Bishop BarryAn open letter to Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops
(with some helpful images for reflection generally – Bosco Peters, Liturgy webmaster)

Dear Friends

Warm greetings.

I write to affirm the combined liturgies we share and for on-going observance of our practice of joining together, especially with regard to Ash Wednesday and Advent Liturgies.

Archbishop DavidYou will be aware that combined Roman Catholic/Anglican liturgies for Ash Wednesday have become an expected and normal part of the liturgical calendar of both our churches. The Anglican Roman Catholic Commission in Aotearoa, New Zealand recommends shared Ash Wednesday Liturgies of the Word throughout the country. This is in the spirit of a joint declaration of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope and in the spirit of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on the quest for Christian unity “that they may all be one”. In praying for unity we need to repent of our divisions and to approach Christ in humility, with new vision. The Ash Wednesday liturgy which marks the season of Lent is ideally suited for this purpose. There is no triumphalism here and no complacency, only a desire to journey with Christ into the desert, to be simple and honest in the presence of God and to look to the promise of Easter and new beginnings.

The Liturgy is not intended to replace Eucharistic celebrations on Ash Wednesday but is a Liturgy of the Word where preparation and lighting of a fire becomes the central visual symbol, as it burns, dies down and becomes ash. The imagery here can be the creating of ashes from the palms of Palm Sunday. In some places it may be appropriate to have a burning fire brought into the Church and watched contemplatively. As the flame is watched we reflect upon all that needs to be transformed in our own pilgrimage. This can be a very different liturgical action from the fire of Easter which begins outside the Church and is lit there as a liturgy of light and celebration, where the accent is on the coming of light and the burning of a flame that does not go out. By providing fire for ashes at the beginning of the event and fire at the Easter Vigil, the seasons are clearly marked and complement each other with this imagery.

Further, it is recommended that we share at the beginning of Advent in a combined service where our Advent Wreaths are blessed. As the Ash Wednesday liturgy heralds the beginning of Lent, the Blessing of the Wreaths liturgy marks the beginning of the Season of Advent and has become significant as part of our preparation for the coming of Jesus and the hope we experience at this time of year. The Advent Wreath symbolises God’s evergreen eternal circle, the four purple candles for the Kingship or royalty of Christ and the centre white candle the Christ Candle representing the light that came into the world. As we light a candle for each Sunday in Advent we are reminded of our connection with our brothers and sisters in Christ and of the shared hope we have for our communities and our world. The Advent message is re-born and re-ignited as we share in this combined liturgy of hope and expectation.

Yours in Christ

++ David Moxon (Anglican – second photo)
+ Barry Jones (Roman Catholic – first photo)
Co-convenors of the Anglican Roman Catholic Commision of Aotearoa New Zealand

The ecumenically agreed liturgy may be found on the website of the Anglican Roman Catholic Commission of Aotearoa New Zealand (ARCCANZ). And also at this Advent Wreath Blessing. The blessing itself has been adapted for other contexts and provided with a hymn at this alternative post on the Advent Wreath Blessing.

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