Icon (Close Menu)

Extraordinarily Ordinary

 By Daniel Martins

In October 2009, under the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued an “apostolic constitution” named (as is customary) by its opening words, Anglicanorum Coetibus. This was in response to persistent requests over the years from various Anglican and para-Anglican individuals and groups to enter full communion with the See of Rome, while retaining both married clergy and certain liturgical forms and ceremonial practices that have evolved and become beloved within the broader Anglican tradition.

Anglicanorum Coetibus paved the way for the creation of what are now three personal ordinariates — one each in the United Kingdom, North America, and Australia. These entities function almost as dioceses that geographically overlap the familiar diocesan boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church, with a few key distinctions. (They are analogous but not identical to groups of Eastern Rite parishes within the Roman Catholic Church.)

In the United Kingdom and in Australia, the Ordinary of each ordinariate is a former Anglican bishop, who has all the power and authority of a Roman Catholic bishop, but has not actually been (re-)ordained to the episcopate, since the accommodation for married clergy in the Roman Catholic Church extends only to priests, not bishops.

In North America, however, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter now has a Roman Catholic bishop. Consecrated in February 2016, Bishop Steven Lopes has never been an Anglican. He grew up in San Francisco and was ordained to the priesthood through that archdiocese. His theological formation took place in Rome, and he lived there for several years, serving as a staff member of the CDF. He was, as it were, on site during the development of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and has thereby attained a practical working knowledge of Anglican liturgy.

Last September, I received an invitation from Bishop Lopes to serve as the guest preacher at an ecumenical choral Evensong at his cathedral, Our Lady of Walsingham, in Houston. This took place during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Sunday, January 23. My wife and I flew to Houston the day before.

We first attended the 9 a.m. Eucharist at St Martin’s, a nearby Episcopal church, so we could make our Lord’s Day communion. But then we pointed our rental car in the direction of Our Lady of Walsingham in order to attend their 11:15 Solemn High Mass. I was curious. I knew about the ordinariate and its liturgical practices. I know many of their clergy, the great majority of whom are former Episcopalians. But I had never experienced the ordinariate concept on the ground. What would it feel like? What would the vibe be?

We were greeted with over-the-top graciousness. We arrived at the cathedral church about ten minutes before the scheduled beginning of the liturgy, and the nave was already so full that it took some effort on the part of the greeter to find us a spot. I was told later that this was only one of five Masses on the weekend, and the building is always filled to capacity for each of them. The cathedral is only about 20 years old, but there is a new, larger, one already in the planning stages.

I have attended Roman Catholic Masses multiple times over the years. It is always an experience that is simultaneously familiar and jarring. The basic paradigm, the structure of what happens, is of course what I am used to as an Anglican. I recognize the genre; I’m not lost at sea.

To be sure, in the midst of this familiarity, there is a baseline level of anxiety, since I know I am not welcome to receive Holy Communion when the time comes. I do not fully agree with the reasons behind this lack of eucharistic hospitality, but I understand and respect it. My anxiety is ameliorated because the mainstream Roman rite as it is practiced in the United States, especially in the 2011 translation, is different enough from my regular liturgical experience that it doesn’t feel like I’m being denied a meal in my home. It feels like I’m a guest.

At Our Lady of Walsingham, however, that dynamic was very different. The eucharistic liturgy across all three ordinariates is the same. It is a carefully stitched-together amalgam of elements from Books of Common Prayer across time (1549, 1662, 1928, 1962, 1979) and space (Church of England, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church of Australia, Anglican Church of Canada), with certain emendations. The most notable changes are the clarification that the words of the celebrant following the General Confession are not a sacramental absolution, and an entirely unfamiliar Eucharistic Prayer.

The liturgy includes such familiar texts as the Collect for Purity, the Summary of the Law, the General Confession and Comfortable Words, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the Cranmerian post-Communion prayer. Episcopalians will recognize the 1979 BCP’s Form I of the Prayers of the People, and the fraction anthem, Christ our Passover.

At Our Lady of Walsingham, the Hymnal 1940 is in the pew racks. The service music that day was from Healy Willan’s workhorse, Missa Sancta Maria Magdalena, all of which is in the Hymnal 1982 and still familiar to most any Episcopalian who routinely attends a sung Rite One liturgy. There was a fine organ, played in a very Anglican manner, and the choir sang one of my favorite anthems (a setting of Christ, whose glory fills the skies by the Anglican Frederick Candlyn).

Apart from knowing precisely where I was, there was nothing to distinguish what I heard and saw from what I have experienced in a number of Anglo-Catholic parishes, both in the United States and in England. In that context, then, having to step out from my pew to allow others to go to the Communion rail, but not walk forward myself, was profoundly unsettling. It felt like it might if I were to travel in time to my boyhood home and see my parents and siblings and all the same bric-a-brac on shelves and paintings on walls, only to find my room had been let out and I couldn’t spend the night there.

