Fr, David Ousley – Liturgy and Authority

Father David Ousley, the pastor of the two Ordinariate communities in Philadelphia, has written in the June issue of the Philadelphia Ordinariate Post about the question of liturgy and authority in the Church:

From time to time people ask me whether life is different in the Ordinariate. There is much continuity with our pre-Ordinariate Anglican life, but there are (blessedly) differences as well. One of them involves how we look at the liturgy. In our Anglo-Catholic days, the ideal (mine, at least) was traditional Anglo-Catholic: Missal, old Prayer Book for the other services, supplemented by the Priest’s Manual and occasionally from the English 1662 or 1549 Prayer Books. Anglicans of other stripes – low church, liberal, revisionist, somewhat renewed – had their own comparable ideals. The parish priest generally tried to implement his ideal, so far as he could manage it within the constraints of the parish. His (or my) goal was to make the liturgy conform so far as possible to his (my) particular ideal. I admit to having been greatly blessed, in that St James the Less was already Anglo-Catholic when I arrived.

Things are different on this side of the Tiber: there is something called liturgical law, and we are expected to obey it. Our Mass rite, for example, has flexibility in various areas, which has been provided for the variety of expressions within the Anglican patrimony. But it also has a definite structure and texts which are prescribed, and are not subject to the discretion of the priest. These are not optional.

The fact that the liturgy is a given rather than (essentially) at the discretion of the priest means that our attitude towards it changes. (This change takes some time: we may or may not like what has been given to us, and some of the things which differ from what we were used to take time to get used to.) When someone else – the commission which is producing liturgies for the Ordinariates, or the Congregation for Divine Worship, or the Holy Father, all of whom are involved – makes the liturgical decisions, he may or may not do it the way I would. (Indeed, it is almost certain that he will not do everything my way!) But when we accept the liturgical law as a given, then we can give up the expectation that the liturgy should be done a certain way – my way. It is there, and I may as well accept it and get on with the worship of God. More, my accepting it as it is given is an act of obedience. I accept the authority of the rite as provided. As with all obedience, this involves putting self aside, which is essential training for a Christian. No one will accept the offer of heaven unless he is willing to submit to the authority of Christ, whose Kingdom it is. We need practice in this life, practice in obeying the earthly authorities which may be placed over us (parents, employers, the state, liturgical law, the Ordinary).

The downside of having liturgical law is that I don’t get to do it my way. The upside is also that I don’t get to do it my way. There are two great blessings here. First, it gives me the opportunity for a wee bit of humility, willingly accepting what I have been given, and entering into it without worrying too much about whether I like it, our would wish it to be different (i.e., my way). Second, it gives me the opportunity to enter into something greater than I am. When I do my own thing, I limit what is going on. But when all of us in the Ordinariate accept the given rites, we become part of a greater whole, which is itself a part of the wholeness of the Catholic Church.

So for me as a parish priest, the ideal is no longer to do the liturgy my way, but (first) to conform faithfully to the liturgical law, and (second) to select among the options provided in the way that is pastorally best for the faithful of the congregations. While it is not always easy, it is better for my soul, and for the church, to be under authority. In accepting the Church’s authority, I obey for Christ’s sake, even as I recognize that His authority may be imperfectly implemented by the sinners who wield authority in the church.

This is also true for the authority I have as priest and pastor: I do not always get it right! But we still grow in Christ as we accept authority for His sake.

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6 Responses to Fr, David Ousley – Liturgy and Authority

  1. Matthew the Wayfarer says:


    • Matt C says:

      Yes, along with the Extraordinary Form people, the Eastern Catholics, etc.

      • Rev22:17 says:


        You said: Yes, along with the Extraordinary Form people, the Eastern Catholics, etc.

        Wrong. In most Catholic parishes, they are ignored.

        The only thing that will “restore form of decency” to Roman Catholic liturgy is the proper celebration of the present ordinary form of the Roman Rite. Unfortunately, there are far too many dioceses full of parishes in which that is lacking.

        BTW, the worst problems tend to persist in traditionally Roman Catholic areas. Here in the States, parishes in the so-called “bible belt” have had to do better in order to grow.


  2. EPMS says:

    Perhaps Pope Benedict had some thought that the former Anglicans would provide a model of an English language liturgy of greater reverence, or however we want to characterize it, than is the norm in many places. The tweaking of the English text of the OF suggests that he was interested in these details. This does not seem to be a major concern of the current pope, and one suspects that it will always be a minority interest. Msgr Steenson seemed concerned early on to ensure that the Ordinariate was not seen as an ally of the TLM contingent.

    • Rev22:17 says:


      You wrote: Msgr Steenson seemed concerned early on to ensure that the Ordinariate was not seen as an ally of the TLM contingent.

      Rather, his concern more likely was to ensure that radical traditionalists who dominate the TLM movement did not hijack ordinariate congregations. The liturgy of ordinariate congregations should have an Anglican “look and feel” rather than a Tridentine “look and feel” since the ordinariates are for former Anglicans.


      • And it is important to remember that the Tridentine Mass, the Mass of the Council of Trent, was a post-Reformation, counter-Reformation, “Roman” Mass and had nothing at all to do with the Anglican Patrimony. Just like its Baroque embellishments, such as fiddleback chasubles, which were no longer articles of clothing but merely a fiddlefront and a stiff board at the back as a “canvas” for elaborate embroidery. The fact that Anglo-Papists imitated these Roman tendencies does not make them any the more Anglican. IMHO the Gothic chasuble is the chasuble of the Anglican patrimony, which we should strive to use. I also favour the further development of the Gothic chasuble, the Monastic chasuble.

        David Murphy

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