So, just what is an Anglo-Catholic? An Anglo-Catholic, Anglican Catholic, English Catholic,
or Catholic Anglican, who holds catholic belief and follows catholic practice which has been part of the Anglican ethos since the beginning.
The Church of England

The Anglican Communion with the Church of England, which has existed since St. Augustine of Canterbury, converted the Anglo-Saxon tribes; sent by Pope S. Gregory I ("the Great"), in A.D. 596, he converted these relatively new inhabitants of the British Isles. Prior to the settlement of the Anglo-Saxons, legend has it that the indigenous Celtic tribes had been Christianized by Joseph of Arimathea, who supposedly brought the Holy Grail with him to England.  So, when St. Augustine arrived in Britain, there was already an indigenous Christian community present and thriving.

At the arrival of St. Augustine, there was tension between the Celts and the Roman missionaries under him. The Celtic Christians had had their own bishops and liturgy for some time, and the papal missionaries wanted to "Romanize" the Celts, as well as the Anglo-Saxon heathen. This set the stage for centuries of conflict between England and Rome.  Eventually, the Celtic Church ceded to Roman tradition and the Pope.

Conflict reemerged in the 13th century. Papal power been consolidated and the Pope had become king of the "Papal States" in Italy. Rome had also begun to tax the nations of Western Christendom. The Plantagenet rulers of England, however, refused to pay, so Pope Innocent III placed an interdict on England and forbade all sacramental rites, from Baptism to the  Last Rites, to be celebrated in England until it paid fealty. This lasted for five years before England finally conceded. Despite this, however, Mediæval England flourished and was very devout and very catholic. It was even called "Mary's dowry" because of the great devotion of the English people to the Blessed Virgin. The most popular Marian shrine in all England at the time was that of Our Lady of Walsingham.

The Tudor Reformation

 Several hundred years later, when Henry VIII drew the Church of England under his temporal control, he ended a struggle between England and Rome that had been mounting for some time. All over Europe, kings had been divorcing their wives for centuries by having their marriages deemed invalid in the first place. Henry sought to do the same with his wife, Katherine, the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain who had failed to produce a male heir to the throne. However,  Ferdinand had Pope Clement  VII,  held captive in the south of France. So, of course, Clement was a bit reluctant to grant Henry his divorce from Katherine.

While Henry's break from Rome was a political move, he did not "start" the Church of England. The Church had been in Britain since the first century. In fact, Henry upheld the catholic faith to his deathbed. He was such a devout man, at least as far as belief went, that he wrote adamantly against Protestantism and Martin Luther. This earned him the title Defensor fidei, or Defender of the Faith, from the pope. (English monarchs , rather strangely, bear the title to this day.)

Under Henry VIII, monasteries were abolished, but the  Apostolic Succession of  bishops, priests & deacons remained, under the guidance of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The Mass, however, remained in Latin and catholic doctrine remained unchanged.
When Henry's son Edward VI -- who was merely 13 -- ascended the throne, the Reformation hit England. Many radical Protestant reformers influenced Edward and changed many things, mainly abolishing what were believed to be superstitious and repugnant "Romish" practices. These "reforms" were carried out to so grotesque an extent, in theory, that the new Church of England seemed to owe more to the heretics of the Calvinism of Geneva than historic Catholicism. But while vocal part of the intelligentsia and nobility were becoming increasingly Protestant, the nobles and common folk were still very catholic. Therefore, the "reforms" were only partial in practice.

A synod of bishops met to discuss the reforms to be implement ed. In A.D. 1549, The Book of the Common Prayer was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. This book was essentially a translation and simplification of the Sarum Mass, the local liturgy of the Diocese of Salsbury, or Sarum, which was used by much of southern England at the time. The Prayer Book was designed to be used not only by the clergy, but by the laity.
In A.D. 1570, the Roman Church standardized its liturgy, and forced all bishops to  conform  to this new rite, at the Council of Trent which had been convened to  reform  abuses in the  church and denounce the heresies of the continental "reformers". This standardized Roman liturgy became known as the Tridentine Rite.

The Elizabethan Settlement

Elizabeth I came to the thrown after her sister Mary's death. Many called for reform and many called for a return to tradition. Realizing that this could turn  into a  major conflict,  Elizabeth chose a middle ground and "Reformed Catholicism" came into being. The Book of Common Prayer would come back into use with a few but significantly catholic changes, and continental Protestant theology (i.e., the theology of people like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, et al.) would be discouraged. In addition, there would be a toleration of sundry views so long as one  remained loyal to the Church of England and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England -- Queen Elizabeth. The English accepted the compromise. This became known as the Elizabethan Settlement. In the mind of Elizabeth, as long as the Liturgy was from  the Prayer Book and she was acknowledged as Head of the Church, tolerance was possible.
What this meant was that the seven sacraments, three creeds, and basic catholic doctrine, and the Apostolic Succession of Bishops would remain, but "Romish embellishments" would be thwarted.

