As promised I share below the address I gave this week when we drew together three Ordinariate groups, in Sevenoaks, Maidstone and Pembury, into a new partnership Minster model of ministry.
What is the point of the Ordinariate?
People picture the Catholic Church as rigid but this notion of a monolithic Church is fallacy. The Catholic church is actually diverse- it has multiple Rites, such as Antiochan, Armenian, Latin etc. And even in just one rite, consider the Latin Rite to which we belong, there can be incredible diversity. You might have noticed that a Dominican differs from a Jesuit. Yet we are one.
We begin to see that the unity in Rome is not about uniformity. Indeed we are not even members of one church in institutional terms. Rather Catholicism comprises many different national Churches, each reflecting something of its local culture and customs, yet united by one papacy. What I want to briefly tease out this evening is what defines the ENGLISH way of being Catholic. What marks the Spirituality on these shores and what has this to do with the Ordinariate?
To understand the present we must learn the lessons from history. So a very quick recap: Catholicism came to Britain in the first Century establishing itself among native Celts and Romans. Missionaries, including St. Patrick who we will toast tomorrow, carried Christianity to Ireland and Scotland. The progress ended in the 5th C when Britain was invaded by pagans who drove the Celts into Wales and Cornwall. Christianity survived in these strongholds but was largely eradicated in England as a whole.
That situation held until the 6th C when two distinct missions spring up. Pope Gregory sends Benedictines to evangelise Kent. Led by Augustine they establish a base at Canterbury. Meanwhile, in the North, a group is sent by Aidan from Iona to establish a base in York. The two great Archdioceses of England come to life: York and Canterbury. Working separately, these Catholic missions convert Britain until one +Theodore unifies them to create, for the first time, one ‘Church in England’. Over the following years the Catholic faith flourished. Indeed England was so loyal to Rome and to Catholic culture that she was named “Our Lady’s dowry”. The foundations for the forging of a distinct English Way was being laid.
By Norman times the Catholic faith defined what it meant to be English. Great Cathedrals and country churches were built, they still define the quintissential English landscape. The great universities of Oxford and Cambridge were founded. Our ancient public schools were opened. My own alma mater, Norwich Cathedral school, was opened by monks in 1096- a project of one bishop Herbert de Losinga a close friend of St. Anselm. It was a golden era when art, music and architecture of the highest calibre were produced, the fruits of which were many distinct English customs and traditions.
Holding it together was the religious life. Over 800 monasteries and convents dotted the landscape; centres of learning, pastoral care and devotion. England had a truly Catholic vision- a fact few people appreciate today. And this ‘English Catholic Way’ became a jewel in Europe’s crown. English Catholicism famous for high culture; an emphasis on academic learning and aesthetic beauty. So here are two things to bottle in our quest to unearth an authentic English Way. It is something rooted in beauty, culture and a striving for excellence.
But then comes the reformation and the “English Way” was decimated. The Shrine at Walsingham, alongside most other religious buildings, destroyed. The bones of St. Augustine thrown to the dogs – his abbey was razed. Now there is much to say about the reformation, a brutalist movement in this country with disturbing parallels to what Isis is doing in the Middle East today, but I ask just one question; what happens to the ENGLISH way? To the unique charism of English Spirituality in the wake of such horror and destruction?
To answer I draw on a stunning analogy first suggested by the scholar Fr. Aidan Nichols. Picture “The English Way” as a beautiful vase belonging to God. Henry VIII smashes it but God’s will is to restore it through a work of spiritual restoration, a bringing of separated pieces back into unity. But before you can bring those pieces together you need the base; without which gluing any pot together is futile. It was the heroism of the recusants that preserved the base at tremendous personal cost. They ensured Catholicism never did die out. Nevertheless a base alone is no vase. And it is simply a fact of history that much that was essential to “The English Way” went missing as outward looking zeal turned inward. When fear and rejection grew into the ghetto mentality- the tribal instinct- which can still inhabit English Catholicism today. But this is not the “English Way” which once evangelised an entire nation and flourished via its own flowering of culture and customs.
This loss wasn’t the fault of the Catholics. How could they hope to sustain a high cultural life as resources and buildings were taken from them? Survival was all any could hope for as Catholicism was pushed to the margins of English life for generations to come. A situation that held until the 19th Century and the Second Spring. A term referring to the Catholic growth of this period. The time when Catholicism was able to begin the task of rebuilding.
