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Traditional Catholic Ritual & Vestments

Courtesy of Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints today, we remember Charles Chapman Grafton.  Grafton was Bishop of Fond du Lac and an ecumenist who died on this day, August 30th, in 1912.

Born April 12, 1830 in Boston, MA, Grafton attended the Harvard Law School.  Confirmed at Church of the Advent, then a leading parish in implementing principles of the Oxford Movement (an affiliation of High Church Anglicans that led to Anglo-Catholicism in the Episcopal Church), he began to seriously explore his vocation.  Following graduation, Grafton moved to Maryland to study with the Tractarian Bishop William Whittington who later ordained him deacon in December 1855, and priest in May 1858.

Grafton served a number of parishes in Maryland, but experienced a growing attraction to the religious life.  In 1865, he departed for England specifically to meet with Edward Bouverie Pusey, the acknowledged leader of the Oxford Movement.  The following year, after a series of meetings held at All Saints, Margaret Street, Grafton and two others took religious vows and the Society of St. John the Evangelist had its beginning.  In 1872, Grafton returned to Boston and was elected fourth rector of Church of the Advent.

In 1888, Grafton was elected second bishop of Fond du Lac (WI).  His consent process was difficult as many thought him too ritualistic, but he soon became known not only as Anglo-Catholic but also as an ecumenist, who was deeply committed to improving relations with the Orthodox and Old Catholics.  Grafton founded the Sisters of the Holy Nativity, a religious order for women in the Episcopal Church.

Perhaps the most notable event during Grafton's long episcopate (1888-1912) was the ordination of his successor (coadjutor) Reginald Heber Weller in 1900.  The liturgy of the consecration was controversial.  Grafton invited the Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon and the Old Catholic Bishop Anthony Kowlowski to participate.  The service stirred up furor across the country with the publication of a photograph (called derisively "The Fond du Lac Circus") which showed all eight Episcopal bishops and the two 'visiting' bishops in cope and miter.  This caused a church-wide uproar over ritual and vestments that last over six months, with accusations and threats of ecclesiastical trial flying from all corners, and with scurrilous attacks and virulent justifications.  When the dust finally settled, the legitimacy of traditional catholic ritual and vestments had thereafter gained a permanent place in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church. 

Helen Spence Merrow, wife of a former rector of Grace Church, wrote a small parish booklet titled, Outward and Visible Signs, which discusses the symbols, artifacts and appointments that are found throughout the nave and church building. She noted that "over the years, Grace Church had acquired a reputation for being "high" church, practically heresy in the Diocese of Virginia at that time.  A number of "firsts" belong to this congregation, which today we can laugh about, but which were no joking matter to their innovators.  For instance, Grace Church had the first choir to march in "with those white things (surplices) on," as a lady from Christ Church put it; it was the first congregation in Virginia to have a vested choir!  It also was the first Episcopal congregation to use the "corpus," or body of Christ on the Cross, thus transforming the cross into a Crucifix.  For years, Grace was the only parish to use Eucharistic vestments, a practice which today is almost universal in the Episcopal Church."  

It seems that Charles Chapman Grafton, who we remember today in the Episcopal Church, had much to do with the shaping of my understanding of liturgy and vestments.  I imagine he would have found himself 'right at home' at Grace Church.