It’s Happening – A New Chapter Opens In Britain’s Long Christian History

This past Sunday, March 6, a number of Anglican clergymen across Britain made their farewells to their congregations. In Shropshire, in Hemel Hempstead, in Tunbridge Wells – I’ve deliberately chosen places at random from a long list – there were quietly dramatic moments as farewell statements were read from pulpits.

These are the Anglicans who are joining the new Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. A young Ordinariate wife has just been writing to me, describing the last – very beautiful – service of her husband in the church where he has been ministering for the past six years. After the service, her husband retired, reappearing in ordinary civilian clothes. There were goodbyes to members of the congregation who are not going with them into the new Ordinariate – and then a lunch. History in the making.

On Ash Wednesday, as Lent begins, the groups entering the Ordinariate begin a “Eucharistic fast,” attending Mass each Sunday – and weekdays too of course if they wish – at their local Catholic parishes, but not receiving Holy Communion. Throughout Lent, there will be talks and instruction. Then, either on Holy Thursday or at the Easter Vigil, depending on local arrangements, they will be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church. The former Anglican clergy will then go on to be ordained as Catholic priests at Pentecost, and from then onwards, a new parish life will begin, taking up the threads of the old, but with a new dimension.

And watch. Because these groups are beginning a great adventure – and one which is going to change things in Britain. It will not be very noticeable at first. But the effect will be substantial, rippling quietly through the spiritual lives of individuals and groups and communities in all sorts of ways.

The Ordinariate groups include young families: the new Ordinary, Father Keith Newton – who ranks on a level with the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, and is the spiritual father of the new Ordinariate – will be going from parish to parish to lead, to inspire, to consolidate.

The new Ordinariate parishes will grow: they will offer a beautiful Mass in the English language, taking advantage of the best of an Anglican tradition – the phrase being used all the time is the “Anglican patrimony” – and the new mood of the “reform of the reform” within the Catholic Church. They will offer Evensong in the Anglican tradition, but now within the fold of the Catholic Church and with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. There will be Sunday schools and choirs.

The number of Ordinariate groups is larger than had initially been thought. Each is having to make specific arrangements for the future. In most cases, there will be sharing arrangements with a local Catholic church. In some cases, a Catholic church or hall is being specifically set aside for Ordinariate use. As things grow and groups are consolidated, church buildings will be built or acquired – an old hall here, a disused church there – and parish life will thrive. There will be baptisms and confirmations. There will be parish groups and organisations, pilgrimages, parish bazaars and fetes and fundraising events, all the normal paraphernalia of parish life.

The ordinations of the former Anglican clergymen will make headlines at Pentecost, but, after that, things will appear to go quiet: and it is in the quietness that the real work will be done and the history written. The Anglican heritage is a great part of British life, and now it acquires a fresh dimension.

There is a lot of heartache involved in this – friends and members of families taking different paths as some join the Ordinariate and some do not. There is a sense of zest and enthusiasm among Ordinariate members, and also relief at a decision having been made and a project initiated. But there are also worries – financial, organisational, human. The last weeks have been a time of immense activity with all sorts of practical arrangements having to be made. Many more are still to be made.

Pray for the new Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. It has been placed under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman. And it is happening as the great John Paul II is being beatified, whose message to the world when he began his pontificate could usefully be taken as a message for this project too: “Do not be afraid!”