Saturday, 13 October 2012

Mystici Corporis Christi - Part I

Almost three years have now passed since the apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, was given by Pope Benedict XVI providing for the creation of personal ordinariates for Anglicans wishing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. That same apostolic constitution requires under Article XI that the Ordinary must go to Rome every five years for an ad limina visit to report on his ordinariate’s status. Since the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has now been in existence for about a third of that time, it seems an appropriate time to consider what the Ordinary might relay to the Holy See if he were called now to account for the past year and a half.

First, however, it is necessary to return to that original document which, along with its Complementary Norms issued by William Cardinal Levada, forms the basis of the ecclesiastical authority and form of the ordinariates, but also entrusts them with their mission and vocation. This return to those founding documents will then provide us with the means to consider both what the objectives of the ordinariates must be, as formed in the mind of the Successor of S. Peter, but also to assess whether the ordinariates, particularly that established here in the Dowry of our Blessed Mother, have achieved anything of what they were created to accomplish, and whether they are well-placed to bring to fulfilment the prayers of Our Lady to win our country back for God. The aims of the ordinariates as expressed in Anglicanorum Coetibus can be refined into three distinct yet complementary objectives, and it is upon these that our assessment of the Ordinariate will be based.

The Lord’s mandate to the Successor of S. Peter to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches

Since the Second Vatican Council much emphasis has been placed upon ecumenism, and yet since the publication of Lumen gentium, some elements within the Church have in certain ways lost a true sense of what ecumenism actually entails, and indeed what the Council Fathers understood by it. Across the world events involving other religions and communities have taken place which have sought to not only open up the Church to an understanding and dialogue with those traditions, but also to proclaim as equals the Catholic Faith and interpretations of the religion of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, and particularly relevant to the Anglican Communion, there had been a not insignificant move away from position held for many centuries culminating with the conclusion reached in Apostolicae Curae that Anglican orders are ‘absolutely null and utterly void’. Despite there never having been an official retraction or amendment to that position, an attitude has arisen in sections of both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion that their respective clergy were speaking the same words each Sunday morning, wearing the same vestments, and were performing equally valid and wholesome acts: all this as if they were each utterly interchangeable.

Clearly, this is not the truth that comes from God as received by the Church whose teachings are as His own. Lumen gentium itself made clear that ‘the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as 'the pillar and mainstay of the truth,' as a society in the present world…subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him’.

The Creed is the identity of the Church expressed Sunday by Sunday during the Mass and declared by each individual wishing to assume that identity as their own in baptism. What is evident in the current pontificate is a clear longing for a recovery of this identity faithful to Christ’s own teaching which Anglicanorum Coetibus proclaims as ‘visibly manifested in the bonds of the profession of the faith in its entirety…united with its head, the Roman Pontiff’. The Holy Father has not only sought to recover traditional identity by drawing in Anglicans who hold firm to that which they received from S. Augustine and grew through faithful adherence to those teachings. The universal liberation of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite as something that ‘earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too’ in Summorum Pontificum reminds the Church of her holy tradition which has professed our blessed Faith in all generations. It is this calling to mind of the Truth that makes us free which the apostolic constitution seeks to achieve first and foremost. The pastoral concern of the Vicar of Christ for the sheep entrusted to him cannot accept the ever more aggressive advances of the dictatorship of relativism, whether inside communities of faith or otherwise.

The apostolic constitution itself responds to those who, as illustrated earlier, appear to hold confused positions on orders apart from the Church. Article VI outlines provisions for those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops to be ordained as priests. The document does not make any comment on whether they are, or even might in certain cases arguably be, deacons, priests, or bishops in the sense meant in the Catholic Church. Whilst it is entirely right, as the constitution quotes from Lumen gentium, that ‘many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside [the Church’s] visible confines’, Anglicanorum Coetibus requires even the tiniest element of doubt to be removed, and ordination to Holy Order to take place.  Why would anyone wish to argue that even an iota of doubt should be allowed to remain?

What is strongly stated immediately following that quotation is that the gifts of sanctification and truth properly belong to the Church, and as such ‘they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity’. Many commentators on the Church’s position on ecumenism and the position of other baptised communities fail repeatedly to grasp the implications and force of this statement. To include it in his apostolic constitution founding the Ordinariate is a clear statement from the Holy Father that we are to be strong and firm in the Faith, and not to shy away from boldly proclaiming it.

