Diaconal Ordinations: Eyewitness Account IV

14 01 2011

The Ordinariate Portal has received another eyewitness account of the diaconal ordinations of 13 January 2011:

“Men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom” (Acts 6:3)

A diaconal ordination can often appear like the overture of a grand opera: it introduces to us some of the themes, but we are impatient for the ‘real thing’ to begin. Yet it is, of course, an occasion of grace in its own right, and this ordination in particular is invested with even greater significance, because it marks the start of a journey into the relative unknown for all involved. Although we know that these men are to be priested on Saturday, the fact that they have today been ordained into the sacred order of deacons is no less real, no less significant, and no less an occasion of sanctifying grace.

The Mass was celebrated with reverence and attention by the Rt Rev. Alan Hopes, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, who has been a great friend to the nascent Ordinariate. It took place in the seminary chapel of Allen Hall, a building of 1958 which, with careful use of colour, draws the eye towards the Crucifix and Tabernacle at the east end of the apse. The altar employed the “Benedictine arrangement”: candles at the west side, with a Crucifix facing the celebrant; the many concelebrants – diocesan clergy, seminary staff, and not a few former Anglicans among them – were placed around the apse. Mass VIII de Angelis was sung, and Veni, Creator Spiritus and the Pontifical Blessing at the conclusion of the Mass were also sung in Latin. Credit must go to the seminarians for their diligence and care in preparing the singing, and also to Mgr Tony Philpot (ordained in 1959) for his witty and erudite homily.

There were also a restrained number of hymns: we began with – what else? – “Firmly I believe and truly”, Blessed John Henry Newman’s great song of belief which, in its simplicity of language and metre, perfectly reflects the unchanging dogmas at the heart of the Faith once delivered to the saints. It was sung to Rockstro, a tune too little aired these days (in the writer’s opinion). “Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour” and “Christ is made the sure foundation” were also sung, and there is surely some significance in the fact that all of these hymns are found in the English Hymnal, once the great touchstone of Anglo-Catholic liturgical music.

To see the three former prelates in simple black cassocks, with plain albs, amices and girdles, was of course a change for those used to their previous garments, and the decent but unshowy dalmatics with which they were later vested were in marked contrast to the full vesture of the pontifical dignity they had once enjoyed. But these images, as ephemeral as they might sound, are important: these men are visibly doing what the Catholic Church requires of them, and doing that with joy.

And, as they took up their places at the Altar, here was the most powerful image for those who have known them as priests and pastors: here they were, visibly, sacramentally, liturgically, in the full communion of the Catholic Church. Finally, it was fitting that Andrew Burnham, with his love and knowledge of liturgical music (particularly expressed in his recent book, Heaven and Earth in Little Space), should have sung the Latin dismissal.

There will always be those who deride the Ordinariate as it is born and grows, and there will always be those who seek to undermine its work for the Kingdom of God in His Church, just as there will always be those who support, encourage, and pray for it. But, if the rumours about its patronage prove true, then it is as well for all, whatever their view (as indeed it always is), to invoke the prayers of Our Lady of Walsingham for themselves, for the new deacons, for the Ordinariate, and for the good estate of Christ’s Church.