In a move that has caught all commentators by great surprise, the pope announced at his general audience in The Paul VI Audience Hall (April 1) that during his forthcoming visit to England he has accepted the invitation to “be Archbishop of Canterbury for a day”.

Pope & Archbishop of Canterbury discuss trading places

Pope & Archbishop of Canterbury discuss trading places

In the tradition of “President/CEO/Prime Minister for a day” Pope Benedict XVI will trade places with Archbishop Rowan Williams on the last day of his visit to England. The pontiff will visit the country from 16 to 19 September this year. September 19 is celebrated by both Catholics and Anglicans as the feast of Theodore of Tarsus [and incidentally, also on that date by Eastern Orthodox]. Pope Vitalian appointed and consecrated Theodore of Tarsus, a monk living in Rome, to be the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury. [The anniversary of the consecration, 26 March 668, was the date chosen for the joint signing of the until-now-secret Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury “trading places” concept.]

Centro Televisivo Vaticano (CTV) had this to say about the official announcement:

The previously excellent relationship between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope recently became strained through the way the Vatican handled the announcement the creation of Anglican Ordinariates. But the two of them have agreed to put that behind them. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have both, in recent months, been caught up in turmoil within their own churches. Spending a day stepping out of the shoes of the fisherman is an ecumenical gesture possibly of genius which may resonate for decades to come.

Doing it on the feast of Theodore was also a bold step.

The Venerable Bede describes Theodore in his Ecclesiastical History as “the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed.” Certainly a situation that Rowan Williams himself yearns for. As a translation of part of the above Television announcement notes:

Theodore presided over the first council of the entire English Church, at Hertford. When Theodore arrived the Church of England was an unorganized missionary body. After his episcopacy it was a fully ordered province of the universal Church. He supervised the drawing up of canon law and structured dioceses and parishes. All of these achievements essentially survived the Reformation to this day. Both His Holiness and His Grace would hope for such a positive legacy.

Although much has changed, both for Catholics and Anglicans, Apostolicae Curae, the nineteenth century Vatican document which states Anglican Orders are invalid, has never been rescinded. Symbolic steps have happened on the road to reconciliation. Only those validly ordained may preach at a Catholic Mass – so there was a strong symbolic point in allowing the Archbishop of Canterbury to preach at a Catholic Mass in Lourdes. Trading places on September 19 will be another such a symbolic step. The agreement is that on that day each will begin the day presiding at the Eucharist following their own rite, but after that, for the rest of the day, the Pope will pray Daily Prayer from the Church of England’s Common Worship, while the Archbishop will pray the Liturgy of the Hours of the Roman Rite.

It is not known if the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury will exchange clothing styles. Previous popes have given a ring and pectoral cross to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first such gesture was Pope Paul VI’s gift of an episcopal ring to Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

If you are interested in keeping up to date with further news about this day, September 19, you can subscribe to a regular update by sending an email to [please put the word “English” in the subject line].

In preparation for this day we are encouraged to pray the collect/opening prayer for the feast of Theodore of Tarsus. The sentiments are particularly apt:

Almighty God,
who called your servant Theodore of Tarsus from Rome to the see of Canterbury,
and gave him gifts of grace and wisdom to establish unity where there had been division,
and order where there had been chaos:
Create in your Church, we pray, by the operation of the Holy Spirit,
such godly union and concord that it may proclaim, both by word and example,
the Gospel of the Prince of Peace;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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