What is the Anglican Patrimony which the Ordinariate is to offer to the wider Catholic church? This is a serious question that demands a better answer than has been available thus far. But soon, as the baby Ordinariate begins to find its voice, I think we will see this answer emerging. I also predict it will be more positive than many imagine. Furthermore this answer will be the key to our survival long into the future.
You see it might well be true that jolly good hymn singing, Eastward facing mass, the use of birettas and priest’s wives, etc, etc are all signs which point to an Anglican past. But they are manifestly not, in and of themselves, a unique or distinctive Anglican patrimony. After all one can easily find wonderful hymn singing in diocesan parishes. One can certainly find birettas in the Oratory in Birmingham where, yes, priests also offer mass facing East. And there are even a good number of priest’s wives knocking around due to the many clergy who swam the Tiber solo and pointed the way for us to follow. And if these things are to be found outside of the Ordinariate, which they obviously are, then they can hardly be called definitive Anglican patrimony can they?
So what is our distinct Anglican patrimony? Perhaps the best answer to date is the use of Evensong and the Advent Carol Services that were hosted by Ordinariate clergy this year. For here we can locate actual texts quite different from what is found in the usual Catholic parish. Not much at present given how few bother with Evensong these days, but it is certainly here that we must focus attention. For the constitution of the Ordinariates makes clear that what we are to bring to the table are liturgical texts flowering from our Anglican past and informed by that experience and process.
I think the whole question will be better answered then when the new Ordinariate Rite of Mass is given the green light by the Vatican and finally lands on our shelves. I am told this should happen sooner rather than later given the clear need and this is why we have not pressed ahead with the adoption of the Book of Divine Worship in Saint Anselm’s, as we had anticipated, but are choosing to wait and watch instead.
And that is the right move, I think, because we really do need to adopt something fresh and vital that speaks about our future as Catholics within the new Evangelisation, rather than something merely harking back to a bygone era- to a life we have left and which holds little meaning or value for the cradle Catholic. This is what we must find and market if we are to develop as hoped and offer something genuinely precious to Catholics the world over.
The Ordinariate must find a unique and beautiful setting of the Catholic Mass for use within the Ordinariate but obviously open to all. It will draw from Anglican treasures of the past and, here in the UK certainly, will reflect that very British spirituality. The rite of those prayer book folk who were separated from Peter at the time of the Reformation but who are now being called back home.
The key to success will lie not only in the drafting but also in the marketing. None of those who have left the Church of England for Rome want to be taken on a backwards journey and/or made to feel that we never left at all. The need is for something forward looking and very clearly and authoritatively Catholic and fresh. An Anglican patrimony for the 21st Century Catholic whose purpose is to speak to the whole nation in our day.
It is a huge ask and a huge task but I predict the Ordinariate will live or die depending on the outcome. For that reason I am very relieved to hear only good things from those who are involved. Keep watching this space folks for the Ordinariate is just beginning to find its feet and far from being a strange ghetto eeking out a life on the margins it is consistently punching above its weight and is engaging with Catholic life and culture at the centre. The signs are good but do keep praying for us.