Since the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and particularly in the first days after its release, there has been widespread shock and criticism from leaders in the Anglican Communion, and indeed within the Church in England. Many expressed their distaste for the proactive approach taken by the Pope, and equated it with landing tanks in front of Lambeth Palace. Yet this is the mission of the Pope as Successor of St. Peter, the Rock on which Christ Himself wished to build His Church. Pope Benedict, in his own words, ‘could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realisation’.

Has the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham succeeded in its efforts to realise the will of Pope Benedict in this regard? Clearly the result of the first objective is of success. Over a thousand souls have been received into the Church through the Ordinariate, and the stream of men and women, young and old, of diverse backgrounds continues week by week. In many ways this success renders the remainder of this post redundant, as the most precious and immediately important concern of the Church is to bring as many as possible to partake in the sureness of salvation won on Calvary’s tree, guaranteed in the faithful reception of the sacraments as acts of love and devotion for the Lord.

Yet in reality the number of Anglicans who have felt the call of the Holy Spirit and obeyed the command of Christ to be one could have been higher. Explanations for this are certainly complicated and multifaceted, and they can also be confusing.  Some of those Anglo-Catholics who are still in the Church of England, claiming  to be remaining loyal to the church of their baptism, have themselves petitioned repeatedly and insistently for fuller communion with the Pope, and continue to pray for him in the Roman Canon each day, and affix images of him to sacristy walls, exactly as though they were in that fuller communion from which they, in fact, prefer to separate themselves. 

The Ordinariate is called in Anglicanorum Coetibus to proclaim afresh the Faith of the Church so that England may indeed be free. The brave decision of the Ordinary to lead the Forty Days For Life prayer vigil this Autumn is one powerful example of how the Ordinariate can achieve this objective in the fight against one of the greatest evils of our generation. The commitment of the laity and clergy of the Ordinariate to the fight against the redefinition of marriage has been exemplary, and the devotion of priests in the worthy celebration of the Mass has become an ordinary part of the Ordinariate’s daily cycle.

This is not to say that there remain no issues. There are some who have the mistaken impression that the Catholic priesthood in which Ordinariate clergy serve is identical to the Anglican priesthood in which they served so recently.  To take this view is to see their Catholic priestly ordination as merely a confirming in their pre-existing orders for the wider Church, signalling a failing in sacramental theology and also in understanding of the Catholic insight into holy orders. Similarly the sacrament of Confirmation which, along with Holy Orders and Baptism, cannot be repeated, with simulating such being sacrilege. It is absolutely wrong for clergy to preach or teach such divergences from the Faith, or to instruct candidates that they are merely continuing exactly what they have always enjoyed, with nothing whatsoever having changed. Whilst such deviations from the teaching of the Church are rare, they can be found, and for as long as they continue, the Ordinariate will have an extra challenge placed before it as it seeks to fulfill its fullest potential as a sign and symbol of Christ to the English people. Certainly we must preach to our separated brethren by kindly words, and we must at all times take great care to avoid arrogant pride: but in that spirit of friendship and humility, we must not hide or deny the integrity which we attained when we decided that it was indeed better to be together with the Sucessor of St Peter.

In the Vatican Council’s decree Unitatis redintegratio, the Fathers noted the numerous communities of the baptised which present themselves to men as the true inheriters of Jesus Christ, but also that whilst it is true that division amongst the baptised wounds the Church and causes scandal, those separated communities fall short of what those in the Ordinariate now achieve. It is essential, therefore, that the Ordinariate does not falter in its preaching of the Church being ‘the all-embracing means of salvation’, which all men must embrace so that they can be sure of being able to benefit fully from the means of salvation within her.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Christian! hence learn to do thy part and leave the rest to Heaven

On this great Feast of the Blessed John Henry Newman, we resolve once more to do our part in bringing the best that the Catholic Faith has to offer to those considering entering into communion with countless generations of saints both here on earth, and in the world to come. Yet as our patron rightly instructs us, it is only by the grace poured out from on high to a heart open to the promptings of Christ's own heart that a true conversion can be effected. We pray, therefore, for the conversion of England, and ask that Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners and Ark of the Covenant, may draw into the Barque of Peter all those for whom her Son prayed that they may be one.

Our Blessed Patron in cappa magna so in vogue with Catholic bishops and Anglican prelates alike

Monday, 8 October 2012

An opening of the heavens, a sudden gleam of supernatural brightness across a dark sky.

The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham began her celebrations of the feast of her patron, Bl John Henry Newman, yesterday with Solemn Evensong and Benediction at St. James's, Spanish Place. Typically high standards both in the choir loft and sanctuary gave due honour to our great patron, whose example of seeking after the Truth amid the encircling gloom remains ever relevant in an increasingly relativist world.