After the liturgy, the pastor — a young man with a wife and children, a graduate of Nashotah House, the son of a priest who is also a graduate of Nashotah House and in the ordinariate — told me that about 55 percent of his 850 households are composed of former Episcopalians, the rest being cradle Catholics. He then took me on a tour of the impressive physical plant, which includes a school, along with a scaled-down replica of an arch from the ruins of the medieval abbey in Walsingham. Right behind the cathedral campus is the chancery building for the ordinariate (what Episcopalians might call a “diocesan center”). It is large, with a monumental quality, done in stone, conveying an intention of remaining there two or three centuries from now. It was not built on the cheap. The chapel features a marble altar and carved marble reredos. The conference room has state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment. The reception area features beautiful icons and statuary. And it’s practically brand new, paid for, I was told, by a single donor.

The Evensong was almost an anti-climax, but gorgeous. I told a friend that it sounded like Westminster Abbey and looked like All Saints Margaret Street (an Anglo-Catholic shrine church in London). The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were from the Anglican Charles V. Stanford’s scrumptious setting in the key of C. The organ and choir were magnificent. The whole thing felt utterly and familiarly Anglican. My homily was enthusiastically received.

If you have read this far, you are probably wondering, with me, what it all means. According to Anglicanorum Coetibus and the stated intent of those who labored for its creation, the ordinariate plan is an ecumenical gesture, not merely a pastoral one. The hope is that it will be a sort of magnet for those Anglicans who organically already have Catholic sensibilities. It is a good-faith attempt to honor the Anglican patrimony as an important thread in the tapestry of liturgies and forms of spirituality that make up the Catholic Church. Those who developed the structure believe that the Anglican tradition has something valuable to offer that can enrich the larger whole; indeed, something that the larger whole needs for its renewal and vitality. I am inclined to take the CDF at its word that the ordinariates are an expression of a desire for unity and reconciliation.

Not all see it this way. A plausible argument can be mounted that it is a poison pill dissolved in the well of ecumenism. The Apostolic Constitution was revealed without any evident consultation with or even notice to the See of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion Office. Indeed, many Roman Catholic bishops in England were less than enamored of it.

Moreover, do the ordinariates really manifest the genuine Anglican patrimony? Or are they just a hothouse version of one style of the Anglo-Catholic fringe, a convenient way for clergy and laity who already feel fundamentally compromised as Anglicans to just continue doing what they’re doing, only with a different structure of accountability (no more vestries and standing committees and synods, but a clear hierarchical authority)? Do the ordinariates in fact undermine unity by bleeding off the motivation for the hard ecumenical conversations that are necessary? These are significant questions around which there is not yet abundant clarity.

Is there a future for the ordinariates? Sooner or later they will run out of disaffected Anglicans. Will they be able to do first-level evangelization? Are there very many Catholics who will find that liturgical ambience compelling? There are already more Anglican clergy who wish to row that particular boat across the Tiber than there are congregations that they can lead. In North America, there are 53 parishes in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Some, like Our Lady of Walsingham, are booming. Others are marginal. All live in relative isolation, spread across the vast expanse of the United States and Canada.

And what about the future of a married priesthood? That it is a question of discipline and not doctrine has been widely known for decades. The principle is this: a married man may be ordained a priest, but a priest may not marry. This is, in fact, the case among Orthodox churches, in which graduating seminarians are known to scramble to find wives before ordination! I suspect this sort of culture will develop among the ordinariates. I might also conjecture that the mainstream of the Latin Rite might look on the ordinariates as a sort of laboratory for seeing what sort of culture develops when married clergy are routinely allowed to be pastors of parishes.

Some years ago, a prominent Anglican liturgical scholar was reported to have remarked, in an ecumenical setting, that the Roman Catholic Church has perfected the art of unity and authority, but is underdeveloped in the dimensions of diversity and subsidiarity, while Anglican churches are second to none in diversity and subsidiarity, but have much to learn in the areas of unity and authority. It will be interesting to see how these polar tensions play out as Anglicanorum Coetibus comes of age.



Top headlines. Every Friday.



Most Recent

GSFA Meets with Coptic Pope, Elects New Leaders

Delegates also visited a historical museum, library, and baptistry on the grounds of the papal compound.

GSFA Discusses Wartime Suffering, Sexuality

Delegates to the First Assembly of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) heard from the Episcopal Church...

People & Places, June 14

Appointments across the Episcopal Church

Title IV Charges Revealed as PB Election Nears

The church released information about disciplinary complaints involving three of the five candidates