Every Catholic should rejoice in the Second Spring. But for the purpose of our quest we need exercise caution. A growth of Catholicism in this era does not automatically mean resurgence of the English Way. Ironically that English way was being rediscovered at this time but not by Catholics. It was the Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholicism, which took up that work under Newman, Pusey and later Hope Patten. For Romans there was growth in number but it mainly due to immigration from Ireland. Praise God for that; the church must ever be truly universal. These people gifted treasures of their own- the much needed handle for the ancient broken vase. But the English Way remained buried.
That is an important question because wherever the Gospel has flourished it has reflected the local culture. Go to China and you will see depictions of Chinese Mother and child. Go to Africa and in some places the playing of drums are more important than pipe organs. We hit on a serious problem for Catholics since the 19th Century. Catholicism is tolerated in England but it remains, for many non Catholic people,a foreign thing. Anglicans will jokingly refer to the “Italian Mission to the Irish”. The establishment tell us Welby is 104th successor of Augustine not 37th since Cramner? In Liverpool it remains “Paddy’s wigwam” it is not George’s. And visit many Catholic churches and you guarantee a statue of Patrick- but who ever sees Wilfrid? Catholicism is just not English in the national consciousness as crumpets, Marmite and Beefeaters are. So without losing our intended diversity and multiculturalism how do we eradicate the view of Catholicism as foreign entity?
Who can restore the authentic English spirituality today? I could not go to America and tell American people who they are. Such a message must arise from within. So where is the key to restoring English spiritual customs… like long albs, harvest festivals, Evensong, hassocks, unbelieving bell ringers et al? The answer, like it or not –is in the Church of England. Because- perversely- it is there, with the heirs of the reformers, English customs survived. Catholicism was not preserved but Anglicanism nevertheless retained fragments of the rock from which she was hewn. If recusants retained Catholicism but lost the English Way, we might say Anglicans retained aspects of the English Way but lost their authentic Catholicism.
At the reformation most English were simply victims of circumstance. Sucked into a Church rejecting the Pope but often carrying on regardless. The Book of Common Prayer wasn’t written in a vacuum, it was the fruit of a Church which had worshipped with its own Sarum Rite. Pope Benedict understood all of this so he established the Ordinariate and chose such robust English patrons for it. Our Lady of Walsingham, whose Shrine was the jewel of the English Way, and Newman, Oxford man, who understood that the only hope for the English Way lay with Rome. The re-uniting of Augustine and Gregory. “To be steeped in history”, said Newman, “is to cease to be Protestant.” See how Newman led where his movement, Anglo-Catholicism would one day be called to follow, under the title of Ordinariate.
Benedict reached out to Newman’s babies saying bring your patrimony with you. Things that would be lost if we simply joined the local dioceses of our day. The Catholic church did not need the Ordinariate to teach it to be Catholic. Our patrimony was our gift – that which can help in the task of restoring the English way. It was for the evangelisation of non-Catholic Englishman that the Ordinariate was and is needed. Others are also about this work, we might consider Newman’s other babies – the English Oratorians. Now we can bolster their mission.
Alas this vision and intention is not always understood. Some Bishops resist us because they cannot control it; they want our clergy but not the patrimony we bring. Other Catholics dislike it because our vision looks beyond the 1960’s and is rooted in orthodoxy; they prefer to build on modernist lines. And at times we have failed ourselves because we lack the resources to do the vision justice or we ourselves haven’t really embraced the vision fully.
But where the Ordinariate has been enabled results have been amazing. Look around you. Before the Ordinariate arrived in Pembury this was a dual use hall only reflecting a spirit of the 1960’s. But since we arrived so has an intended beautification to shift to incorporate the wisdom not only of 1960 but also 1060 and 1860! The birth of Catholic England and the revival of Anglo-Catholicism under Newman.In this little place we have seen a vision bearing fruit. And let me stress that our emphasis on the English way hasn’t compromised, in any way, our being a universal church. Our congregation comprises Indians, Poles, Maltese, Irish, Scottish and more besides. And all seem to have rejoiced in the changes.
To conclude: in the Ordinariate we have a fragile shoot growing, against all odds and with the help of the Holy Spirit. I believe it has enormous potential. But for this to be achieved it needs people to believe in it, support it and sustain it. We provide, not protestant treasures- that would be madness- but lost Catholic treasures. The singing of the Angelus at Mass. The Divine Worship liturgy whose soul was forged in the Sarum Rite and so on. So please help in the task of bringing it to life in this area of Kent. Please commit fully. For the harvest is rich but the labourers few. We have been given such a tremendous opportunity- pray God that people will see this and come together to make it happen.