A new idea of the Ordinariate is emerging

The plans for the Ordinariate for ex-Anglicans are gathering pace. One of the last things Pope Benedict XVI said before leaving Britain, and one of the most important, was to emphasise that the Ordinariate is the next step towards Church unity. It was not the step that we were led to expect during the years of negotiation with Anglicans about corporate unity. But it is prophetic – and the prophet in question is our present Holy Father, who believes that Anglicans who already accept the Magisterium of the Church should be given freedom to worship and evangelise in communion with Rome as a matter of urgency.

A new image of the Ordinariate is emerging. When Anglicanorum coetibus was first published, the media and some religious commentators depicted it as a halfway house for “disaffected” Anglo-Catholics who were “defecting” from the Church of England and other Anglican churches around the world. That language is increasingly redundant. The leaders of the Ordinariate project have passed through their stage of disaffection. As the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, the Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet and one of the architects of the scheme, made clear at an Anglo-Catholic synod held immediately after the Pope’s visit, we will soon see the formation of “small congregations, energetically committed to mission and evangelism and serving the neighbourhood in which they are set”. Similar plans are being drawn up in other countries with a strong Anglican presence: last week, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington was chosen to oversee the formation of Ordinariate parishes in America.

It is time to set aside, for the time being, the much-debated question of how many Anglicans will take advantage of the Apostolic Constitution. Let us focus instead on the core words of Bishop Burnham’s message: his flock is “energetically committed to mission and [local] evangelisation”. Future members of the Ordinariate are offering to help revitalise the Christian mission of the Catholic Church in England and several other countries. It is a wonderful prospect, made possible by their faithful witness to the Gospel over many years and the vision of the Holy Father. Ignore the cynics and hand-wringers who see only difficulties in this historic development: we live in exciting times.