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What is Anglo-Catholicism?

Visitors walk into a certain type of Episcopal church and wonder whether they have mistakenly entered a Roman Catholic parish. Votive lights flicker before statues or icons of the Virgin Mary and saints. Incense lingers in the air. Holy water fonts stand near the entrances. Perhaps there is a confessional in a corner. Those attending services encounter solemn processions with banners, Gregorian chant, or liturgical devotions unfamiliar to the Book of Common Prayer such as the Hail Mary, the Orate, Fratres (“Pray, Brothers and Sisters…”), or the Ecce Agnus Dei (“Behold the Lamb of God …”). Members of the congregation genuflect when entering or leaving their pews and cross themselves during certain parts of the service. Such a parish is often described as “Anglo-Catholic.”


The Church of England was separated from the main body of the Western Church for political reasons during the sixteenth century. As a national Church, it sought to make room for (or “comprehend”) the varying religious preferences of as much of the population as it could. Different traditions flourished within its life. Some elements emphasized Reformed or Puritan theology and spirituality. Others emphasized the Church of England’s Catholic heritage and identity.


A good working definition of Anglo-Catholicism is that it highlights Anglicanism’s continuity with the pre-Reformation English Church and its shared identity with the other great branches of the Church Catholic—particularly the Roman Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Churches in the East. Anglo-Catholicism nonetheless enjoys its own distinctively Anglican ethos. Its unique vocation is to bear witness to the truth of the Catholic faith within the Churches of the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church.


The links below take the viewer to several short essays on Anglo-Catholicism.

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