By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It was a stunning question to open a homily, and one that had more than one answer.
“What in the world are we doing here?” Father Ernie Davis asked his congregation of Catholics who in 2008 came into full communion with Rome as one former Anglican community.
Yes, they were celebrating Mass for the first time in their new home, Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, adjacent to Crown Center.
Yes, though still small in number, they still dream big and of one day becoming a full parish in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, an organizational structure established by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for united Catholics from the Anglican, Episcopalian and Methodist traditions to celebrate unity while retaining their adapted prayers and liturgy.
But what a day for all this to happen. All Souls’ Day. Anathema to the European and English Reformations of five centuries ago.
“Praying for the dead? Mass for the departed?” Father Davis told his congregation. “This was done away with 500 years ago. It was the first thing that was erased in the English Reformation. We would have been thrown in jail,” he said.
Not only that, but what a place.
Our Lady of Sorrows is one of the most beautiful churches in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and is filled with statues and icons and ornate furnishings, again, anathema to the Reformation which, quite literally, burned and destroyed all such images as craven.
Only Catholics had statues of the saints they venerated. Only Catholics prayed for the dead. Reformation theology held that the dead were immediately sent to heaven or hell, no such thing as purgatory.
Even the word “sacrifice” was purged from the liturgies. There was but one sacrifice, and that was on Calvary. Thus there can be no “sacrifice of the Mass.”
And thus the division that still persists.
But the former Anglicans, and the handful of cradle Catholics who have joined them for love of a beautiful liturgy, know that there is no crime, let alone sin, in praying for the dead in a beautifully decorated church, said Father Davis, himself a former Episcopal priest now ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
In fact, prayers for the dead are necessary.
“In the Catholic Church, we do it because it is right and we must. The dead need our prayers,” he said.
“Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. It is only through forgiveness through Christ that we can enter heaven,” Father Davis said.
“But forgiveness does not heal us of the harm we have done to ourselves and others by our sins, even though we are forgiven,” he said.
Thus there is a need, after death, to be purged of that harm before we can enter the glory of God, Father Davis said. And part of that purging in purgatory requires prayer, of both the living and the dead.
“It’s a lifetime job and a job that continues into eternal life,” he said. “That is what we are doing today.”
That, and working and praying as hard as they can to grow their community, primarily by reaching out to their friends in the Anglican community to share the joy of unity with Rome.
That task will be made easier at Our Lady of Sorrows, members of the community said.
But make no mistake about it. They still love their first spiritual home at St. Therese Little Flower Church, 58th and Euclid, and they still intend to participate in the work that the small parish does for hundreds of poor and elderly in its parish boundaries.
“We think we can grow and keep connected to St. Therese, especially in the things they do for the people,” said Ann Straulman.
But Straulman said it was difficult for the community to grow at St. Therese Little Flower because the parish is not easy to find, nor its location easy to describe.
“Nobody knew where it was. We would invite people and say ‘58th and Euclid,’ and people would go blank,” she said.
Straulman is one of the more senior members of the Our Lady of Hope community, now officially a “mission” of the ordinariate, but still fully connected to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
One of the younger members, Veronica Miller, 23, said the community will always regard the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as their first spiritual home in full communion with Rome.
“All my life, I went to Catholic schools. I felt disassociated because I wasn’t Catholic, but I always felt called to the Catholic Church, with the traditions of our Anglican service,” Miller said.
“We are always going to be part of St. Therese Little Flower and of the Diocese because that is who welcomed us, and that is who has loaned to us Father Ernie,” Miller said.
But if there were any doubts that they would be welcomed at their new home, Our Lady of Sorrows pastor Father Anthony Pileggi put those to rest.
Just before Mass, he welcomed Our Lady of Hope in no uncertain terms.
“Both myself and our parish are excited about you coming to our community,” Father Pileggi said in brief remarks just before Our Lady of Hope’s 9:15 a.m. Sunday Mass began.
He urged his newest members of his growing community to be patient.
“It will be a little touch and go for a while until Father Ernie and I get into the routine,” Father Pileggi said.
Then he remarked how appropriate that the Our Lady of Sorrows community and the Our Lady of Hope community unite in one church building, as he recalled Mary at the foot of the cross.
“Even in that sorrow, she had hope,” Father Pileggi said. “The two titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary are now joined together in one house.”