Any attempt by me to explain the Ordinariate, and my decision to enter the fullness of Catholic Communion through it, is bound to be unsatisfying. I cannot give clear, one sentence answers. Moreover, if I talk about the contribution which the Ordinariate makes, I may appear to be criticising the Catholic Church, especially as it has bravely survived, witnessed and grown during the time of separation in England and Wales. Let me say that I have received, almost without exception, a warm welcome from Catholic clergy and Catholic laity. They have been keen to ask about my own journey and about the Ordinariate in general. I have been welcomed into parishes, invited to concelebrate, preach and help the hard-pressed parish clergy both in the UK and in France, and it is a privilege and joy to do so. The exceptions have not been many, and have often resulted from misunderstanding. Perhaps consideration of these exceptions might form another useful article – but not here.
1. THE INVITATION TO ANGLICANS FROM POPE BENEDICT XVI
When people ask me why I became a Catholic I often reply, ‘Because Pope Benedict invited me, and you don’t turn down an invitation from the Pope.’ Right from the beginning I have understood the creation of the Ordinariates to be part of the Pope Emeritus’ vision for restoring the visible unity of the Church. He saw this as his immediate concern as the Bishop of Rome. Anglicanorum Coetibus is an appeal to the Anglican Communion to restore the fellowship in faith, order and the Eucharist which was broken at the time of the Reformation. I wish the response to it had been greater, but I continue to see the Ordinariates as the ‘first-fruits’ of Pope Benedict’s attempt to break the log-jam in the movement for Christian Unity. I am now a Roman Catholic; but I am also a reconciled Anglican.
2. MY JOURNEY OF FAITH
As soon as I say that I am a priest of the Ordinariate I admit that I was once an Anglican. But ‘admit’ is the wrong word, for I am not required to deny my past or to play it down. My membership of the Ordinariate reflects my Anglican history and heritage. True, I now have a perspective on my Anglican past which is different from what it was twenty years ago. As my understanding of the past changed, so I was able to accept, in good conscience my need to receive Catholic ordination. But then, the Church of England had also changed, re-interpreting its past in a way which cast serious doubts on the confident assertions of its Catholic heritage which were mainstream as I grew up. I suggest that Liberalism and Evangelicalism have brought devastating change to the C of E over the past forty years.
3. GIFTS BROUGHT TO ENRICH THE WHOLE CHURCH – LITURGY, SPIRITUALITY, MUSIC, CLERICAL LIFE, STUDY AND PREACHING
a. Liturgical tradition
What do we ‘reconciled Anglicans’ bring with us? It is not easy to identify these things directly. The Ordinariate Missal which is being compiled points us to a liturgical tradition. It uses the language of the 16th century, and many of its prayers are the work of Thomas Cranmer, and will be familiar to those who know the Book of Common Prayer, and the Prayer Books of the Anglican Provinces around the world which are based on it. It remains a remarkable attempt at vernacular liturgy, of liturgical English, and perhaps it might feed a certain experience and expertise into the more recent endeavours of English-speaking Catholics. Attempts to create vernacular liturgy since Vatican 2 have not always been a great success!
We must remember too, that the English liturgy of the 16th century was compiled in the full knowledge of the English mediaeval tradition. Although Puritanism and then the 18th century led to dreary and poverty-stricken worship, the Anglo-Catholic Revival of the 19th century reached behind this to much earlier sources. As Anglicans members of the Ordinariate were used often to worshipping in exquisitely beautiful buildings. (It is to their credit that they were willing to leave them behind when being received into the Catholic Church.) Even where these had been altered in accordance with modern liturgical practice, it had usually been done with sympathy. True, the ‘Back to Baroque’ movement of the inter-war period had attempted to transform Anglican churches into replicas of French and Belgian interiors of the 18th century: such transformations were not widespread – and even then they were often done with English charm and taste, even if the lace albs and latin chasubles are now looking a bit passé. Perhaps the liturgical tradition of the Ordinariate today should have more in common with the scholarly researches of the continental Liturgical Movement, and in the search for noble simplicity, good design, worthy (not necessarily expensive and certainly not showy) materials, proportion and integrity. These principles affect not just the design and furnishing of buildings, but the way that the liturgy is celebrated, the behaviour of priests, servers and people, and the relationship of the Church with artists, architects, designers, and musicians.
b. English spirituality
Is there such a thing as ‘English spirituality’? I think there is, and that a golden thread runs through the years of our separation, which is still in touch with the spiritual practice of the pre-Reformation years. It flowers again in the 19th and 20th century, and, in the call to be holy, is one of the most precious possessions of the Ordinariates. It is not particularly austere or fiery (and maybe we need more of both) and it has not produced many martyrs. Perhaps it is too restrained in not immersing itself in the First Friday Devotion or the visions of Fatima. But it runs deep, it is homely, it is biblical, and it is eminently practical. Perhaps these features provide it with something to contribute to the spiritual searchers, both within and without the Church in the 21st century.
c. Musical heritage
Turning now to music, former Anglicans bring with them an experience of liturgical music which includes chant (Merbecke and the Mechlin ‘Come Holy Ghost’ being two obvious examples) and five hundred years of singing great words to good tunes. (It is also true that, particularly during the 19th and the end of the 20th century, there were many hymns in which trivial words were set to sentimental tunes, and that it is often difficult to get congregations to let go of them.) The Anglo-Catholic revival introduced people to a wealth of plainchant, and English and Continental polyphony, and we got used to a high standard of good music in even the most ordinary parishes. Unfortunately most Catholic parishes were trying to get their people to sing, and sing in English, at precisely the time when pop music and the ‘yoof’ culture were killing stone dead the ability of the English to appreciate decent music and to sing it. So perhaps we may play our part in popularising genuinely good and singable music for the liturgy, and quietly assign the enervating ditties of the 60’s and 70’s to musical limbo.
d. Single/married clergy mix
One of the very obvious things about the Ordinariate is that a goodly proportion of its clergy are married. The rule in the Western Church is not done away with: those married Anglican priests who wish to be ordained must apply for a dispensation which must be granted by the Pope himself. Those who were not married, and those now coming new to ordination in the Ordinariate must take the vow of celibacy. The mixture of single/celibate and married priests within Anglicanism has, I believe, created a difference of style/ethos/ behaviour/way of life/relationships with the laity – all of these things and more – among the Ordinariate clergy. Whether married priests will continue to be possible within the Ordinariates we have yet to see. If not, then can the celibate life of the clergy be shaped in the future so the loneliness, odd behaviour and burn-out which one sometimes observes can be avoided by healthy, relaxed and yet faithful life-styles?
e. Anglican scholarship
Sometimes people point to Anglican scholarship. I would not want to overdo that one nowadays. Many Catholic priests have been deeply formed in theology, philosophy, ethics and canon law: engaging in serous conversation with them is, I find, a delight and a challenge. Many Anglican clergy (younger ones especially) seem to have picked up some very odd opinions during a 2-year correspondence course! I exaggerate on both sides, and some will feel that I am unfair to my erstwhile colleagues. The Kelham tradition in me (of which I have written a little on my blog) convinces me that consistent, systematic theology needs time and effort, within a structure of disciplined prayer and life, but that it is appropriate just as much to those who are judged not to be ‘academic’ as to those from top universities. But I think that former Anglicans may bring with them a way of integrating their theological studies and reading into their preaching and teaching, which is the more important if Blessed John Henry Newman’s vision of an educated laity who know their faith and can argue for the truth is to be realised among us . If it is not then God help the Catholic Church in Europe, at least!