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.



  1. I can understand the "reordination" of Anglican clergy being required as a means for the removal of all doubt, although your piece appears to hold open the possibility that some Anglican clergy may well have orders which are valid in the Catholic sense. Why then are "reordinations" unconditional rather than conditional, especially as you state that the repetition of the life sacraments is sacrilege?

    1. @Anon: You make a very interesting point. As you rightly point out there is room for interpretation within this post for certain Anglican Orders to be 'valid' in some cases, and this was intentional. It would be foolish to conclude otherwise following such cases as Mgr Graham Leonard. The phrase employed in the post was 'valid and wholesome'. The concept of validity is, more or less, a uniquely Western phenomenon which carries with it a multitude of dangers, such as the brutal minimalism seen both before and after the Second Vatican Council in relation to the Mass. The idea that it is fitting for Holy Church to offer the principal Sunday celebration of the Holy Sacrifice week by week with Low Mass, ie without full ceremonial and appropriate music, is wholly alien to the historical tradition and patrimony of the Latin Rite, where the ordinary expression of the Mass is that celebrated by the bishop with solemn ceremony. (That, however, is another 'blog post in itself).

      The argument, then (and I do not speak with authority in this regard, naturally), is that whilst some outside the Church may possess 'valid' orders, in a scientific sense, their sacramental acts fail to live up to the fullest merit and grace that those of a priest in communion with Christ's Church do. Yes, there are many elements of sanctification and truth outside the Church, but just as the man who, in a state of mortal sin brings condemnation upon himself and any grace received simply flows away as water through a sieve, so the sacramental acts of a priest outside the Church cannot be wholesome in the sense of giving true and fitting glory to Almighty God. Besides, it seems sensible, and Catholic, to trust in the teachings of Christ's Church and venerate them as His own.

      A more considered and concise proposed answer will be given in Part II.

  2. This touches on contentious grounds as you appear to be introducing the concept of a sacramental act, which rather than being either effective or ineffective, is somehow "partially effective". I write here as an Anglican, but it would perhaps be the case that priests operating outside the Catholic Church are held by the that Church to be "unworthy", in the sense addressed in the 39 Articles. I am interested to read in your subsequent posts how there is an objective lack of sacramental grace in the Anglican communion, and also how unconditional "reordination" avoids the risk of sacrilege.

    ARTCLE XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
    Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

    Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.

  3. Sorry not to have made myself clearer. I do not dispute the effectiveness of any validly ordained priest uttering valid words over valid matter with a valid intention. Again, to do so falls into the trap I was suggesting the Latin Church seems to have done. Rather, effective or not, it seems a misuse/dishonour to the Lord to utilise one's validity and effect the sacrament outside the Church which was the visible confines within which Christ Himself ordained the sacraments to occur. Let us not forget that the Mass is not simply about performing a function in terms of manufacturing the Body and Blood of the Lord, but also, and more importantly, about worshipping God in a way in which He Himself has provided for us: that is through re-presenting the sacrifice of His Son offered once, only once, and once for all.

    As I said, more to follow. These are simply initial thoughts hastily written down in spare moments in the office.

  4. @ Anon, you might also find the following post of interest. It clarifies the misunderstanding that, in some way, the position outlined above, and indeed the whole subject of the Ordinariate in general, require people to deny or denigrate their Anglican past. That particular misunderstanding could hardly be further from the truth.