Thursday, 5 January 2012

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

We have previously mentioned Dr William Oddie's reflections in his marvellous book The Roman Option that an Ordinariate in the UK might well have come about in the 1990s.  If he is right, and certainly his writing is very convincing, then perhaps that might have smoothed the Tiber crossing for some, but our feeling is more and more that the way things have worked out is by no means an inferior outcome. 

The turn of the year is a natural time for this kind of reflection (both the end of the liturgical year and the end of the calendar year), but so too is the upcoming first "birthday" of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.  Preparations for the great day continue, and we are pleased to note multiple blogposts by Fr Edwin Barnes and Fr Ed Tomlinson talking of plans for their groups to join us on the big day, and we can tell from acceptances being received on the Facebook event set up to advertise the 15th that people are putting the date in their diary.

Thinking of these anniversary celebrations has brought home just how much we feel that there is indeed something to celebrate, not just something to mark or to note, but in fact something that we truly feel like celebrating with joy and thanksgiving.  There have been adjustments to make of course, not least losing such frequent contact with many very good friends from St Mary's Bourne Street, but none of our little Ordinariate group feels the slightest regret at our decision to become Catholics. 

The timing of the birth of the Ordinariate was perfect for us.  Of course we sometimes wonder, with the great benefit of hindsight, how it was that we didn't make the leap earlier, but frankly it doesn't matter.  The Ordinariate came into existence at precisely the time when we felt that our situations were starting to become untenable : the huge sense of welcome present in Westminster Cathedral on 15 January 2011 (at the ordination as Catholic priests of our three monsignori) was precisely the right thing to set us on our way.

A truly excellent article by Geoffrey Kirk in the latest edition of New Directions, and brought to our attention by the Ordinariate Portal talks of why it is that those Anglo-Catholics still trying to live out the Catholic Faith in the Church of England might also consider that the solution that the Ordinariate provides has arrived at precisely the right time for them. 

In our previous post Denial Ain't Just a River in Egypt we talked about some of the same group of people that Geoffrey Kirk considered.  There are those who do not (or in some cases who wilfully refuse to) see the clear logic of the case Dr Kirk presents.  However, our thoughts should most of all be for those who find themselves very confused by what is happening around them, who see the difficulties facing their beloved Church of England, and yet who do not feel that the Catholic Church (whether through the Ordinariate or otherwise) is right for them at the moment.  Those people are in a very tricky situation, and they fully deserve our prayers and best wishes.  We can only hope that the joy with which we feel the anniversary of the Ordinariate's existence should be marked will be a sign to them that there is a solution, and that there are people who are more than willing to help show them the clear benefits of accepting it. 

For all this discussion of now being the right time for the Ordinariate, there are nonetheless those who continue to want to knock the Ordinariate.  In the same earlier blogpost we talked of various groups of people who are not yet sure of what the Ordinariate is about, and we acknowledged a continuing obligation on the part of all of us in the Ordinariate to explain ourselves to our fellow Catholics and to interested Anglicans.  However, we also talked of those who are not belittling the Ordinariate out of unfamiliarity or ignorance, but out of a deliberate desire to be dismissive. 

For example, there are those who argue that being made up of around 60 clergy and around 1000 laity makes the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham very small.  Another c.20 clergy and another c.200-300 laity entering the Ordinariate this year doesn't seem to cause them to change their opinion on this.  The idea that if the Church of England's General Synod goes the way that most expect it to in February, there might well be one or two more Ordinariate joiners seems to fall on equally deaf ears.  True, even the most ardent fan of the Ordinariate would have to concede that these figures are not Pentecostalist in scale, but you have to be pretty obstinate to argue that this is not a significant shift.   With the obvious exception of the years following 1992-1993, how many other times in living memory has there been a shift on this scale between the Church of England and the Catholic Church in this country, with the realistic hope of more to follow? 

Others criticise the Ordinariate for not being a single homogeneous entity, with disparities between its constituent groups (though it isn't easy to see how those in the Church of England can say such things with a straight face).  It is fair to say that the groups are in many varied situations, but it seems ludicrous to suggest that this is a sign of failure or insignificance. Some groups are smaller than others; most have their own masses while the members of other groups attend parish mass with their new Catholic brothers and sisters; some are geographically in a diocese which is more overtly supportive to the growth of the Ordinariate than others; there are more groups in the south than in the north.  Yet, to this list of differences, my response would be "So what?"  There is one thing that is far more important than all these differences, and that is that all those who have joined the Ordinariate have followed our convictions and have become Catholics, by means of a structure put in place by the Holy Father, specifically recognising that we do not join with nothing, that we have years of sound teaching, sound tradition and sound faith behind us, and that we might even have something useful to bring into the Catholic Church.

The time had come for us, just as it has for many ex-Anglicans over the centuries (not just in the period following 1992-1993), and just as it will for many others who wish to avail themselves of the provisions of Anglicanorum Coetibus and come into the full communion of the Catholic Church.  The Ordinariate was there to welcome us into the fold, and it behoves all of us to do our best to ensure that anyone else who might consider joining the Catholic Church is aware of the benefits that working towards Christian Unity by being a part of the Ordinariate might bring. 

The fruits of Anglicanorum Coetibus are not limited to this country.  This is no flash in the pan, no phenomenon that will drift away quietly after the first people joining the English Ordinariate have quietened down.  We would like to congratulate Fr Jeffrey Steenson on the announcement of his appointment as Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, the Ordinariate that will welcome former Anglicans into the Catholic Church in North America, in the same way as the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham does here.  What an excellent name for this second Ordinariate formed under Anglicanorum Coetibus, with its link both to the relic enshrined so prominently at St Peter's in Rome and to the feast day that starts the annual Week of Christian Unity. 

The establishment of this North American Ordinariate is also a source of great joy, as will be the establishment of the Australian Ordinariate later this year. 

Let us all make every effort to display that sense of joy and thanksgiving by being present at St James's for Solemn Evensong, Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction on the 15th January.  The time for the Ordinariate is indeed now, as is the time to celebrate its first year of existence, and the birth of sister Ordinariates in North America and Australia.

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