St George’s Cathedral in Southwark is London’s “other” Catholic Cathedral. The more famous is Westminster Cathedral, which stands in Victoria Street, not far from the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. St George’s is on the southern bank of the Thames, and is the cathedral for the diocese of Southwark, which stretches right down to the coast, covering not only the South London suburbs but part of the county of Surrey and all of the county of Kent. This Southwark cathedral, designed by Augustus Pugin, is chiefly famous for having been almost completely destroyed by bombing in World War II, and then rebuilt to its former grandeur.
And it was here at St George’s that Archbishop Peter Smith ordained seven men, former Anglicans, to the Catholic priesthood on Saturday June 4th. These are men of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and will serve the groups of Anglicans they have brought with them into full communion with the Catholic Church. They will serve under the Ordinary, Monsignor Keith Newton, a former Anglican bishop who, along with two other former Anglicans, was ordained as a Catholic priest in January. Throughout June, other groups of men will be similarly ordained as Ordinariate Catholic priests in Catholic cathedrals around Britain.
The ordination at St George’s was a moving occasion – perhaps the more so because it lacked the considerable national interest and media coverage attending the ordination of the former bishops at Westminster Cathedral back in January. The Ordinariate is now taking shape, and the congregation at St George’s consisted not only of the groups of former Anglicans who will be forming the new Ordinariate parishes, but also a good number of people who are still Anglicans and who are either actively considering joining the Ordinariate or are having a “wait and see” time, or who simply came along as a gesture of goodwill to old friends.
There was glorious music – Schubert’s Mass No. 2 in G Major plus some fine old hymns including “Thy hand O God has guided” and “Soul of my Saviour”. The prayers included a recognition of the service given by these men in the Church of England. The litany of the saints which, as at all ordinations, was chanted as the men lay prostrate before the altar, included invocations to Our Lady of Walsingham and to Blessed John Henry Newman. The latter, by special decree of Pope Benedict, is the Patron of the Ordinariate.
Some of the men are married, and their wives brought their vestments to them – one young wife rather touchingly hurrying along down the aisle with a small over-excited child in tow. The final hymn was one with which High Church Anglicans have long been familiar but which is not known to Catholics. It honours Our Lady of Walsingham and its opening verse proclaims:
“Joy to thee Queen! Within thine ancient dowry
Joy to thee Queen! For once again thy fame
Is noised abroad and spoken of in England
And they lost children call upon they name!
Ladye of Walsingham! Be as thou hast been
England’s protectress – our Mother and our Queen.”
After the Mass, all gathered in the Amigo Hall – named after a former Archbishop of Southwark who would, I think, have been amazed at what was taking place – for drinks and a buffet, and much lively talk, and the newly-ordained dispensed blessings and received congratulations, and there was much goodwill and a great sense of celebration.
There are however great challenges ahead. The Ordinariate lacks funds, and has to house these clergy and find places where they can celebrate Mass with their communities and build up parish life. Perhaps in the longer term it will be possible to borrow or share some Anglican churches – but that isn’t likely for some while yet. Local Catholic parishes are trying to make space for them, but this isn’t always easy: a busy Catholic parish has, typically, a Saturday evening Mass, at least two morning Sunday Masses and an evening one. Finding a “time-slot” for the Ordinariate is not always straightforward. Housing is an even greater worry as house prices, especially in the South of England, are very high and still rising.
Anyone wanting to help can donate through the Ordinariate’s website: go to http://www.ordinariate.org.uk/donate.htm
The Ordinariate needs the prayers and support of all who long to see the 400-year-old breach in England’s Christian story healed. It is the newest chapter in a long story, and involves men leading their communities forward with courage and faith.