Monday, March 08, 2010

Anglican Personal Ordinariates

On Wednesday, the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in America announced that they met in Orlando with Reverend Christopher Phillips of the 'Anglican Use' Parish of Our Lady of the Atonement (San Antonio, Texas). The purpose of the meeting the decision was made formally to request the implementation of the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution 'Anglicanorum Coetibus' in the United States of America by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith." The Anglican Church in America, which I guess is currently not part of the Anglican Communion, consists of about 5,200 members in 100 parishes. As far as I know, this will be the first chunk of Anglicans to make use of the provisions laid down in Anglicanorum Coetibus, which was promulgated November 9th, 2009.

In that document, the Pope proposes bringing Anglicans into full union with Rome by offering them a personal ordinariate. While many are comparing the proposed personal ordinariates with the personal prelature status of Opus Dei, my understanding is that the two are a little different, though both are "personal" as opposed to territorial organizations (such as a diocese). The main differences are that the single personal prelature of Opus Dei is worldwide with no recognized boundaries, and that Opus Dei is formally composed of only priests and deacons, while obviously the Anglican ordinariates will be composed of laity as well.

The Vatican itself has said a comparison to Military Ordinariates is more appropriate, though there are still differences here: there is only one military ordinariate per country, but Anglicanorum Coetibus foresees the possibility of multiple Anglican ordinariates within a single country, which will be established " as needed, in consultation with local Conferences of Bishops." Furthermore, the Anglican ordinariates sound like they will have a little bit more structure to them, with institutions such as a "governing council" that are lacking in the military ordinariates.

They are also different from the structures of the varying Eastern Catholic Churches, who are autonomous ("particular") churches, not part of the Latin rite. By contrast, the Anglican ordinariates would not be their own distinct rites; they would be part of the Latin rite but would have permission to adopt an "Anglican Use" liturgy, which I understand to be the Ordinary Form of the Mass modified to accommodate some elements of Anglican liturgical tradition.

The point is that these Anglican ordinariates will be a novel experiment, at least in the specific manner they will be implemented. I do not think there is anything wrong with this sort of novelty. Ecumenical relations is not something like the liturgy where novelty must always be viewed with suspicion. The reasons why various Christian communities are out of communion with Rome are based on specific, historical circumstances and biases that cannot always be overcome with a single, blanket solution. What worked for bringing about the Union of Brest in 1595 with the Ruthenians would not necessarily work with other groups, just as the 33 Articles of Union that came out of the Brest agreements could not just be transferred to other groups. Throughout her history, the Church has always dealt with groups returning to the Church on an ad hoc basis with various agreements, concords and terms of union specific to each group and its particular historical situation. Sometimes, as we see with Anglicanorum Coetibus, this may take the form of a novel canonical structure.

Therefore, I don't see any reason for Trads to get bent out of shape about this novel canonical structure. Nor do I know anybody who is bent out of shape about it; every Trad I have spoken with agrees that Anglicanorum Coetibus is an exceptional leap towards true ecumenism, an ecumenism of return rather than an ecumenism of endless dialogue. Rather than just talk about the need for unity, Benedict lays out a specific path and says, "If you are serious about unity, follow this road." Now we are seeing some Anglicans in America are beginning to walk down the path marked by Benedict. One reason this experiment has been successful is because Benedict is pursuing ecumenism in a manner consistent with the Church's tradition; instead of saying, "Let's get together and talk about the shared riches of our ecclesial traditions, as some eminent clergymen have suggested, Benedict follows the path laid down in the Church's history and says, "If you want to come back, do x, y and z and we'll do such-and-such to accommodate you."

Since these personal ordinariates are novelties, it will be quite interesting to see how they work; some are already saying that this could be a means of restoring the SSPX to union and even the Orthodox. I would say this is much more probable with the SSPX than the Orthodox, who have much more than twenty-two years of schism to overcome. Wherever this goes with regards to the SSPX or the Orthodox, it is at least already bearing good fruit with the Anglicans for whom it was created.

Nevertheless, I can see some potential difficulties with the state of affairs envisioned by Anglicanorum Coetibus.

In the first place, we must remember that the Anglicans are not in the same boat as the Eastern Orthodox, nor have they ever been regarded as such by the Church. The fact that they lost their ordination back in the time of Edward VI and the Protestantizing effects of centuries of "Low Church" influence have so altered the Anglican liturgy that it is a stretch in my opinion to treat it as if it were just like the liturgy of the Greeks or the Russians, who have valid Holy Orders, valid apostolic succession and liturgies that sometimes stretch back to the first centuries. The Anglican Church was deliberately built up by stripping their liturgy of everything Catholic, even changing the form of the sacraments so as to lose their validity. This liturgical "tradition" should not be treated as on par with the legitimate liturgies of the east.

But is this not the message we are sending when we allow returning Anglicans to enter into communion with Rome but maintain an 'Anglican Use' liturgy? I don't know enough about the Anglican liturgy to pretend to know exactly what the Anglican Use consists of or how different it is from the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but I cannot help but wonder if it is a little insulting to martyrs such as St. Edmund Campion and St. Oliver Plunkett who suffered martyrdom rather than accept the Anglican liturgy that is now going to be given a special place within the Catholic Church? While I can see there being good grounds for accepting as is a rite or liturgy that has valid sacraments and an ancient apostolic pedigree, I have a difficult time making the same case for a liturgy that was crafted by men who hated the Church and wanted to suppress Catholic doctrines.

