We traveled to Houston this weekend and went to Holy Mass at Our Lady of Walsingham, a church in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
I was delighted when Pope Emeritus Benedict established the Anglican Ordinariate years ago, but I had never gone to one of its churches. Until Sunday.
The parish is beautiful. It is like an acre of England has been cut out and dropped in Houston. The church itself looks like a classic Anglican (originally Catholic!) church.
The language of the liturgy is English, but the phrasing and words used are elegant, dignified, and mellifluous.
They have a great organ and accompanied it with traditional English hymns, sung very well. Much of the Mass was sung or chanted.
The Order of the Mass for the Anglican Ordinariate is what the English Mass should be: traditional, yet in the vernacular; accessible, yet reverent.
We’ve been to the Extraordinary Form (Latin) multiple times, and of course to the normal Ordinary Form (English) thousands of times, and the Ordinariate Mass captures the best of each Form in its own unique style.
What We Lost As English Catholics
In studying for many years the history of the Protestant Reformation, I have slowly realized the devastating loss that we as English-speaking Catholics have suffered due to King Henry VIII and the Anglican Protestant usurpation of Catholic England.
I know that sounds extreme, but it is the candid truth.
We should have had five hundred years of English Catholic music, culture, and life, but instead Catholics were hunted down and killed and the Church went underground there for a long time.
So Pope Emeritus Benedict showed great wisdom and brilliance in establishing the Anglican Ordinariate. He realized what we had lost, and he saw a way to retrieve some part of it, all while building a bridge to Anglicans (including Episcopalians) who have grown appalled at the fall of the Anglican Communion into unsalvagable heterodoxy.
He established the Ordinariate to include a reverent Mass, in English, of the Roman Rite, that also includes aspects of authentic Anglican patrimony. The result is a breath of fresh air: the accessibility of our English language with the reverence and tradition of the Extraordinary Form.
Regarding the lost English Catholic culture, most of the songs we sang were written by Anglican Protestants from the 17th through 19th centuries. One we sung lamented the “schisms and heresies” that wounded the Church. No doubt the original composer didn’t realize that his own Anglican community was in schism from the Church.
A New Via Media
Many Anglican Protestants believe their Communion to be a middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism. Sadly, it’s not the case.
Anglicanism is firmly Protestant, even though it retains some Catholic aspects (deacon-priest-bishop, a liturgy, etc.).
The Anglican Ordinariate is a via into full communion for Anglicans, and I think it can be a via media between the Ordinary Form and the Extraodinary Form.
I find it perplexing that two main options for Mass exist: an Ordinary Form English Mass with banal music and little reverence (clapping, slovenly dress, chatter and gum chewing, etc.), and a solemn, ethereal Extraordinary Form High Mass that is quite beautiful and reverent, but where it is difficult to follow what is going on.
A via media between those options is the Anglican Ordinariate’s liturgy. I see it as more like what the (Second Vatican) Council Fathers intended when they opened up the Liturgy to the vernacular. (For more on this, I recommend Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis.) The closest thing to it currently would probably be the Extraordinary Form Low Mass, which we’ve found to be quite warm and accessible when we’ve gone to daily Mass.
Distrusting Catholics Who Love Tradition
Many Catholics, including various priests and bishops, distrust anyone who seems like a “traditional Catholic.” That moniker has such a broad meaning that it render it unhelpful, but the stigma remains.
I conjecture that that distrust is why most bishops do not encourage the Extraordinary Form in their dioceses. In our diocese we have the Extraordinary Form celebrated at the Cathedral in the afternoon on Sundays. Blessedly, some priests in our diocese are learning the Extraodinary Form on their own and have celebrated it. Also, on the occasion that a seminarian from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is ordained and is from our area, that priest will often celebrate a daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form at our parish.
I also conjecture that the same sort of mistrustful feeling toward traditional Catholics is applied to the Anglican Ordinariate. I eyeballed the number of Anglican Ordinariate parishes in the United States and it can’t be more than 40 or so. Less than one per state! I don’t think we have even one Anglican Ordinariate parish in our diocese of over 100 parishes.
But why shouldn’t we have one? Or many? It would draw thousands of Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, and provide a haven for Catholics desiring more traditional liturgy. At Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston it was clear that many families drove long distances to come each week to the Sunday Mass.
Something Is Different Here!
You walk into Our Lady of Walsingham and know that you are in a different place, a consecrated place, a place set aside for holy use.
Yet the people have cheerful demeanors. They are peaceful and happy. It is not a stifled, stilted, or rigidly legalistic mood. The music is sacred and solemn, yet beautiful.
Many women are wearing veils. Because they want to. People are generally dressed in nicer clothes–not because they are richer–but because they know they are coming to a holy place and should dress appropriately.
They have an altar rail, which makes for reverent yet efficient reception of the Holy Eucharist. The best of both worlds. People receive on the tongue from ordained hands by intinction.
I’m not the pope, nor a bishop, nor a priest, nor even a deacon. I’m just a lay Catholic who wants his children to be immersed in authentic Catholic culture: liturgy, music, language, literature, dress, education, life. The liturgy is a key part of that. I would be ecstatic if the Anglican Ordinariate was brought into our diocese.
I think it would work wonders and be a seed planted that would sprout into new life, just as has happened with the Extraordinary Form in our diocese. Let us be not afraid to embrace our own patrimony and heritage! Let’s rediscover the beauty of our Faith, in particular of our Anglo-Catholic roots as English speakers, roots that go back over 1400 years.
I only wish that I had been Anglican so I could petition for the establishment of the Ordinariate in my diocese! However it works, let’s make it happen. God bless.