Thursday, 20 October 2011

Anglican Patrimony and the Ordinariate

If you ever feel like raising your blood pressure, a good tactic is often to read the comments that appear underneath online news articles.   Even if the article itself is thought provoking, and invites consideration and debate, before long in the series of comments the discussion has gone off at a tangent, and extreme views begin to be expressed on topics of limited relevance to the original article.

This is not something restricted to any one topic or to any one sort of politics.  The comments on an online article in the Daily Mail and in the Guardian are as bizarre as each other.

The world of blogs on religion is no exception.  The most famous example is probably Damian Thompson's blog in the Daily Telegraph,  which although it does not solely focus on topics connected to religion, has an army of people ready to comment on each and every post.  There, you have the whole spectrum of views, from hardline atheists, to hardline liberal Anglicans (if that sounds like an oxymoron, believe me it isn't), to hardline traditionalist Catholics, to hardline Protestants.  Comments usually run in to the hundreds, and there is no hope, after the first few, that the topic commented upon will be the same as the comment written upon by Damian Thompson.  This is all rather a shame, as the blog itself is fascinating, always well informed, and highly supportive of the Holy Father and of the Ordinariate. 

On the Ordinariate itself, comments on the well-established blogs have often been colourful.  Fr Ed Tomlinson's blog for the Tunbridge Wells Ordinariate Group has always been very fair at allowing sometimes rather heated debate, as long as it was "on topic", in the comments.  This was even more the case for Fr Tomlinson while he was still an Anglican, his old St Barnabas Tunbridge Wells blog was blessed with many a commenter who wished to provide forthright advice.  Open debate is good, especially if well informed, considered, and polite.  Sadly, it isn't always like that. 

One of the topics most often used in a failed attempt to knock the Ordinariate is the well known concept contained in Anglicanorum Coetibus of "Anglican Patrimony".  There are some who like to say that there is nothing that can be shown to be Anglican Patrimony that Ordinariate members will take with them, and therefore the Ordinariate is a waste of time.  Yes, there really are people who think like that, and who believe that that is some kind of persuasive argument.  (I wonder if I could submit this as evidence of failings in the British education system?)

Anglicanorum Coetibus, first of all, is not an attempt by the Holy Father to go out and grab some nice bits of Cranmerian text and a few jolly hymns that can be used in the Catholic Church.  It is a response to requests made by Anglicans in various parts of the world, whereby they can find a way to come into the full communion of the Catholic Church as groups, and while retaining such aspects of their Anglican Patrimony as are consistent with Catholic teaching.  Therefore, very clearly, neither the priority nor the litmus test of the Ordinariate revolves around what little treats people could bring with them: no, the priority is following Our Lord's will that all might be one, "Ut unum sint".  If we want to be "Anglican Patrimony" about it, we could say that we are following the prayer contained in the hymn O Thou who at the Eucharist didst pray that all Thy Church might be for ever one.

Critics like to say that many of the new Ordinariate priests, in their Anglican days, never used the Book of Common Prayer or Common Worship, and were already using the Roman Rite.  Therefore, so goes the glib argument, they have no Anglican Patrimony to bring, ergo, so they say, the Ordinariate is a waste of time.  The flimsiness of that argument is laughable, and displays an unhealthy obsession with liturgy as the sole measure of the Christian life. 

Other comments I have seen on blogs argue that all Anglican Patrimony means is that an Ordinariate mass includes a few hymns, and that this is a terribly minor difference, and that (yes, you guessed it) therefore the Ordinariate is a waste of time. 

No, it seems to me very obvious that Anglican Patrimony is a more complicated subject than a short comment, or even a long blog post, can cover.  It is about far more than hymns and Cranmerian language. 

One also has to remember that for the kind of Anglo-Catholic most likely to take up the offer contained in Anglicanorum Coetibus, the differences between the catholic practices found in the Catholic Church and those found in the Church of England are often not to be found in obvious places such as the great set pieces of public liturgy.  We shouldn't for one second expect that an Ordinariate Mass should look anything like Holy Communion at Westminster Abbey: it should, and does, look much more like Westminster Cathedral or, dare I say it, St James's, Spanish Place.  I would strongly urge you to read an excellent piece by William Oddie  in The Catholic Herald on this very topic.  An extract from his article is as follows : has to be said that in the case of mainstream broad church Anglicanism I really don’t think that our communities do understand each other better: what has happened is that Roman Catholics have begun to understand Catholic-minded Anglicans a lot better (it isn’t just that Anglo-Catholics have realised that any kind of understanding with Anglicanism as it has developed is now impossible for them): and the “Anglican patrimony” they bring with them is of a kind entirely compatible with the Roman patrimony of the mainstream English Catholic Church.  Largely that is because, over the decades, beginning with the Oxford movement in which John Henry Newman was such a major formative influence, Anglo-Catholics made themselve  relatively comfortable within Anglicanism by constructing a liturgical culture and an ecclesiology (which has now entirely collapsed) according to which the Anglican Church had never really left the mainstream of Western Christendom. That explains why the Tractarians and post-Tractarians (or “Anglo-Catholics”) were culturally so entirely happy with – and showed, many of them, such wonderful comprehension of – the Catholic spiritual tradition...
So perhaps we need to look for Anglican Patrimony not just in the liturgy, but elsewhere.  Fr Christopher Colven has suggested that one thing it might mean is a greater awareness of community, both within parishes and in relation to the civil community around us.  We covered this very thoughtful idea in a blogpost last month.  In another blogpost last month, on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Walsingham, we reflected on whether one form of Anglican Patrimony was allowing the Catholic Church to regain some of the devotions and practices that it had forgotten.

By focussing on areas other than the liturgy, I do not, of course, mean to exclude the liturgy, and the many undoubted treasures of the Anglican tradition, from the discussion.  Monsignor Andrew Burnham has played a large part in discussing, describing and developing what Anglican Patrimony means in this context.  For example, last weekend he gave a fascinating lecture to the Association for Latin Liturgy, part of which gave a detailed insight into how the Ordinariate Liturgy is taking shape, and into what Anglican Patrimony might bring in this context. 

There are many things that ex-Anglicans can bring to the Catholic Church, just as there are innumerable things that we ex-Anglicans delight in discovering in the Catholic Church. 

Professional detractors of the Ordinariate would do well to think a little more deeply before trying to claim, in substance, that the Ordinariate is pointless if it doesn't mean wholesale copying and pasting of the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship.  Our Anglican Patrimony is worth far more than that.  The Holy Father sees that, and offers us the opportunity to bring our gifts with us.  How could anyone say no?

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