On January first Archbishop Wuerl will announce the erection of the Anglican Ordinariate in the United States. This is the special structure provided by the Holy Father to allow Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining elements of their distinct cultural patrimony. I have been invited to preach at the Evensong the night after the Rector and members of Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore are received on January 22. I'll have to rustle up my preaching scarf, tabs, and academic hood I suppose....Who woulda thought it?
It is an exciting time for all those Anglicans the world over who have longed to retain their traditions and be in full communion with the Catholic Church. The Ordinariate was established in England last summer, and plans for the Australian ordinariate are well under way.
We really are witnessing a historic step in ecumenism. After years of discussion and progress in many ways a structure has been provided to allow full communion between Anglicans and Catholics. The establishment of the Ordinariate has clarified matters between the two churches. Benedict XVI has, if you like, called the bluff of all those Anglicans who kept on saying, "We are Catholics too you know...just not Roman Catholics." Then they would go on in pious phrases, "We do long to become Catholics and to achieve unity, but we do not want to give up our distinct patrimony."
OK. It's all possible now. Anglicans can come into full communion with Rome. They can keep their distinct patrimony. They have their own hierarchy. Their married men may be ordained. They can have their own religious orders, their own seminary and their own churches and their own form of church government. What else do they want? The numbers who take up the Pope's offer will be small, because they will have to launch out in faith.
Many will have to leave their buildings and financial security behind. They will have to build churches from scratch. They will endure hardship and persecution from their former friends and family and colleagues, but what will emerge is a little group of Anglicans--now Catholis--who will contribute to the whole church and establish a secure place for the riches of Anglicanism to prosper and survive.
Most importantly, the Ordinariate has established a new direction not just for Anglican-Catholic relations, but for the whole future of ecumenism. Benedict XVI has re-written the rule book. No longer are we engaged in long, polite (and endless) discussions. Instead there is action. A way forward is possible. All that remains is to see who will avail themselves of this option.
Finally, this new direction takes the whole church down a new path. Catholics think in the long term. Who knows what will come of this historic moment? How will the newly accepted Anglican clergy contribute to the whole church? What gifts will they and the lay people bring? How will their gifts influence the Catholic Church in English speaking lands? How will their pioneering effort touch other people's lives?
I can only speak from experience. I left the Anglican Church to become a Catholic in 1995. I just did what I had to do. I never thought that it would influence anyone else, yet over the years my own action of obedience to God's call has influenced many people. I never thought I would write books or speak or do broadcasting. I never thought I would have people write to me saying that my decision sparked theirs and that they had come into the church through my writing.
I never thought of any of that, and yet by God's grace something greater happened than I ever could have imagined. I hope and pray that similar graces unfold as our brave Anglican brothers and sisters take the step of coming home to Rome.
UPDATE: Virtue OnLine reports that the Ordinary for the American Ordinariate will be Fr Geoffrey Steenson. Read about it here.