Damian Thompson: The Ordinariate faithful have arrived in the Catholic Church. What difference will they make?

21 04 2011

Damian Thompson writes:

By the end of Holy Week, nearly 1,000 former Anglicans will be members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, an entirely new structure within the Roman Catholic Church. For an indication of what a big deal this is, look at the picture above. Mgr Keith Newton is wearing a mitre and holding a crozier – yet he is not a bishop. These are symbols of an office within the Church that did not exist until Pope Benedict XVI created it especially for ex-Anglicans. And they are also symbols of freedom: that is, the freedom of members of the Ordinariate to organise their own liturgy under the supervision of their own superior rather than that of a diocesan bishop.

Now we enter delicate territory. I don’t want to suggest that there is tension between the Bishops of England and Wales and the Ordinariate: on the contrary, the Bishops’ Conference is far more warmly disposed towards the new body than we could have anticipated a year ago. That is one of the fruits of the papal visit. Also, I’ve yet to come across any evidence that these new Catholics see themselves as a Church within a Church: for example, the former parish priest and many parishioners of Holy Trinity, Reading, are clearly looking forward to becoming integral to the town’s Roman Catholic community, celebrating their own Mass (at least for the time being) at St James’s, the town centre Catholic parish.

But one thing the former Holy Trinity people will be bringing with them is a meticulous and dignified Anglo-Catholic tradition of interpreting the Roman rite. In England, at least, this could turn out to be the essence of the “Anglican patrimony” of the Ordinariate. Many of those coming over anticipated the Benedictine liturgical reforms that, until now, the Catholic bishops have been slow to implement. If the Ordinariate congregations celebrate the Eucharist in the spirit of the great Mass at Westminster Cathedral that the Pope attended on the Saturday of his visit – a rare glimpse of Benedict’s ideals put into practice – then Rome will be delighted. And, at long last, cradle Catholics will be shown a path out of the aesthetic desert in which they have been wandering for 40 years.