Magnificent Art Exhibition in Westminster Cathedral; Inside the Anglican Ordinariate

Magnificent art – on doors! Artist Greg Tricker paints on wood – including on old wooden doors, finding the texture of sturdy, matured wood somehow ideal for strong religious images.

Some fine examples of his work are currently on display in Westminster Cathedral, and I went along to look at them. There is a beautiful painting of Our Lady, serene and calm, with a dove in her hand, her strong gaze taking us out beyond the picture. There is a charming painting of Christ the boy-child, sweet but sturdy, innocent but somehow wise. There is a John the Baptist, depicted in prison; on this particular painting, the iron bars of a black door-hinge merge into the painting, forging a strong image of prison-bars. These are magnificent images, and they fit well into the chapels in the Cathedral which have been set aside for them. The chapels – dedicated to St Paul and St Andrew – always attract visitors (the chapel of St Andrew, who was of course a fishermen, has images of lots of different kinds of fish set in its marble floor), but the display of artwork is drawing in more people than usual: people ponder and longer, and the atmosphere is prayerful.

Another gathering at Westminster this week – the newly-formed Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – held a reception at Archbishop’s House, adjacent to the Cathedral. The Ordinariate was established by the Holy Father to welcome groups of Anglicans who wished to unite with the Catholic Church, bringing with them their own traditions in music and liturgy and parish life. Some 60 clergy have joined the Church in this way along with over 1,000 laity, and there are Ordinariate groups in various parts of Britain. None were able to bring their own church buildings into the new arrangement. Most are using Catholic parishes, their “Ordinariate Mass” fitted into an already overcrowded parish schedule, thus getting an awkward Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon slot.

The Ordinariate badly needs funds. Some of the clergy are married with children. In addition to their housing and salary requirements, there are the basic needs of some modest administration for the Ordinariate as it grows. In the long term, it would be right for these parishes to have their own churches. There are massive possibilities for evangelisation as the Ordinariate finds its voice and vigour in the mission-field that is modern Britain.

Cardinal William Levada flew to London from Rome to attend this reception and spoke to a packed room in Archbishop’s House: people were there from many different Catholic groups and organisations and the event was sponsored by the Catholic Herald newspaper. The Cardinal was welcomed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark was also present, along with Westminster’s retired Archbishop, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

At the moment, the Ordinariate – just a few months old – is finding its way through all manner of small complicated problems. It really needs a central London church which could be its official “Cathedral”, but the London Catholic churches are all full and busy already: any spare empty building is not to be found in the heart of a thriving city, but is more likely to be a disused convent or college chapel in an unhelpful place. Funding, as already mentioned, is a big worry. And there are the practical questions: why not simply employ the Ordinariate clergy in current parishes and encourage the newly-arrived ex-Anglicans simply to merge into the rest of the Catholic community? How crucial is it to maintain Anglican traditions and customs and heritage?

My impression, as I have talked to various people, is that there is a real desire that the Ordinariate should work well – that it should warmly and enthusiastically embrace its true role and bring the best of a rich Anglican heritage to the wider Church, and not shirk this task. The Catholic community should dig into its pockets to make sure that this is all possible, and that this great venture dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham takes its place in the re-evangelising of Britain in this 21st Century.