Yesterday I began reflecting on three years within the Ordinariate recalling a difficult start. Today we move onto happier pastures as I reflect on what has gone well. The blessings for those pioneering this venture from within the Catholic church.
One of the obvious joys is belonging to a church with a clear central authority. You know where you stand as a Catholic and that provides a rock on which to build. Dissent might exist, as it does everywhere, but the teaching office makes clear what is dissent and what is not. How different from trying to uphold catholic belief within an ecclesial body whose doctrine is never fixed but rather open to debate and change by majority vote. Where things quickly shift, it seems, with every wind blowing in from the prevailing culture.
As Anglo-Catholics we formed a marginal voice. With sincerity we attempted to convince ourselves and others that the Church of England was Catholic really if only she knew it. Yet all around us was evidence pointing to a different reality. The mainstream C of E being as clearly protestant as it was becoming increasingly liberal. It meant we were ever more marginalised with every passing change. So it is a blessing to leave the margins of life for the mainstream, which is where we belong as Catholics. Our views entirely normative and no longer seen as dangerously popish or extreme!
The blessing is twofold. First we no longer need to perform theological gymnastics. That desperate attempt to explain how one can be Catholic within a Protestant body. And secondly we are no longer defined in the negative. The ones against everything…from women’s ordination, to abortion, to remarriage of divorcees and so on and so forth. Now we are defined in the positive. It is enough to say “I am Catholic”. Nothing more and nothing less.
This is important because it aids mission. In Pembury I am able to serve as parish priest for all Catholics even though I myself am a member of the Ordinariate. Why? Because we are together members of the Latin Rite. A church utterly united at the altar. Growth is therefore organic. Evangelism straight forward. How hard it was explaining before how we were “out of communion with X” but in communion with “Y” Catholic and yet not in communion with the Pope!! What a blessing to be in a church of total unity where, despite different in style and opinion, we are nevertheless one.
Another blessing comes in being able to offer something unique to the body we have joined. And there is no doubt that the Ordinariate has left an impression wherever it has operated. The way we celebrate Mass, a strong musical tradition. The style of preaching. All are little clues as to how the Ordinariate is very much part of the reform of the reform. We Ordinariate clergy actively embraced the Catholic church so there is also passionate fidelity to the magisterium and no time for dissent! Another gift to the church we have joined. As mentioned yesterday the days of “them and us” are over. We are now a community that works! In Pembury a church breathing with two lungs, one Ordinariate and one diocesan, putting down roots and building for the future. A future made possible because of the Ordinariate or there would be no resident priest.
The arrival of a new Rite Mass has also been a blessing even if it is not suitable within every context where the Ordinariate is unfolding. But it is there and it is important. We have a liturgy that works. Occasional offices reflecting that English patrimony of Anglican days. This helps us retain an identity and thereby witnesses to unity.
We demonstrate, in lived out practice, how ecumenism can occur. Perhaps others will follow in God’s time? That is certainly our prayer. It might seem impossible today but so did the fall of the Berlin Wall. So just maybe a day might dawn when the entire C of E will opt to end reformation divide and come home. Accepting unity with Peter but embracing the Ordinariate Rite liturgies as an expression of cultural identity? Or might the Eastern Orthodox embrace the model but tweaked to their particular need? I do not know- nor do you- but I am aware that the CDF are asking us to live out something that is seen as important to them. And I do believe God has a plan in all of this. The spiritual battle experienced testifies to it.
And finally a blessing has come through new friendships. This Easter I was struck by how united Saint Anselm’s now is. Friendship and trust has blossomed between Ordinariate and diocesan Catholics. We are one family growing in love. It shows that we are not some loony fringe, as outsiders sometimes imagine, but a happy and healthy part of the whole. Catholics who delight in being Catholic!
Ultimately becoming Catholic stands out as one of the greatest decisions of my life. My prayer is that one day we might end divide and all may be one. The Ordinariate is small at this three year stage. But ultimately the future is nothing to worry about because, no matter what God opts to do with us, we are already home and happy. The biggest blessing of all.