St Mary's Convent
OXON. OX12 9DJ
Saturday 8 December 2012
Dear Associates and Friends,
I am writing to share with you some developments within the Community. Since 2009, when Pope Benedict issued an invitation for groups of Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, sisters have come to speak to me privately and in strictest confidence as Mother, about their individual sense of call to take this route into full communion; to become Catholics as part of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (‘the Ordinariate') whilst also remaining members of the Community. I allowed each sister time to explore her growing and deepening sense of calling. When it became clear that there was a critical mass of sisters across the board, in more than one house, who were experiencing the same call, I sought the permission of each to share this with the whole Community.
CSMV was born in the Oxford Movement and has always been an Anglican community within that tradition. Some sisters were experiencing a call to remain Anglicans within this tradition, whilst others were experiencing a call to come into full communion with the Catholic Church whilst also continuing this tradition.
What is important is that sisters were experiencing this call as part of a Community - a family - sisters were not simply responding as individuals. There is inherent within this sense of call to full communion, the call to remain together. This is the reason that a number of us, me included, are being drawn into the Catholic Church by this particular route. The Ordinariate has opened the possibility for groups of Anglicans to remain together, and the structures have been specifically created to welcome Religious, Priests, and laity in groups. As a group, we believe that this is the way we are being called to live out our vocation to the Religious Life, that is within the Anglican tradition and united to the Catholic Church.
Naturally, this is broader than the Church of England's decision to ordain women either to the priesthood or the episcopate, and indeed one sister who has received ordination in the Church of England is part of this group. It will be possible to retain much of our Anglican heritage and traditions within the Ordinariate and the Sisters' Anglican roots have been welcomed in this provision. In fact some of what CSMV traditionally do best, our Divine Office and our English Plainchant, is precisely what is being welcomed by Pope Benedict as - in his words - ‘a treasure to be shared' with the whole of the Catholic Church.
The Community as a whole discerned a movement of the Holy Spirit and so decided that it wanted each sister to respond to her calling, but for sisters to stay together as a Christian family sharing a common heritage and, in effect, living together as one Community, helping to set all ‘our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion' (cf. Pope Benedict, Oscott College, 19 September 2010). At this point the Community involved the ecclesiastical authorities of both the Church of England and the Personal Ordinariate to explore how this might be made possible. This has involved a combination of canon and civil law, and necessitated the intervention of specialist ecclesiastical lawyers.
The whole Community had hoped that the two communities - Church of England and Catholic - would be able to worship together in the Divine Office as at present but that there might be appropriate Eucharistic provision for both communities: for all sisters, and all guests. In all other respects, that all sisters would live and serve together as a truly ecumenical community here at Wantage. But after considerable discussion with the authorities of the Church of England and the Ordinariate, it has become clear that this would not be possible. Certainly, those who wish to become part of the Ordinariate always wanted to remain at Wantage, chiefly in order to be able to care for our elderly and frail sisters.
However, it has become clear that two self-governing communities will be required and it has been agreed the Ordinariate Community will eventually relocate from Wantage; a painful decision for the whole of CSMV.
Of the twenty two sisters who currently live at the Convent at Wantage, eleven of us believe that we are being called into the full communion of the Catholic Church as part of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. This discernment has been reached after constant prayer and in discussion with spiritual advisers. These eleven sisters are in the main, but not exclusively, the able bodied members who provide the work and management to keep the Community going, so, since the Ordinariate Community do have to relocate, considerable time has been spent and will continue to be devoted to ensure that the remaining members of CSMV will be well cared for: spiritually, physically, emotionally as well as financially.
The sisters who are seeking to enter the Catholic Church, including myself, will be received into full communion on 1 January 2013 by Monsignor Keith Newton, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and will form a new Religious Community under the auspices of the Ordinariate. This new Community will be known as the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Following reception into the Catholic Church, we will temporarily leave Wantage to stay for six weeks with a Catholic Convent for the opportunity for formation together as this newly formed Community. It is planned that after this we would return to Wantage, temporarily and as guests, whilst we seek out a new permanent home. Even whilst away we will continue to provide support of every kind for those sisters who remain.
Those of us who will now enter into the Ordinariate have always had the care of our elderly and frail sisters uppermost in our minds. It has never been our desire or intention that our fellow sisters who choose to remain in the Church of England should be neglected in any way; quite the contrary. We have been working ceaselessly to ensure that in our absence there will be continuing care for those sisters who remain and who need it and that suitable trustees of the CSMV's charity will be appointed in place of myself and my co-trustees. This has now been put in place. When we return temporarily, we will be able to help provide support and assistance for the remaining CSMV sisters as they make decisions about their longer term future.
Until all the legal complexities were complete in this matter, CSMV did not know exactly how the Community would move forward and what implications there might be which is why we have not been able to say anything to you before now.
I was concerned for our Associates and Friends to hear what is happening direct from the Community which is why I am writing to you now. There simply is no other information at this point but I wanted to share with you where things have reached. None of us know quite where God is leading us all but as St Paul puts it, "we walk by faith, not by sight". (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the help which the Bishop of Oxford and Visitor to the Community, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, and the Diocesan Registrar, Canon John Rees have given us in reaching a settlement which will allow the new Ordinariate community, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to continue the founding work of the Community of St Mary the Virgin within the Catholic Church, whilst continuing to support those sisters who remain within the Church of England.
Please continue to pray for all of us as we pray for you, as together we all seek to love and serve the Lord.
Yours in Christ,
Reverend Mother CSMV
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