Friday, 30 March 2012

Don't Misunderstand

Somehow, an important part of the Ordinariate's message isn't getting through.  A lack of awareness of an important part of what makes the creation of the Ordinariate such an important gesture is causing the usual internet forums to get unnecessarily excited. 

Therefore, it's time to provide a little explanation, in a purely personal capacity of course, on a topic that seems to get people very wound up indeed.

The issue relates to what Ordinariate members think they were doing when they were still Anglicans.  Do they consider they were involved in high pantomime rather than in devout worship?  Do the newly minted Catholic priests consider that they were play acting when they were in the Church of England?  Once people reached a decision to join the Ordinariate, why did they not just leave overnight rather than announce an exit and then have various forms of farewells (including liturgical farewells) some time later?

Some of these points are raised in an understandable if misplaced kind of defensive anger ("Their leaving inherently criticises me and my decision to stay"), and some are raised as an argument against joining the Ordinariate at all (usually by those without any other argument, as if questions about the decisions of others who have joined the Ordinariate outweigh the wider rationale for doing so).  Nonetheless, if people still ask these questions, it is because we have failed to convey the full message behind the invitation that is inherent in Anglicanorum Coetibus.  Whatever the motives behind people repeating these questions, they are fair questions, and deserve an answer.

Speaking from personal experience, all members of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group can confirm that new members of the Ordinariate are not asked to state that their previous church and sacramental life was pointless.  No-one is asked to sign Apostolicae Curae with some kind of addendum stating that questions and answers in the 1890s relate to the position today.  What does happen is that in prayer we give thanks for all that has gone before, for all that has led us to this point, and for all those who have led us to this point.

One of the texts that has taken many members of the Ordinariate, and indeed many other former Anglicans who have joined the Catholic Church, over the line is Newman's Apologia.  Anglo-Catholics past and present will know that they would jokingly advise each other against reading it, "....because you know what will happen if you do."  This extract from the May 1843 section of the Apologia speaks powerfully to concerns that people are asked to deny their previous life.
At present I fear, as far as I can analyze my own convictions, I consider the Roman Catholic Communion to be the Church of the Apostles, and that what grace is among us (which, through God's mercy, is not little) is extraordinary, and from the overflowings of His dispensation.  I am very far more sure that England is in schism than that the Roman additions to the Primitive Creed may not be developments, arising out of a keen and vivid realizing of the Divine Depositum of Faith.
Newman is saying that in the Church of England there is "not little" grace in his Anglican life.  He is saying the precise opposite of what some people, for one reason and another, speculate would be required of them to say if they ever joined the Catholic Church. 

How very apt that this Newman extract was also cited by Fr Aidan Nichols OP (whose understanding of Anglo-Catholicism is beyond question) in his homily at the "first mass" of Monsignor Andrew Burnham (the inverted commas were used by the Oxford Oratory, they are not my addition).  Fr Nichols made a reference to Newman saying that there was "not little grace" in the Church of England, and referred to Mgr Burnham as Bishop Andrew - so like Fr Nichols and Mgr Burnham, no Ordinariate member regards joining the Ordinariate as a rejection or as a negation of anything they have done, rather, to paraphrase Fr Nichols again, this time from his homily at the deaconing of Mgrs Newton, Broadhurst and Burnham, a "quiet rectification" of their position.

How is this reflected in practice?  Well, before being chrismated, as one would expect, new members of the Ordinariate are asked to make their confession.  Technically, it is a first confession, and so takes the form of a general confession.  However, this approach in fact allows respect to be shown for all the confessions a new Ordinariate member will previously have made, and for the Anglican priests who heard them : it means no-one is asked to list specifically, item by item, sins that might already have been confessed to an Anglican priest. 

In terms of the wider approach to becoming an Ordinariate member, away from the purely sacramental aspects (as important as they are), the approach is very much that the Church knows that new Ordinariate members are unlikely to need the same introduction to the Faith as a brand new convert.  Therefore, rather than simply putting Ordinariate arrivals in with the nearest RCIA class, discussions are held and a tailored programme of catechesis can be constructed, usually by the Anglican priest leading the group, that being the person most likely to know what has been preached and taught to the group in recent years.

In terms of the question of the chrismation / the reception / the confirmation, I think that lay people take the same approach as priests take when looking at the question of ordination.  The confirmation I had when an Anglican bishop lay his hands upon my head (and, by the way, conveyed to me, so he claimed, a short message from above) suited me perfectly for my existence in the Church of England.  When Mgr Newton chrismated me along with the other members of the group last year, we became beyond any shadow of a doubt full members of the Catholic Church, in communion with the Successor of St Peter, and with all other members of the Catholic Church: whatever else had happened at our Anglican confirmations, it was not that. 

