‘How Church history is made’

James Bradley reports on the beginning of the Ordinariate

Between 1 and 15 January 2011, a series of remarkable events took place, which have forever changed the landscape of Christianity in these islands. On New

Year’s Day, the former Anglican bishops of Ebbsfleet, Fulham and Richborough, together with two of their wives and three former Religious of the Society of St Margaret in Walsingham, were received into the full communion of the Catholic Church by Bishop Alan Hopes. Bishop Hopes, himself a former Anglican, not only received these eight people but also, in doing so, began the public process of erecting the first Personal Ordinariate under the terms of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. The Ordinariate represents the Catholic Church’s attempt to create a real ecclesial solution to the ongoingimperative of Christian unity at a time when developments within the Church of England have placed further, perhaps insurmountable, obstacles in way of that goal.

A moving occasion

Twelve days later, following a retreat with the Benedictines of Douai Abbey in Berkshire, the three men were ordained as deacons by Bishop Hopes in the chapel of Allen Hall, Chelsea, surrounded by family, friends and the staff and students of the seminary. It was, we all agreed, an intensely moving and humbling occasion.

I arrived early and slipped into the chapel to see the three gathered around the altar with Bishop Hopes as they made their vows. Little did they know that the words ‘Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham’ were very audible at the back of the chapel. The knowledge that all of this would be done under her mantle set the evening off to a good start.

At 5.30pm, the sacristy bell rang and the servers, ordinands, concelebrants (including a number of former Anglican clergymen and priests of the Archdiocese of Westminster) and principal celebrant made their way to the altar as Newman’s hymn, Firmly I believe and truly, was sung.

After the initial greeting, the Penitential Rite, and the singing of the Kyrie and Gloria in excelsis to Mass VIII (de Angelis), in Latin, seminarians from Allen Hall led the Liturgy of the Word. A young deacon – who had sung the Gospel during the Holy Father’s visit to Westminster Cathedral last year – proclaimed the Gospel before the Rite of Ordination began.

Patristic homily

Monsignor Tony Philpot then gave a very fine, solidly patristic homily which led into the Examination of the Candidates, Promise of Obedience, and the Litany of the Saints. The Litany was sung beautifully by the deacon and lustily by all present. It was too early to mention Our Lady of Walsingham – the name had not been made public yet – but Newman and the Douai martyrs made their way into the petition.

Following this, Bishop Hopes laid hands on the candidates and prayed the Prayer of Consecration over them. They were then vested in stole and dalmatic by their sponsors. This was accompanied by the singing of Veni Creator Spiritus.

After each was presented with the Book of the Gospels, the peace was shared between those in deacons’ orders, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist was begun as Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour was sung. Fr Keith Newton assisted at the altar whilst the other two new deacons assisted Bishop Hopes in receiving the gifts from the new deacons’ wives.

Importance of family

At the end of Mass, Mrs Burnham, Broadhurst and Newton came forward once more for a special blessing and thanksgiving for their own contribution to the life of the Church, and to the ministry of their husbands. This came across as a very generous and proper acknowledgment of the importance of the family, and the significance of the Catholic Church’s undertaking in erecting a Personal Ordinariate which will allow married clergy to be ordained in the Latin Rite in a more normative way than has been the case until now.

After the Mass the seminarians and staff of Allen Hall, together with Bishop Alan Hopes and others, made us all very welcome indeed as we enjoyed a glass of wine, some

delicious food and a few speeches.

As if that wasn’t enough, Saturday came very quickly indeed. Our small group from Sevenoaks caught the 08.59 to Charing Cross and then headed to Victoria, and to the Metropolitan Church and Cathedral of the Most Precious Blood, for the ordination to the priesthood of these three new deacons.

Ordination to priesthood

At 10.30am, the Mass began as around sixty concelebrants (including former Abbot Christopher Jamison osB, two archbishops, the General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, a good number of former Anglican clergy, Norbertines and Dominicans) approached the altar during Thy hand, O God, has guided by the nineteenth-century Anglican Divine, Edward Plumptre.

As the principal celebrant reached the foot of the sanctuary, the choir began the Latin plainchant Entrance Antiphon, Sacerdotes Dei, before the introductory rites of the Mass.

Announcement of title

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the principal celebrant, began the Mass with his own warm welcome, added to by words from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, William Cardinal Levada, whose own work and enthusiasm for this project has been invaluable. Cardinal Levada’s message not only expressed his personal good wishes for the ordinations, but also announced the official title of the Ordinariate, together with the patron, and that Fr Keith Newton would be the first Ordinary. He then conveyed the Apostolic Blessing of the Holy Father to all those gathered in the Cathedral. Victoria’s Missa O magnum mysterium was sung with real depth and joy by the men and boys of Westminster Cathedral Choir, and the chant was accompanied sensitively.

After the Liturgy of the Word and the introduction to the Rite of Ordination, the homily was given by the Archbishop of Westminster (which is published in this edition of ND). Archbishop Nichols described the occasion as ‘unique’ and ‘historic’, and paid homage to the ‘fruitfulness’ of the candidates’ former ministries in the Church of England. He also affirmed his commitment, and that of all Catholics, to the vision of full, visible unity between the two ecclesial communities toward which the Ordinariate is a small but ‘prophetic gesture’.

After this, the packed cathedral knelt in prayer as the candidates prostrated themselves before the altar for the Litany of the Saints. After the Laying on of Hands and the Prayer of Ordination, the priests were vested with the symbols of priesthood by their sponsors and wives. Their hands were then anointed with the sacred oil of Chrism and they were presented with the chalice and paten, which were brought forward by the former Walsingham sisters who had accompanied them on this journey.

Full of joy

Despite the sadness at a ‘parting of friends’, temporarily or otherwise, it was poignant to see many former Anglican clergy full of joy as they embraced their brother priests, once more, and welcomed them into the order of presbyters.

During the Eucharistic Prayer, each of the new priests, together with Bishop Alan Hopes, spoke aloud a part ofthe prayer. It was unnerving and comforting, in equal measure, to hear these well-loved voices amplified throughout this new environment.

Around half of those present at the Mass were unable to receive Holy Communion, and so many people went forward for a blessing as the choir sang Ave verum corpus by Edward Elgar. Before the final blessing, the Archbishop again affirmed his support and excitement for the new venture, declaring that ‘this is how Church history is made’.

Role in re-evangelization

At the end of the Mass the new priests were applauded – deafeningly – and were led out to Praise to the Holiest (another Newman hymn), to a tune by R.R. Terry, a former Director of Music of Westminster Cathedral, Billing, and a barrage of camera flashes.

The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham started small: three priests, three Religious, and two laity, but if the welcome and generosity shown by the Catholic Church in England and Wales that week is anything to go by, it won’t be long before it becomes a thriving part of the Church, taking an important role in the re- evangelization of these islands. It certainly seems as though it will give an honoured place to those who truly wish to focus on this task, finally getting off the battlefield and into the mission field. In the words of Ira Gershwin, ‘who could ask for anything more?’ ND

 

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