By Christopher Wells
On Saturday, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham celebrated its tenth anniversary with a Solemn Mass and the chanting of Te Deum, the Church’s hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Due to restrictions in place to halt the spread of Covid-19, the ceremony live-streamed over the internet, with limited physical participation of the faithful.
The Ordinariate was established on 15 January 2011 as a direct result of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Consitution Anglicanorum coetibus, the Church’s response to the desire expressed by groups of Anglicans to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.
“The successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches, could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization,” Pope Benedict wrote in the Constitution.
The first Personal Ordinariate
Our Lady of Walsingham was the first Ordinariate to be established under the provisions of Anglicanorum coetibus. “The Ordinariate is a structure set up in the Catholic Church, rather like a diocese, but it's not geographical,” explained Monsignor Keith Newton, Our Lady of Walsingham’s first Ordinary. “But it’s a jurisdiction specifically set up following the constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, which was published in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI to allow groups of Anglicans, priests and people, to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, but bringing with them, in the way of gifts to offer to the wider universal Church, something of their patrimony – spiritual, liturgical – which are in conformity with Catholic doctrine.”
Monsignor Newton is one of three former Anglican Bishops who have been part of the Ordinariate from its inception. He spoke with Vatican News on the Ordinariate's tenth anniversary. Asked about the role of the Ordinariate in the life of the Church, Msgr Newton responded, “I suppose it’s a question that ought to be asked by others outside the Ordinariate rather than those within.” However, he added, “I would like to think that we are making a contribution. I mean, I think we are prophetic in pointing the rest of the Church to ecumenical possibilities.” He noted that the Ordinariate is the first structure providing for ecclesial groups “forged in the years of the Reformation of the west” to be brought back into full communion with the Church “bringing with it some of its own traditions.”
Distinctive elements from the Anglican tradition
While emphasizing its ecumenical significance, Msgr Newton also pointed to the opportunity for the Ordinariate “to bring something of ‘Englishness’ into the Catholic Church.” He recalled the long Catholic tradition in England prior to the reign of King Henry VIII, and spoke of the need to “re-find and remind ourselves" of some of those traditions.
Monsignor Newton pointed in particular to the English liturgical tradition, which has been incorporated into the liturgical texts now approved for use in the Ordinariate. “There is a sort of beauty of holiness,” he said. “There’s a very… important emphasis by members of the Ordinariate on liturgy being the best that we can do.”
He also highlighted the “very beautiful and important” tradition of hymnody in the Anglican tradition, as well as the relationship between the laity and clergy of the Ordinariate, which he described as “a sort of closeness… which comes from our life in the Church of England.”
Finally, Msgr Newton described an attitude of evangelization, expressing the hope that the Ordinariate might offer a reminder that the Church is called “to preach to everyone,” and provide an inspiration for a wider approach to mission.
The great diversity of the Church
Acknowledging that the Ordinariate is a relatively small segment of the Church, Msgr Newton said nonetheless, “I think as people meet us they see we are an authentic part of the Catholic Church, and shows the great diversity that the Catholic Church is.” He lamented that many Catholics do not realize how the diverse the Church is, pointing in particular to the many Eastern churches, which he described as “very beautiful parts of the universal Church, but unknown to so many people.”
“I think the Church is not uniform, it is very diverse,” he said, adding that the Ordinariate “is just part of that beautiful diversity.”