Elizabeth objected to the elevation of the Host during the Eucharist because she thought it was "cookie worship." She also loathed incense, not for of any theological objection, but because it made her sneeze. The Book of Common Prayer was revised in a much  more catholic direction with the insertion of just a few words. The pope even offered to approve this new Anglican rite, if Elizabeth would reestablish ties with Rome. Good Queen Bess, however, had no stomach  for papal domination and rejected his offer. An excommunication followed suit.

Now, it has been stated by Roman Catholics that the Tudors had no intention of keeping catholicism, let alone the doctrine of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Conveniently, they seem to forget the famous reply  of Queen Elizabeth  I  (who held many catholic views) to those reformers in the Church of England who would deny the Real Presence:

"Twas God the Word that spake it, He took the Bread and Brake it,
And what his Word doth make it, That I believe and take it."

In other words, Elizabeth took the road taken by the Eastern Orthodox Churches: Yes, the bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. HOW it is the Body and Blood of Christ is a sacred mystery known only to God.

The Puritan Uprising

This middle ground, or via media, between Catholicism and Protestantism lasted until the English Civil War, when the Puritans gained control. The Puritans were not the sweet, kind, persecuted people that American mythology makes them out to be. They were the Religious Right of their time wanting to "purify" the Church of England from "to be too many Romish views." They accepted the teachings of the continental reformers, primarily John Calvin. A sizable minority of the English people seemed to subscribe to such views. There were, in fact, many Puritans in both Parliament and the military. They eventually became strong enough to challenge the  monarchy and execute the king, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The reign of the Puritans was characterized by harsh and strict rule, and much iconoclasm. They abolished all catholic practices, smashed altars and stained glass windows, torched cathedrals, desecrated shrines, tore  down orangs and beheaded the most famous Anglican martyr, King Charles I. This barbarism  lasted  only a few decades before the English grew tired of the horror of the  Puritan yoke and ousted them. Many Puritans escaped to America and began to wreak their havoc in the New World. The monarchy and Church were restored in A.D. 1660 and The Book of Common Prayer revised and put back to use in 1662.

The Evangelical & Catholic Revivals

 When Queen Anne died, without a successor, George of Hanover, Germany  was asked  to  take the throne since he was the closest living relative to Queen Anne. With his Lutheran background, he had no stomach for the catholicity of the English Church even though he was its head. The brilliant intelligentsia of the previous Stuart monarchs were thwarted at every opportunity and the integrity of the episcopacy and church hierarchy faltered. This trickled down to the parochial clergy as well. Protestant sentiments became quite ubiquitous in England, but they seemed to lack a religious fervor. A need for reform became evident by the middle of the 18th century.

This middle ground continued, but eventually stagnated. The Stuarts Monarchs had fostered an environment that allowed intellectuals to thrive in the church. The Stuarts varied in temperament but viewed the Church as something great. They had high ideals for the Church of England.

Two movements in the late 18th century and early 19th century changed the face of Anglicanism. The first was the Evangelical Revival started by two Anglican priests, who were brothers , by the names of John & Charles Wesley. While Charles is known mainly for his hymnody,  John was known more for his ideas about religion. He stressed personal holiness, scriptural  study,  a steadfast & methodical approach to the Prayer Book, and an emphasis on preaching. He also stressed more frequent reception of the Eucharist. Unfortunately, the Wesleys' followers eventually split from the Church and formed the Methodist Church. To this day, they lack the catholicity and Apostolic Succession of the Catholic Bishops of the Church of England.

The second movement is commonly called the Catholic Revival, or the Oxford Movement. A group of students and faculty of Oxford University began to write tracts on what was wrong with the Church of England, the primary author being the great John Henry Newman. One of  the things that these folks saw was a decline in reverence and morality. Their solution? Medieval Catholicism. The Oxford Movement was very focused on catholic theology, while the ensuing Anglo-Catholic Movement of later years was very much focused on catholic practices.

The Tridentine Mass [the Latin Mass standardized, for all Roman Christendom, at the Council of Trent] was translated into English. This became known as The English Missal. Those Anglo­ Catholics who use this or The Anglican Missal (a variation) are known as "missal catholics," while those who use The Book of Common Prayer, with some additions to the prayers and ceremony, are known as "prayer-book catholics." Monastic communities of monks and nuns were formed; the rosary became popular; confessions became more regular; High Mass, with full ceremonial including incense, was not uncommon; and priests began to wear "Roman" garments, not only in the church, but on the street.

