Fr Christopher Colven reflects on Anglican Patrimony

14 09 2011

Fr Christopher Colven, Rector of St James, Spanish Place, writes:

Last weekend a number of those who have been worshipping here over past months were received into full communion through the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. Ordinariates are models established by Pope Benedict whereby Christians from other traditions can become Catholics while retaining elements of their own background or “patrimony”. As with other fresh expressions of ecclesial life – the Neo-Catechumenate, Focalare, Communion & Liberation, for example – the Ordinariates are integrated into the life of the local Church, while retaining a character of their own. A current question – and it will only begin to be answered over coming months – is what particular “patrimony” might be involved in an Ordinariate consisting of former Anglicans. Never one to hesitate to step where angels fear to tread, my own view is that the special charism being brought in this case is neither liturgical nor theological, but pastoral. Let me explain.

Perhaps the greatest change experienced by an Anglican on becoming a Catholic is the difference in size of congregation! Anglican parishes tend to be relatively small in number (two hundred on a Sunday would be thought large) whereas Catholic parishes, often serving much wider areas, attract many more. This is both a strength and a weakness. Clearly, our parishes are not just  “catholic” in name – they are a genuine cross section of culture, age and ethnicity, a microcosm of wider society – but the sheer numbers coming to Mass can make them feel impersonal, and it is possible to worship alongside the same people for years without ever engaging with them in any real way. Because Anglican parishes tend to be much more consciously gathered communities, their members usually know one another better and consequently can offer stronger patterns of pastoral care. Almost by osmosis Anglican parishes, too, while dealing with smaller numbers of actual worshippers, have inherited a sense of responsibility for the wider social context in which they exist.

What I hope the Ordinariate groups might offer the Catholic Church in this country is a dialogue in which fresh pastoral techniques, and a deeper sense of service towards civil society, can be integrated into our existing life and practise. As we commemorate the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s visit to this country, it does us well to examine the changing patterns of religion in Britain: without being overly partisan, it is clear that the Established expression of Christianity cuts less and less ice with the majority – the natural consequence of a less homogenous, multi-cultured nation – and that the Catholic Church has a responsibility to begin to fill the vacuum. My own belief is that we do this best not by public stridency or by trying to mark out distinctive territory, but by the quality of life lived in our parishes. Jesus promises: “Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them” (Matthew 18:20) – if we need a blueprint, there it is:  people of Christian faith, recognising the image of the Saviour written deep in one another, who allow the concern they feel to flow out to embrace the needs of the wider community. The Second Vatican Council document, “Lumen Gentium”, has it this way: “If we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity – all of us who form one family in Christ – we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church”.