Fr Ivan Aquilina reflects on Anglican patrimony

2 10 2011

Fr Ivan Aquilina writes:

Article 10 of the Complementary Norms attached to the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibusdiscusses the formation of the clergy of the Ordinariate. Basically, this is divided in two parts, 1) joint formation with diocesan seminarians in accordance with local circumstances, and 2) particular formation in the Anglican patrimony. This drives home the point of co-operation on the one hand and also the distinctiveness that formation in Anglican patrimony, which is fully in harmony with the Catholic tradition, may bring to the Catholic household.

Here comes the important question of Anglican patrimony. The widespread opinions on this matter are as varied as those who proffer replies. The Anglican tradition is very different from one country to another, from a Province to another. However one can say that there are elements of Anglican patrimony that are not only compatible with the Catholic faith but worth offering to the whole Catholic family.

To talk about patrimony is to talk about origins. The origins of any Anglican patrimony are situated within the English Reformation, an event starting under Henry VIII and finding its feet under Elizabeth I. With the various contours that took place under Protestant Edward VI and Catholic Mary I, parsonages up and down the country reflected all the shades of beliefs that were held by those in the top echelons of authority. Elizabeth left behind her an established church which was truly Protestant but through its conservatism kept a distance from the Continental Reformation, maybe an illustrative example of English reserve. The Protectorate and the Restoration of the Monarchy with their various ejections and appointments once more guaranteed a mixture of irreconcilable beliefs within the clergy that kept them together because of a shared dislike towards the Continental Reformation/Puritanism on the one hand and “Romanism” on the other. Not unlike the famous Vicar of Bray every parson could describe the established church as suited him. This complex turn of events ensured that somewhere in the Church of England there was always a group of people that had sympathies with the Catholic faith and practice. It was these Catholic patrimony embers that enabled the Oxford Movement to be so far reaching when it took place. The Anglo-Catholic movement, as the inheritors of the Oxford Movement came to be known, was always a movement within the established church which in our own time became more and more of a party for Catholicism within an increasingly liberal-protestant church. This may be the reason that many, if not most, traditional Anglo-Catholics use the Roman Missal and Breviary. It may be a way to plant the markers many a times in a very difficult context. Being a traditional Anglo-Catholic meant a very slim chance of preferment or at least side-ways movement; some commented on the feeling of being pushed to the sides of their structures and exceptionally few were those traditional Anglo-Catholic incumbents who had a curate.

It is in this context that patrimony starts to take shape. It is not to be confused with heritage such as Matins and Evensong, or taking up baptisms, marriages and other occasional services for those who between these moments never darken a church door. The patrimony is the groups of people themselves entering full communion with the successor of Peter with their experiences of living the Christian calling in a set environment and context, with their joys and their sorrows and their hopes. Obviously, the way that laity are involved in sharing the ministry of the clergy is part of that patrimony. Article 14 of the Norms reflects this when it obliges Ordinariate parishes to have a pastoral council, something which is not mandatory in the Latin Church.  Another aspect of this patrimony is the culture of a married clergy within the Latin rite Church. Married clergy are not new to the Catholic Church as it has many married priests in the Eastern rite churches. However, it is new to have a distinct and organised number of married priests formed, shaped and working within the Latin Rite, and every rite produces a distinct spirituality and way of life. This way of being priest is complimentary to the positive norm of celibate priests, and it is a shame that some use this fresh expression of being Church for their own agendas.

Another factor in the prism of Anglican patrimony is the distinctive embedding of ordained ministers within the wider culture that makes them part of the texture of English life. The ordained minister is ready and keen to be part of the local non-church schools, of organisations like Mind, Citizens Advisory Bureau, Friends of the local hospital, and all sorts of what at first may seem as non-church scenarios. The ordained minister sees this as ministry of availability, of being there for that rare but precious occasion when a non-church goer comes to speak to him about life and its meaning.  The ordained minister is already used to be well established in what now we are calling the Courtyard of the Gentiles, a fundamental concept in the new evangelisation.

Another part of the patrimony is the Anglo-Catholic spirituality of an end and virtue ethics. This is not in tension with the Latin way of explaining and living the divine, natural and ecclesiastical law, but a complimentary way of holding in sight the value of virtue and the supreme significance of our end (eternal beatitude) which naturally is attentive to divine, natural and ecclesiastical law, not to mention its harmonisation, when possible, with the civil law.

In any mention of Anglican patrimony there must also be the liturgical expression. Musically this will include Anglican composers who set to music catholic texts and in parish settings, where choral music is sadly many a times unaffordable, a great repertoire of catholic hymns translated into English by scholars like Mason Neale and also some of the Wesleyan hymns which are consonant with the Catholica. These hymns contain memorable words that aid the personal devotions and also convey theological principles which are sadly not so evident in all contemporary church music. More importantly is the dignity and careful planning of the liturgical celebration which I think stems from the end-ethic described above and tries to convey (maybe incarnate?) the beauty of holiness. It is also expressed in the labour taken to give solid homilies that are catechetical and didactical.

Here are some points of patrimonial elements that can be explored at great length and at solid fruition during training in seminaries and also for the ongoing formation of the clergy of the Ordinariate who are now called to bring their experience into the Catholic life.

This does not mean that we in the Ordinariate should, God forbid even for one moment, be so arrogant to think that we have solutions for our Latin brothers and sisters. We are not a judgement on Latin parishes in this country; I trust that we are a gift. We bring with us what is the Catholic patrimony that was left in the Church of England after the Reformation. We lived those embers outside the communion of Peter, and they led us naturally back to their rightful home. We come with this lived experience but also with a hand and a heart that is ready to receive and incorporate the experience of the Latin Church in this country. I think that Ordinariate groups up and down the country are already embarked on this project.