The Psalms

We have included a few preliminary photographs to give a fuller sense of the solemnity of the occasion alongside the exceptional sermon of the Provost of the Oxford Oratory, Fr Daniel Seward, who effortlessly drew connections between the pursuit of holiness and truth to which Bl John Henry devoted his life, and our own journey towards salvation.

The Very Reverend The Provost of the Oxford Oratory

On Thursday we shall begin the Year of Faith, which marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Both of these anniversaries give us a light on our own journey of faith. The Blessed John Henry Newman is often described as the “unseen Father of Vatican II” since his teaching, especially on the universal call to holiness, was so influential and came to a providential fruition at that Council. The Catechism we might see both as a great fruit of Vatican II and as a response to Newman’s call for an educated laity. The Catechism sets out for us in a comprehensive and accessible way the authentic teaching of the Church for our time. So how can Blessed John Henry be a companion for us in this Year of Faith? Above all it is in responding to the call of Lumen Gentium for us to form the People of God – each in our own place to form the Church, which is called to holiness. 

The saints show us that heroic sanctity is possible and necessary for us as Christians. They remind us of that call to holiness which is addressed to each of us, and they encourage us on our journey towards that perfection for which God has created us. St Philip used to say that we should never marvel at what the saints do, but rather at what God does in His saints. So here is the first qualification for holiness. If a person is merely a human marvel, that is no doubt a good thing, but it is not enough. He must point us beyond Himself to the God who is the source of all holiness. So to make someone a saint is not the equivalent of giving them the Nobel Prize or a kind of celestial knighthood, it is done for the glory of God alone. 

The deep wish to do God’s will and to pursue holiness marked out John Henry Newman from a young age, in a way that he saw very clearly to be a mark of Divine Providence. The Calvinist religion in which the young Newman began his spiritual journey attached great importance to God’s grace but very little to personal holiness. Yet his inner conversion at the age of fifteen was accompanied by an unusual conviction that God was calling him to a celibate life. St Paul said, “The world as we know it is passing away. I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord’s affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord”. So the young Newman, while still a Protestant, made that sacrifice of himself in witness to the transience of this world and the endurance of the kingdom of heaven. Celibacy is certainly not the only route to holiness of course, but for Newman, it was part of his conviction that God had a mission for him, a definite service, a work committed to him not given to any other.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost...

Holiness does not mean leaving the world – the saint lives in the world but he is not of the world. God’s own holiness means that He is infinitely separate from everything but Himself. He lives in unapproachable light – so that when the prophet Isaiah saw his great vision of the courts of heaven and the angels singing , “Holy, holy, holy”, he was overcome by terror that he, a man of unclean lips, should have seen the Lord of Hosts. Newman too had a profound reverence for the mysteries of the faith, which came from that Gift of the Holy Spirit which we call Fear of the Lord, or Wonder and Awe in God’s presence. King David tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom”, and so we can only start to approach holiness when we first realize our deep unworthiness and the infinite gulf that stands between us and God. The sense of the awfulness of sin – a concept so often glossed over – was a constant theme in Newman’s thought. Newman was uninterested in the value which the world at large might put upon a person – it is the state of his soul in the eyes of God that matters. So he told his hearers in one of his sermon The Salvation of the Hearer the Motive of the Preacher: “We may securely prophesy of every man born into the world, that, if he comes to years of understanding, he will, in spite of God’s general assistances fall into mortal sin and lose his soul…Now what a thought is this! what a light does it cast upon man’s present state! how different from the view which the world takes of it; how piercing, how overpowering in its influence on the hearts that admit it.” 

Where does this human tragedy of sin begin? Its starts, Newman tells us, with a distrust of the supernatural reality of prayer. Unless we are rooted in that relationship with God which prayer entails, unless we are truly convinced that our hidden life is more real than the affairs of this world – what hope have we to escape the snares that lie in our path? Only God’s grace. It is for this reason that all of John Henry’s endeavours were ultimately directed to the salvation of souls. On the day of his ordination as an Anglican Deacon in June 1824 he wrote, “I have the responsibility of souls on me until the day of my death”. The Apologia tells us that the young Newman wondered whether God were calling him to preach the Gospel among the heathen. In his youth, our Holy Father Saint Philip burned with zeal to shed his blood preaching the Gospel in the far East, but he was told by a holy monk, “Rome is to be your Indies”. Similarly, a few days after his first ordination as Deacon, Newman’s diary records that he went to the Church Missionary House to ask about the qualifications to be a missionary. From what he wrote later, it seems as though he may have been rather hoping for a negative response: “They say weakness of voice, shortness of sight, want of eloquence, are not sufficient impediments.” 

