The photograph above was taken in St. Barnabas Church, Tunbridge Wells; the Anglo-Catholic “Shrine Church” I cared for in my last years as an Anglican. That is my back at the altar. It was a place of beauty in which worship was taken seriously. And I remain grateful to God for my time there, which was, until the great move to Rome, a happy one for all.
Swapping this magnificent building for a 1960’s shared-use hall with plastic chairs did not seem particularly appealing at the time. Though we who left have now come to love St. Anselm’s equally, if in a different way. It allows for great intimacy, if at the cost of a setting for top-drawer ceremonial. And it’s also warm and affordable!!
Back to the days as an Anglo-Catholic and, despite the Anglo-Papalist stance of the congregation, despite stunning exotic ceremonial, despite use of the Roman Rite in most everything we did….a nagging doubt remained. Could our claim to be “Catholic” really hold up to scrutiny? Certainly if you looked no further than the parish boundary…but what of the history of the Church of England? What of claims other Anglicans made with arguably stronger authority? And what of the clear trajectory on a liberal path? Deep down I knew, despite honest intentions, there was a dishonesty about us. Reflected most obviously in our illegal use of rites.
Which is why the call to unity offered by the Ordinariate was a no-brainer. How could we, who had prayed with sincerity for the Pope and unity daily, possibly say no to returning to the rock from which we were hewn? How could we not follow in the footsteps of Newman, he who had created Anglo-Catholicism in the first place? How could we resist this opportunity to use our beloved rites authentically? The rest, as they say, is history….
I am recalling this time because hindsight is an interesting thing. And I now see a fact which then I would strongly have refuted. That the underlying insecurity of those days blinded me to my own Anglican patrimony. I so wanted to be seen to be “Catholic” that I grasped only at the rites of a Church I did not belong to, rejecting out of hand the liturgy which had formed me in my youth and which, if properly understood and lived out, has clear roots that stem from pre-reformation England. The history we Catholics need to reclaim.
So it’s ironic, but wonderful, to be discovering afresh gems of English Spirituality/Anglican Patrimony as a Catholic! And the more I immerse myself in the liturgical life of the Ordinariate – the more I appreciate its depth and beauty. The words might be the same in places but the message is very different, when the rites are used in the Catholic context. For above all the Ordinariate liturgy tells afresh the history of Catholic faith in England. Minus a revisionist agenda.
Take the Customary of the Ordinariate. It provides our office of morning and evening prayer. And like a rich Christmas pudding it is crammed full of delicious titbits. One encounters sermons from Newman, stories of the early English saints – such as Aidan. And accounts of the life in medieval England, saints like Gilbert of Sempringham. Which is to say… it is not only of interest to former Anglicans but to ALL Catholics interested in England’s Catholic faith. Blessed Dominic Barberi would certainly approve!
And the Ordinariate Use Mass is another rich resource. Centred on the Roman Canon, and authorised by the Vatican, it is undeniably Catholic. Yet it also reflects that Catholic English spirituality which had formed and inspired the authors of the Prayer Book. It took some getting used to – the learning curve is steeper than for Novus Ordo – but once grasped it is deeply beneficial to the soul. Akin to the Traditional Latin Mass but in the vernacular. Here in Pembury it is now offered on Saturday mornings and plans are afoot to possibly introduce it once a month at the 9:15am Mass on Sunday.
I do urge all Ordinariate clergy and groups then to embrace this gift we have been given. To immerse ourselves in the liturgical life that is uniquely ours. And I urge non-Ordinariate people to give it a go too. For it speaks to us all about the history of Catholic England. And none of the diocesan Catholics who have encountered it here thus far have been put off by it. In fact many are coming to value its use alongside the liturgical life of the wider diocese and nation. A pat on the back to Mgr. Burnham and all the others who compiled these resources. They are very much appreciated.
(from Fr. Ed Tomlinson’s blog)