Bishop Peter Elliott’s report on the Ordinariate in England

3 02 2012

From the Personal Ordinariate of  Our Lady of Walsingham’s official website:

The first birthday of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was celebrated fittingly on Sunday January 15th  2012  at St James, Spanish Place, with Solemn Evensong, Sermon, Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, Te Deum and Benediction. Together with other clergy, I assisted in choir at this act of thanksgiving on the last night of a fascinating two week visit to London.

The Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton presided and preached. What I found most encouraging was not only his “upbeat” message, full of his own warmth and pastoral confidence, but the sense of achievement and joy among the large congregation who had gathered for the celebration.

The choir of St James brought forth the best of the Anglican Patrimony, wedded to the English Catholic heritage,  We entered to Parry “I was glad when they said unto me” (vivid memories of the coronation in 1953). Stanford provided the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!” accompanied the Eucharistic procession, while the canopy over the Sacrament was borne by four robed Knights of Malta. Stanford again gave us his Te Deum, while Elgar provided a limpid O Salutaris, not forgetting the traditional translation of Benediction used across three centuries by the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament.

What I discerned in London is an Ordinariate that is growing steadily, facing challenges, especially church sharing, yet moving ahead. Nevertheless, some Catholic journalists have claimed that undue control is being exercised over the Ordinariate by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. Frankly I do not share that concern.

The Bishops I talked to want the Ordinariate to flourish and are not overprotective. But, to be realistic, at this stage the Ordinariate is very young, a “nursling in arms”. It needs much support, care and encouragement as it gradually finds its place in the wider Church. It will not be absorbed and it will not be turned into an ecclesiastical nature reserve. Nor should we heed mischievous rumors that some people are reverting to Anglicanism out of disappointment. Long ago, that tale was spread about Blessed John Henry Newman himself. It is a standard fantasy, the gossip of those who feel insecure about other people’s choices. In fact, new groups are forming and emerging and individuals are quietly making their choice for unity.

What I came to understand better in England is what a “group”, “coetus”, means, and why our Holy Father Pope Benedict wisely focused on “groups” in Anglicanorm Coetibus. The little communities that make up the growing Ordinariate are mutual support groups, the gathering of Christians, men and women tied together not by being “disaffected” or battle weary. but by common worship, by friendships, by the service of others and an appreciation of Catholicism in terms of the concrete reality of the Church and her mission. This “coming together” of groups seeking unity is the final act and fulfillment of the Oxford Movement.

In that perspective, I was most impressed by the South London group. They worship in the modest but noble church of St Wilfred, Kennington Park, which they share with a small Catholic parish. The Mass I celebrated for them on the eve of Epiphany Sunday was the postconciliar rite, the new translation (which is much welcomed), with Anglican hymns and good ceremonial. Parishioners were happy to be part of the liturgy.

Afterwards we gathered at the pub, as you do after church in England. Here I met people who are so happy to be in full communion with the Catholic Church. They are happy be free, to have put behind them all the hurtful “issues”, to be able to walk into Westminster Cathedral and say “I belong here”. But they are also happy to be able to maintain those human and cultural bonds that can flourish in distinctive communities which maintain the Anglican Patrimony.

I then dined in an elegant Indian restaurant with a key group of clergy and laity who have been involved in Forward in Faith. Geoffrey Kirk was as irrepressible as ever.  His last message in New Directions is tough reading, realistic and challenging.

At Kennington I learnt that a new group is emerging in South London, based at Croydon. This pattern of new groups is being replicated in other parts of England. Some call it a “second wave”. I would rather see it is the normal growth of the Ordinariate in the English situation. The future growth of the Ordinariate in Australia may turn out to be different,  more a pattern of core groups drawing people to them.

There are other significant differences between the situation in England and Australia. Women bishops are already a reality in Australia. When they appear in England, as is inevitable, the impact of the reality of a novel polity will have its effects. That might be the real “second wave”.

In Australia the early years of the Ordinariate will require care and encouragement, as in England, with much mentoring and support on the part of Catholics. However, I would speculate that the Australian Ordinariate will be different in ways that ought to hasten its autonomy and make it less dependent.

Firstly it is not being drawn from one source, as in England. Rather it already draws on two sources, some members of the official Anglican Church together with Anglicans of the “continuum”, represented by the Traditional Anglican Communion. The former groups are used to struggle and the disappointment of the marginalized. The latter groups are used to making sacrifices and working in isolation, derided and without much support. The challenge to the Catholic community and its pastors will be to support, honor and appreciate these people who come with their own gifts, talents and hopes.

Secondly the geography of our vast continent means that the groups will be evenly distributed across most States. Each group will have to work out its relationship with the local diocese. Already there are good signs of cooperation and a welcoming spirit as we await the official timeline for the Ordinariate in Australia.

However, my main reason for enduring two weeks in a London winter, was a meeting of the Interdicasterial Commission, “Anglicanae Traditiones”, convened by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Divine Worship to work out an Anglican Use liturgy for the Ordinariates. Meeting at the Brompton Oratory, where I stayed for the second week of my visit, the commission has worked well and what it finally produces ought to contribute much to the identity and spirituality of the Ordinariates.

At this time we are all called to pray for the new Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter in the United States of America. Announced on January 1st 2012, the Ordinariate will be launched with a Solemn Mass of Institution and the Installation of Rev. Jeffery N. Steenson as first Ordinary on Sunday February 12th. The Mass will be celebrated  in the new Co-cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston Texas, hosted by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and Delegate for the Ordinariate, and Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, Archbishop of Houston. Australians will be able to see something of what is in store for them when the Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans is established in our great Southern Land.




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