The Censing of the Faithful

Nevertheless, Oxford, and later Birmingham turned out to be Newman’s Indies. As a tutor at Oriel, he considered his role to be as much pastoral as academic and his primary concern was for the souls of his undergraduate charges. A burning desire to save souls is universal among the saints. It is a fire caught from our Lord Himself, who said, “I am come to send fire on the earth and what will I, but that it be kindled.” Newman says, “such a zeal, poor and feeble though it be in us has been the very life of the Church, and the breath of her preachers and missionaries in all ages. It was a fire such as this which brought Our Lord from heaven, and which He desired, which He travailed, to communicate to all around Him”. And it was this zeal which caused John Henry Newman to take the gigantic step he did in entering the Catholic Church in 1845 – not a purely abstract love of Truth, but a conviction that the Truth that the Church teaches is the Truth that will save our souls. 

The Entrance

The Victorian contemporaries of Newman brought many improvements to the world: sanitation, education, social mobility, improved communication and so on. The picture of the nineteenth century philanthropist is a fine and noble one. Today too, we have the example around us of so many who rightly try to solve the problems of poverty, climate change and other human woes. This is good. But is there something missing? Is there one problem which is greater than any of these – the peril faced by the human soul? It is very easy to confuse God who is Truth with other, lesser goods that He created. This was essentially the temptation that faced Christ in the desert. Pope Benedict, in his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, writes about this, saying, What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God...He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith hope and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little. Yes indeed, God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and lasting power. Again and again, God’s cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves. The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord at that time have all passed away. Their glory…has proved to be a mere semblance. But the glory of Christ, the humble, self-sacrificing glory of his love, has not passed away, nor will it ever do so.

The Magnificat

The world around us is transfixed by temporary realities – or even by things which are not real at all. This is not a new phenomenon. What we now call celebrity, Newman called notoriety and it was an equally potent force in the nineteenth century as in the twenty-first. Newman’s description of notoriety in Saintliness the Standard of Christian Principle has a strikingly contemporary ring to it:

Never could notoriety exist as it does now, in any former age of the world; now that the news of the hour from all parts of the world, private news as well as public, is brought day by day to every individual…And hence notoriety, or the making a noise in the world, has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground of veneration…Notoriety, or, as it may be called, newspaper fame, is to the many what style and fashion, to use the language of the world, are to those who are within or belong to the higher circles; it becomes to them a sort of idol, worshipped for its own sake, and without any reference to the shape in which it comes before them. It may be an evil fame or a good fame; it may be the notoriety of a great statesman, or of a great preacher, or of a great speculator, or of a great experimentalist, or of a great criminal; of one who has laboured in the improvement of our schools, or hospitals, or prisons, or workhouses, or of one who has robbed his neighbour of his wife…

The contrast that the Christian religion sets up to the love of celebrity or notoriety is that of saintliness.

“Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning”. Our famous men are not the passing stars of this world but those whose names will live to all generations. This is why the Church gives us saints, Newman tells us: 

They are always our standards of right and good; they are raised up to be monuments and lessons, they remind us of God, they introduce us into the unseen world, they teach us what Christ loves, they track out for us the way which leads heavenward. They are to us who see them, what wealth, notoriety, rank, and name are to the multitude of men who live in darkness, - objects of our veneration and of our homage.

It is for this reason that we rejoice that our Cardinal has become the Blessed John Henry Newman. He stands as a reminder that there is a higher life than this daily one, and a brighter world than that we see. He is a testament to the supernatural reality of Truth, and that the salvation of our souls is the only real goal of life. He must be for each of us an inspiration to strive for holiness. We may not be able to imitate Newman’s soaring intellect, his academic endeavour, or his grasp of fine detail, but we must be impelled to see in him “an opening of the heavens, a sudden gleam of supernatural brightness across a dark sky.” “Let us follow the saints, as they follow Christ”, and let us follow John Henry Newman in his kindness, his faithfulness, his docility to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, his confident trust in the supernatural reality of our holy religion and in his holiness. May he come to show to our own time the resplendent holiness of our Creator, who is for ever blessed in His angels and in His saints.

Tantum ergo...

Further photographs may be found here.