Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughts on the Anglican Ordinariate

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.


  1. I may be mistaken but I thought they only were able to retain this generation of married clergy and the expectation was that all future vocations would be celibate. Is that a misreading?

  2. All I said was, "Their married men may be ordained." Meaning their present generation of married priests.

  3. Spent a year at Mount Calvary while studying at the big hospital in town. Those experiences informed our move to Rome ten years later. I am so happy for them and wish I could be there to hear you preach.

  4. I don't see how Anglicans can keep their "patrimony" and be both Anglican and Roman Catholic. "Being an Anglican" is MORE than keeping some parts of the historic Book of Common Prayer" and some good hymns, and Evensong.

    Now if you had said that Anglicans who join the Ordinariate could have married Priests and Bishops, in perpetuity, that they could use the Historic Book of Common Prayer (1662), the Ordinal, that we could keep the 39 Articles of Religion and the "Books of Homilies" along with Hooker and Jewel then thats different, I'd be one of the first in line to join up with the Ordinariate.

    All the Ordinariate is as Pope Benedict offers, is to me is just Roman Catholicism with an Anglican/English flavour.

  5. John, how could anyone subscribe to the 39 Articles and call themselves Catholic? Have you read them recently?

  6. Well, Anglican Ordinariate Catholics are part of the Roman Rite (from whence the Church of England split in the first place), we accept them 100% as Roman Catholics, bringing with them whatever of the Anglican patrimony is genuinely consistent with Catholicism. Some things aren't and they have to be left behind (or adapted). If someone prefers those things over full Communion with the Body and Bride of Christ through which we receive our salvation, he isn't worthy of that Body.

    The ordinariate has a married prelate, the Ordinary, and the US Ordinariate will too. Which is quite extra-ordinary. Even the Eastern Church doesn't have married bishops though. The practice of the true Churches is universally completely consistent about this.

  7. That following generations of young men will be expected to seek only a celibate priesthood tells most non-Ordinariate Anglo-Catholic Anglicans that an essential aspect of their heritage - a married priesthood - is seen as an alien thing by the Roman authorities, Eastern rite married clergy in the homelands not withstanding.

    Were celibate bishops and married priests - as among the Orthodox -*from here forward* part of the Ordinariate, there would be greater interest. But if Anglicanism collapses they may be stuck with whatever Rome chooses to offer (a widespread perception on the ground). Or ... perhaps the Orthodox will get their act together and make the Western Rites a viable, long term option?

  8. We have a large congregation of the Ordinariate coming into our Church including a married priest and a deacon and it has been very enriching. :-)

  9. Anonymous6:50 PM

    The potential problem with this is that the Anglican/Episcopal church ordains women and gay ministers, which according to the dogma of the Catholic church, is verboten.Is the Catholic church overlooking those differences?

  10. I do not believe the Anglican Ordinate classes itself as a hybred church :there is now 'no middle ground' with Ordinate having one foot in and one foot out of the barque -both feet are in. At the time of THE OXFORD MOVEMENT, Blessed Cardinal Newman and Cardinal Manning et al unequivocally stated their belief in the Catholic Church as guided by the Pope . CATHOLIC Truth from the beginning was grafted once onto Jewish root stock -there will never be another graft but all rites(branches) of the Church ,including the recent Anglican Ordinate come under Papal Juristiction of the Church which guides and establishes the mores of the changing world rather than the world telling the church what moral rules require modification re Church of England - the line in sand vis-a-vis 'a rocky buttress' on the shore line withstanding the storms ever thrashing against her(Thou art Peter and upon this ROCK I will build my church) .This is the ultimate choice -to be inside the barque of Peter or outside it.Cardinal Newman (Tract 90)prior to his conversion stated The 39 Articles were no stumbling block re Rome and The Catholic Church but Anglican Bishops declared this idea a serious error on a par now with the present Anglican homosexual controversy assaulting her foudations

  11. My wife and I, both cradle Catholics, are frequent visitors to Our Lady of Walsignham (I've even been rope-a-dope'd into helping several times) and love it. I think to understand Anglican Heritage, you really have to experience it rather than have it explained.

    Fr. Steenson here in Houston is the best preacher at our seminary, according to my wife who hears him on Fridays when she works there, and seems to have a solid understanding of the Roman and Anglican mind. I'm very excited about the whole thing.