The topic of ordination is a difficult one for a layman to comment on.  However, my understanding is that the very same approach is taken.  Some Catholic bishops ordaining former Anglican clergy encourage them to mark the date of their ordination as Anglican priests as their anniversary of ordination, and to mark the date of their being ordained as Catholic priests as the date when, quite simply, they became priests in the Catholic Church.  The ordination service, just as it has since the 1990s, includes a special prayer of thanksgiving for the clergyman's previous ministry in the Church of England.  Incoming clergy are not sent off to seminary for years before being set free, they operate at once, with a tailored programme of ongoing formation.

So there is no denial that God's grace operated in and for Ordinariate clergy and laity during their Anglican years.  What there is, is a strong desire to bring those gifts into the Catholic Church, that "all might be one".

Despite all the above, some continue to cry "Apostolicae Curae, Apostolicae Curae".  Not just ultra-zealous traditionalist Catholics who might make even the SSPX blush (NB, even Bishop Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX, thinks bringing Anglicans into unity with Rome is a wonderful thing and does not join that particular refrain), but also there are some Anglicans whom one might have thought would be keen on Christian Unity, who prefer to hide behind a wound alleged to have been caused by Apostolicae Curae.

To use Apostolicae Curae as a reason not to join the Ordinariate is to understand neither Apostolicae Curae nor the Ordinariate.  The Church of England countered Apostolicae Curae with Saepius Officio, but more importantly took steps to resolve the issues raised by Apostolicae Curae by implementing the "Dutch Touch", and through that mechanism and some good record keeping, it was possible for Monsignor Graham Leonard to be ordained conditionally.  So the Church of England itself clearly thought that there were things it could change in order to render Apostolicae Curae itself null and void in respect of the future.

Would the answer to the questions raised in Apostolicae Curae be the same if they were posed today?  Who knows, but it's not impossible at all.  The doubt about Anglican orders was shifting to being about whether they really were invalid rather than about whether they were valid, but rumours that the subject was to be re-examined in the 1970s and 1980s swiftly came to an end when the Church of England changed its own approach to the importance of unity as regards Holy Order in the 1990s.

Isn't that exactly the point though?  Who wants doubt about orders, about sacraments?  Who wants to have to look up directories of "sound" parishes where it's "safe" to go, isn't that about as uncatholic an ecclesiology as one can find?  Who wants to be a smaller and smaller part of an institution that perceives you as more and more extreme, more and more troublesome?  Those who have joined the Ordinariate have done so because they answered a call to Unity, but also because they actively want and are attracted to there being no doubt about these things.

Since I wanted to be part of that, I accepted that I needed to assent to the same things as everyone else who is a part of it, and that I needed to take part in the same rites to get there.  I had no interest in arguing why something I did many years ago, out of communion with Rome (indeed through an Anglican bishop of a very protestant variety, not that that matters) was or was not enough to admit me into the same communion as those who have received chrismation at the hands of a Catholic priest in communion with Rome. 

By way of comparison, no clergyman can seriously think that all they have to do in order to be able to say mass at the Brompton Oratory or at Westminster Cathedral is to say that their Ordinary is no longer Richard Chartres, but it is Vincent Nicholls or Keith Newton, as if it were a minor procedural matter of changing your line manager.  Everyone knows there is something missing there.  Anglican ordinations were perfect for Anglican life, but in the Catholic Church, like every other Catholic priest, ordination must be carried out by a Catholic bishop : why would it be fair to leave the slightest whiff of doubt about orders in the minds of the congregation? 

What we are all after is sacramental certainty, sacramental assurance.  That comes through Unity with Rome.  All the fuss over the past 30 plus years in General Synod has been about what the changes would do to Unity and what the changes would do to sacramental assurance.  Why allow the slightest trace of that to persist?  Doubt over all this, and moreover ever-increasing doubt, is one element of Anglican Patrimony that  nobody wants.

The Ordinariate is about Unity and sacramental assurance.  However, it is also about recognising the Anglican Patrimony, the gifts, the abilities, the faith, the learning, the pastoral strengths, the music, the approach to liturgy, the relationship with the wider community, the philosophy and so many other things that are inherent in the best of Anglicanism, and finding a way to bring those into the Catholic Church.

Doesn't this recent letter say exactly that?

The Ordinariate is not about denying one's past, denying that one was an Anglican, denying that one retains strong Anglican characteristics.  Not at all.  Once a decision was made to leave, we were all encouraged to do so in an orderly fashion, minimising disruption, and it was made very clear that there was no panic to leave, because no-one was asking us to deny what was then the present, what had nourished us for so many years : we were being asked about our views of the Catholic future, not about what we thought or didn't think about the Church of England.

No-one suggests a move is easy, and we have referred before to how this caused great agonies for Dr Eric Mascall and many others, but a fair appraisal of a possible move is not helped by an absolutely and utterly mistaken belief that Rome sets past existence and ministry at naught.

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