heaven and earth—not ‘just me and Jesus,’ but me, you, Jesus, the Spirit, the fellowship of the saints, the Church past and present, and the heavenly ‘cloud of witnesses,’ as the writer to the Hebrews puts it. It’s in their company that we discover God, and this is what we mean when we say we are Catholic.
Pictured: Four great witnesses of the faith, as depicted on the East Window at St Mary’s Prescot: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four evangelists and writers of the four gospels