Essentially, the Catholic Reformers wanted to bring medieval catholic practice back to  the church. Some of the reformers, such as John Henry Newman, eventually "swam the Tiber" and became Roman Catholics. Those who stayed, such as John Keble and Edward Bouverie Pusey, did much to change the face of Anglicanism. This new "Anglo-Catholicism" caught  on like wildfire. By the 1920s, one in every four Anglicans was an Anglo-Catholic. As the Church of England spread to the colonies, so did the Catholic Revival. Today, almost half of the Anglican Communion is "Anglo-Catholic" (though most Anglo-Catholics live in the Third World.)

Anglicanism came to the United States with the colonies. After the Revolution, however, the American Church did not want the name Anglican -- which is Latin for "English" -- in its title. So, it became the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. "Protestant" meaning "opposed to Roman Papal rule" and "Episcopal" meaning "having Catholic bishops." They were Protestant Episcopal as opposed to Roman Episcopal (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church.)

The Catholic Revival came to America as well and flourished in the Northeast and the West. Churches such as S. Mary the Virgin (New York), S. Mark's (Philadelphia), Church  of  the Advent (Boston), Church of the Advent of Christ the King (San Francisco), and S. Mary of the Angels (Los Angeles) came int o being and attracted people by the thousands. These and other Anglo-Catholic parish churches are known for their opulence. They have been left with lavish furnishings and sizable endowments. The reason for this being that the Protestant Episcopal Church, as Church of the aristocracy and political elite, has always had the wealth of our nation (most evident in its generous members) at its disposal.

Today, in the Anglican Communion, we differentiate between several "parties" in the church. There are Evangelicals, or Low Churchmen (i.e., the Protestants). There are Anglo-Catholics, or High Churchmen (i.e. the Catholics.) There are Latitudinarians, or Broad Churchmen (i.e. those who want a middle course.) Most of the American Episcopal Church today is Broad Church.  These names originally designated theological differences, but have now come to refer, generally, to liturgical ones. Due to the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, and the extent that they have been carried out in both the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. and the liturgical revisions in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S., many R.C. churches are virtually indistinguishable, that is to say liturgically, from many P.E. churches.

In today's world, Anglo-Catholic churches provide an outlet for Western Christians who  are drawn to the mystery and awe of the ancient Catholic faith without having to give their obedience to Rome. Anglicans have always been free thinkers and have encouraged theological exploration, questioning even the most important dogmas and even doubt - in a healthy way.

The heritage of Anglicanism is one of "worshiping God in the beauty of holiness." Beauty in worship is seen not only as an instructive tool to teach the faith , but also a way in which we honor God. If you come by an Anglo-Catholic church you may find a Mozart, Haydn or Brahms Mass being sung. You may find High Mass (albeit in English) on Sunday, with all the incense, bells and chanting that go along with it. You may find the rosary, and other such devotions as the norm. Sunday afternoons you may find Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament after Evensong. You'll find people involved in the Society of Mary, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament , the Guild of All Souls & the Sociality of the Living Rosary.

Today, there are two strains of Anglo-Catholics. The first are theologically very conservative and take very seriously anything that comes from Rome. They do not recognize the ordination of women to any order of the Church's ministry. For them, a woman who celebrates the Mass has celebrated an illicit Mass and the bread and wine have remained just bread and wine . Some of these folks have actually swam the Tiber and become what is known as "the Anglican Ordinariate" in the Roman Church.

However, there has always been and is now a growing community of Anglo-Catholics who are very progressive in their views and practices. They have come to these views not out a sense of needing to be politically correct, but by reading the Gospels and taking to heart the words of  Jesus as well as being open to the traditions and life of the Early Church. These Anglo-Catholics affirm the full inclusion of both women and LGBTQ folks within  the life of the Church and  the Church's Sacramental system. Many progressive Anglo-Catholic Parishes provide for the celebration of Marriage for both same and opposite gender couples. Liturgically, these Anglo­ Catholics are quite open to celebrating the Mass in the contemporary idiom and some have adopted inclusive language in their celebrations of the Eucharist.  These Anglo-Catholics  have also harkened back to the beginning of the Anglo-Catholic revival in advocating for and meeting the needs of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the ostracized.

While continuing to adhere to Anglo-Catholic practice in theology and liturgy, these progressive Anglo-Catholics have felt moved by the Holy Spirit to bring the  movement  into the 20th  and 21st Centuries. The Anglican Church USA is one of these spiritual jurisdictions. When you come to worship with us, you will find an open, affirming and inclusive community of Christians dedicated to the  service of Jesus Christ by way of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. And because the ACUSA has a vibrant and significant heritage within the American tradition , you will also find a diverse community in which there is always a place for you.