Friday, 11 May 2012

Reforming Perceptions

On Tuesday, London’s tourists were flocking to the Mall to watch the Queen make her way to the Palace of Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament.  This is, of course, a familiar sight to those of us who live or work in the city; a sight as banal as the language of the speech our unfortunate monarch is required to deliver on behalf of her ministers.

Yet but a short distance away, in the even older ceremonial thoroughfare of Pall Mall, a more remarkable site was to be seen, that of fifty or so Catholic priests making their way not to the more familiar ecclesiastical territory of the Athenaeum or the Travellers, but to that less godly institution, the Reform Club.

The occasion was a meeting hosted by the Friends of the Ordinariate at which Mgr Keith Newton and Mgr Andrew Burnham discussed the role of the Ordinariate in the Catholic life of Great Britain and how that work might be supported by the priests and parishes of the Church.  The meeting itself was private but the goodwill demonstrated towards the Ordinariate was both heartfelt and heartening.

When we were received into the Church it was at first a little disappointing, if entirely understandable, to find a widespread lack of awareness of the Ordinariate among Catholics, of what it is about and why Pope Benedict brought it into being.  We are very familiar with the question “but why did you not just become a Catholic” and are well experienced in the art of explaining that we are indeed full members of the Catholic Church, rejoicing in a unity we so long denied ourselves.

In the Marylebone Ordinariate Group, we have been particularly fortunate not only in the support we have received from the clergy in the parish that our group attends, but also in having the opportunity at occasional Ordinariate services to demonstrate some of those rich traditions we bring with us as part of our Anglican patrimony.  We know that when we have the opportunity to explain, and better still to show, the role of the Ordinariate, understanding and support invariably follows quickly from those hitherto perplexed.  The initiative of the Friends in arranging the meeting, and there will be more to follow in other parts of the country, is greatly to be welcomed.  Quite rightly, the obligation is on us to explain ourselves, and this we are more than happy to do.

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has already reported very positively on the meeting in the Catholic Herald, including reference to a service of evensong he attended in Chichester, a name that is to feature in an upcoming blogpost here.  

How appropriate it was that the meeting should end with the singing of the Regina Caeli, surely the first time it had ever been heard in the Reform Club.  As the words echoed from the Library, through the Gallery and the Saloon and into every corner of Charles Barry’s magnificent building, they enveloped the portrait of Daniel O’Connell, the bust of Henry Brougham and many another who had fought for Catholic Emancipation and who, in their triumph, paved the way for the passing of the great Reform Act itself.  O’Connell’s Catholic Association had profound and lasting consequences for the British constitution, far beyond those imagined by its founders.  Perhaps in their choice of the Reform Club the Friends of the Ordinariate were wiser than they knew.

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