In Westminster Cathedral, on New Year’s Day, three former Anglican Bishops were quietly received into full communion with the Catholic Church. It was not done with great fanfare, but it marks the start of something important: the Anglican Ordinariate in the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church recognises that there is a rich heritage in the Anglican Communion: this heritage includes music, liturgy, customs and traditions which have shaped and formed the spiritual lives of millions of people in the English-speaking world. The Ordinariate will allow Anglican clergy and their congregations to “come over to Rome” and bring this heritage with them. They will be fully part of the Roman Catholic Church under the guidance and direction of the successor of St Peter. They will keep their own traditions, including that of a married clergy. They will be sharing in something extraordinary: a new chapter in the healing of divisions between Christians, a daring adventure of faith and commitment, a recognition that the wounds of the Reformation must not be allowed to fester, a journey of hope that offers a joyful message.
The new approaches to ecumenical discussions that emerged following the Second Vatican Council saw some dramatic moments: first Pope John XXIII, and then the Popes who followed him, had cordial meetings with successive Archbishops of Canterbury; Pope John Paul II visited Britain; and there were Royal visits to Rome. In 2010, Pope Benedict made a State Visit to Britain, and prayed together with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and there was an ecumenical gathering of Christians in London’s magnificent Westminster Abbey. All of these things would have seemed unthinkable in the first years of the 20th Century. Now, as the second decade of the 21st century opens, there are new doors opening and great new adventures beckon.
The Ordinariate will face many challenges and problems at first. What churches will be available for Ordinariate use? How many people will actually join this new venture? Will not the lure of old familiar things in the end prove stronger than the longing for unity with Rome and the reality of communion with the worldwide Church? What financial provision can be made for the married clergy and their families?
The three former Anglican Bishops, who are now fully in communion with Rome, will shortly be ordained first as deacons and then as priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Next, will come a number of clergy and the lay faithful. As you read this, people in Anglican parishes are already making their own decisions about following them into the Ordinariate. Watch and pray.