Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Why I would not have joined the Ordinariate
Several times I have been asked why I have not blogged about the Ordinariate, this special arrangement Pope Benedict has made for anglicans now wishing to join the Catholic Church. As a former anglican who was received into the Catholic Church in 1994 and ordained a priest in 97, surely I have something to say about it?
Well, yes. And perhaps too much.
There has been some comment - especially in the more conservative catholic blogs - that the Bishops of England and Wales are less than enthusiastic about the ordinariate. I can't comment on that, though I am pretty sure that those like me who became catholics in the 1990s look upon it with mixed feelings. It is also the case that many ordinary Catholics - those who inform themselves and follow Church news - are also somewhat puzzled. I am also told that many anglicans, especially their bishops, are furious about the whole thing.
Now this, admittedly, is anecdotal, though I challenge anyone to produce solid evidence that the contrary is the case.
So - just in case you don't know what the ordinariate is, and haven't already given up on this post, let me explain.
The Ordinariate is a special, indeed unique arrangement set up by Pope Benedict in the Catholic Church to accommodate groups of Anglicans (Church of England and linked churches around the world) who wish to become part of the Catholic Church, but keep something of their common life. It is not a separate 'church' within the Catholic Church (like the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) but more - in organisational terms, at least - like the Bishopric to the Forces, which crosses Diocesan boundaries but which operates alongside the other bishops. The arrangement raises so many issues, but I want to focus on just two.
Firstly, the Ordinariate is a kind of 'fast track' for anglicans wishing to come into the Catholic Church. Bishops who became Catholics at the end of 2010 have already been ordained priest, and we are told that groups of priests and people will be received together into the Church at Easter, just a few weeks after leaving the Church of England, rather than after a year or longer. The former anglican bishops (a photograph from their ordination to the priesthood is above - more are here) have already been given some of the trappings of episcopacy and will retain a leadership role of the group. Not a few raised eyebrows on the Catholic side over this - though not unsurprisingly much delight amongst those making the journey.
Secondly, the Ordinariate has a common identity which preserves some aspects of the Anglican Patrimony which will be maintained in the Catholic Church. The idea here is that while members of the Ordinariate will have fully embraced the teaching of the Catholic Church, there will be some cultural elements, particularly in the Liturgy, the Church's worship, which they will be able to retain, and be encouraged to allow to flourish.
Now there are some interesting aspects to this whole process without a doubt. The 'fast track' itself raises issues about selection and training of clergy, and also concerning the reception of lay people into the Church.
However, my discomfort really focusses upon the whole idea of the Anglican Patrimony which is supposed to be preserved and fostered by the Ordinariate. I readily acknowledge, that many aspects of the scheme would have been very attractive to me, and others like me, in 1992 when our journey into the Church began. I left full time ministry and had to retrain to find paid employment. I did, and don't regret it at all, but at the time what is on offer now would have been much more attractive.
I feel that those of us who entered the Church in the 90s brought much of our education, experience and outlook, and our approach to pastoral ministry into the Catholic Church. But I am really intrigued to know what exactly is intended by the idea of the Anglican patrimony.
There are indeed great cultural and pastoral riches within Anglicanism. In worship there are the literary and musical riches of the Book of Common Prayer, the Kings James Bible, Anglican Chant, Hymnody, Cathedral Choirs, Evensong. There is also a strong pastoral sense, in England at least, that the Church ministers to the whole nation, and that every citizen is anglican by default and that the parish ministers to the whole community, not just parish 'members'. This is evidenced particularly in anglican schools and other institutions which are seen as part of the church's mission to every member of society. The trouble is that anglo-catholicism mostly rejects the cultural and liturgical aspects and cannot deliver the pastoral ones. Anglo-Catholic worship (in England at least), while more consistently elaborate than Roman Catholic forms, and sometimes ostentatiously self-conscious, nevertheless almost always uses Roman Catholic service books. There might soon emerge an awkward situation when Rome will impose one liturgy for the ordinariate, which, respecting the much larger ordinariates in America and Australia, will be based on the thee-thou language of the Book of Common Prayer, thereby requiring English Anglo-Catholics to embrace something they had previously rejected as 'uncatholic'.
Considering my own experience over almost two decades, I am convinced that what happened to me and others was much better than what the ordinariate might provide. When I took my break from active ministry, I did not fall into some kind of limbo, but was immersed into a Catholic parish and joined in its life. I read at mass, became a minister of communion and helped with the Youth Club and Children's Liturgy. I became very aware of the Irish heritage of much of the Catholic Church in England. I became familiar with prayers and acts of devotion which had not been common amongst even the most extreme Anglo-Catholics. I became immersed in a catholic life which was not self-conscious or strident, but natural and living. I became part of a community which laid great store by particular moral values and precepts which were either ignored by anglicans or set aside with ease. I became familiar with some of the traditional Latin prayers and songs which Catholics still know and sing. And - always having loved Walsingham - I came to realise that that wonderful place is just an outpost of a much bigger world. I went to Lourdes and experienced the internationality of the Church of which I was now a member.
My worry - and I hope to be proved wrong - is that the existence of the Ordinariate will make it more difficult for these new catholics to inculturate themselves into the Church. They will be bringing with them few cultural or liturgical riches, but they may carry with them, by the very nature of the Ordinariate, the defensive and introspective approach to their spiritual life which enabled them to survive during their anglican days, and a suspicion of Roman Catholicism which presumably prevented them from taking this step earlier. While I do not anticipate any antipathy towards Ordinariate priests or groups, it may prove difficult for other catholics to understand them or warm to them and in the worst cases they could find themselves isolated from the rest of the Church.
Don't get me wrong. I am not against the Ordinariate. I don't oppose it and wouldn't consider campaigning against it. In other parts of the world, where these small and geographically isolated anglo-catholic communities have existed I can see its logic.
But here? Well, for those who feel they are jumping into the unknown it may well provide great comfort to do so holding someone else's hand - but once on the other side, there are very many more hands to embrace.