I suppose the answer to this depends on exactly what the 'Anglican Use' consists of; I am certain Rome would not permit this liturgical expression to contain anything positively harmful to the faith. It could very well be that the 'Anglican Use' liturgies might be Anglican liturgies that are more heavily Catholicized and much more acceptable. Nor do I know if the 'Anglican Use' that members of the Anglicans in America group want to use is similar to the Anglican Use permitted by John Paul II in 1980 in a minority of parishes in the United States. It is quite possible that this Anglican Use contains many very traditional elements that Trads would be comfortable with. Yet if this Anglican Use does contain elements more associated with the origins of Anglicanism (such as a omission of prayers for the dead and references to sacrifice), then I could see there being good grounds for saying the Church of 2010 is being inconsistent with the Church of 1555. But again, it depends on what this Anglican Use consists of, which I don't profess to know anything about. If anybody knows, please enlighten me.

In the second place, while personal ordinariates seem to be ideal for incorporating entire groups into the Church without making thousands of people go through the rigmarole of taking RCIA classes, I wonder if there is not something lost in that the returning Anglicans now no longer need to make a real return? Will returning Anglicans get a real experience of the catholicity of the Church if they are allowed their own separate structures, complete with governing councils an ex-Anglican bishops? Would they not be better integrated as Catholics by being dumped into the mainstream Catholic population and fanning out into our dioceses and territorial parishes? In short, have they really made a return, or has Rome just decided to take them where they stand?

This might be a moot point, for one could easily make the argument that even those within the diocesan structure seldom get an true experience of the Church's catholicity. The confusion of the liberal crisis, decades of limp-wristed liturgies and rampant anti-Romanism ensure that the vast majority of Catholics in the mainstream Church in America do not get a deep experience of the Church's catholicity or her tradition. These Anglicans might not appreciate the mainstream Church in America anyway; after all, these are people who are leaving their church precisely because it is too liberal. How will they find the climate in most American parishes? It may be paradoxically true to say that they will get a greater exposure to the Church's catholicity by remaining in their personal ordinariates, much the same way that one who frequents an FSSP chapel gets a greater dose of the Church's catholicity than one who goes to the local new age territorial parish in the Diocese of Albequerque.

This is a shame, because we could truly use these people in our mainstream, territorial parishes. But I think that this whole situation is balanced on a fulcrum - as long as the Church in America as a whole is perceived as too compromising with the world, too hostile to tradition and too out of sync with the Holy Father, then I predict we will continually see the most disciplined, educated and traditionally minded persons filling up the ranks of independent chapels, these personal ordinariates, as well as more Latins "defecting" to the Byzantine Catholic rites; it's a kind of brain drain. On the other hand, when the Church at large begins to swing back to a more orthodox, traditional position, and this is commonly perceived by the laity, only then will you have these stalwart defenders of orthodoxy (like seminarians who currently get diverted into the FSSP) willing to join the mainstream Church and the territorial parishes.

It will be very interesting to see how events unfold. I give thanks to God for the 5,200 Anglicans returning home due to Anglicanorum Coetibus. I pray that these new personal ordinariates do serve as a helpful model upon which to base future ecumenical agreements. And I thank God for our Pope who is a true pope of ecumenism.

Sts. Edmund Campion and Oliver Plunkett, orate pro nobis!


Fr. Joseph Bittle said...

It was probably just a typo in your blog entry, but Fr. Christopher Philips is not the primate of the Anglican Church in America. He is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement, an Anglican Use parish of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Antonio.

Ben G said...

Here's a general defense of the Anglican Use by Ed Snyder:

God bless you.

(P.S. I think that should say "orate" pro nobis.)

Boniface said...

Ha...guess my post is just riddled with typos. Thanks guys.

Jack said...

I'm not sure that the Anglican use is offensive to the English martyrs, a friend of mine who is a former anglican says that the liturgy of the high church anglicans is much more Catholic than what passes for worship at the hippie Mass's.

(apparently the seminarians of high church anglicans even have their own liturgy for dunking each over in the well at walsingham)

Boniface said...


I agree with you over all; presumably, the Anglican Use will be "high church." But what I want to know is, even if it is a reverent liturgy, does it contain, for example, prayers written by Cranmer? If so, I think that would be offensive.

Ben G said...


It would indeed contain prayers by Cranmer, though as we know the prayers of the Common Book are not so much offensive for what they say, as for what they don't say. So, if this Anglican liturgy including explicitly Catholic prayers alongside the traditional Anglican ones, it shouldn't cause offense, except by their history.

By the way, Boniface, I was wondering if you knew the answer to this: why do many Anglicans refer to the table of the Eucharist as an "altar" even though they deny a sacrifice occurs there? I've seen it called an altar in Austen and I think Shakespeare and on television, etc. and found it strange.

God bless you!

Boniface said...

So, if this Anglican liturgy including explicitly Catholic prayers alongside the traditional Anglican ones, it shouldn't cause offense, except by their history.

That's my position, too. Are these prayers "Catholicized" verisons of the traditional Anglican prayers, or are they simply being assimilated with all their "Cranmerisms" and omissions? If so, then I don't know how I feel about treating this as a liturgy worthy of its own Use in the Catholic Church if it retains the omissions of the Edwardine period.

I'm going to give everybody the benefit of the doubt though and assume that these elements have all been looked into...

Re: something being offensive historically only, is that like how we sing hymns by Wesley (and even Luther) in the NO sometimes? LOL...