The Ordinariate’s liturgy is beginning to emerge: it will show us what might have been if the Ecclesia Anglicana had remained Catholic

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at Solemn Evensong and Benediction at Blackfriars, Oxford (Photo: Br Lawrence Lew, OP)

The Ordinariate Portal has now published part three of a lecture by Fr Aidan Nichols on the historical, theological and liturgical origins and possibilities of and for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Before going into what Fr Nichols has to say, a slight digression may be of interest (and will prove to be relevant). The dedicatory name of the English ordinariate indicates a definitely Anglican element in the Anglican patrimony which is a large part of Fr Nichols’s subject, which is that part of the tripartite Anglican tradition (Catholic, Latitudinarian and Puritan) which was never happy about the Reformation and consistently tried to mitigate its effects.

Anglo-Catholics today mostly have a deep devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham, not least because of the beautiful Anglican shrine there (which predated by well over half a century the architecturally prosaic Catholic shrine attached to the Slipper Chapel, the only intact remnant of the medieval shrine destroyed by Henry VIII). The modern Holy House (a replica of the Holy House of Loreto, whence the Anglican shrine, like the medieval shrine before it, has always called itself England’s Nazareth) was constructed from stones taken from the ruins of the religious houses destroyed at the Reformation, as a declared act of reparation for their destruction. At the annual national pilgrimage, as we all processed in our thousands from the chapel to the Abbey grounds for the Mass, we sang to the tune of the Lourdes hymn a long polemical song (you could hardly call it a hymn) in many verses (for the complete version, see here) including the following:

The Canons and Friars built houses around
And the praises of God were a regular sound.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria

And Kings, Lords and commons their homage would pay
And the burning tapers turned night into day.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria

But at last came a King who had greed in his eyes
And he lusted for treasure with fraud and with lies.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria

The order went forth; and with horror ’twas learned
That the Shrine was destroyed and the Image was burned.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria

And here where God’s Mother had once been enthroned
The souls that stayed faithful ’neath tyranny groaned.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria

And this realm which had once been Our Lady’s own Dower
Had its Church now enslaved by the secular power.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria

And so dark night fell on this glorious place
Where of all former glories there hardly was trace.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria

No Catholic pilgrimage in these ecumenical times could have sung anything so root-and-branch hostile to the English Reformation as we Anglo-Catholics could, when we were still (it seems incredible now) fighting for the re-Catholisation of Anglicanism, a forlorn hope finally ended by the ordination of women to the Anglican priesthood. That brings me to what Fr Nichols has to say about the liturgy which has now been submitted to Rome for its recognitio: that his words have been posted by the Ordinariate Portal indicates that what he says is from the horse’s mouth, and that it is anticipated that these proposals will be authorised:

“…. with the promulgation of Anglicanorum coetibus a small liturgical commission was established, with responsibility from the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to see to the needs of a new situation… [this decided that] The English Prayer Book tradition was to be Catholicised by reference to its own principal ancient source – the Use of Sarum – while at the same time taking into account the best elements of contemporary worship available, whether from the Roman Missal of 1969 … or from modern Church of England best practice. In this process, what was objectionably Protestant about the Prayer Book Eucharist would vanish away, yet what would remain would still testify to ‘Anglican patrimony’, albeit in the new context of canonical as well as doctrinal and sacramental union with the Latin church. This describes, then, the draft forwarded in March 2011 for recognitio by the Holy See…

“…The setting up of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (altogether freed from state supervision and united with Rome) created just the conditions in which substantial elements of the English liturgy of the pre-Reformation period could be married with those features of the Prayer Book that still held the affection of many, together with the best products of Roman rite revision and its Church of England counterpart. The result may be considered the sort of Eucharistic Order Cranmer might well have established had he been doctrinally orthodox (and lived in the 20th century).

“There were no comparable difficulties attached to the other texts in the proposed English book: the daily Offices of Mattins and Evensong (to which, following the example of the 1928 proposed Prayer Book, an Office of Compline and a Day Hour were added; the Litany; the Lectionary (for the Office as well as for the Mass), and rites for marriage and funerals – though the inclusion in the latter of explicit prayer for the departed (and not simply for the bereaved) was strengthened by the addition of the Sarum rites for the commendation of the dead person which followed on the Requiem Mass. The calendar proposed was the current seasonal calendar of the Church of England, itself of Sarum origin, together with the cycle of festivals as found in the 1970 General Calendar of the Roman rite, and a number of English or British commemorations, in excess of those in the National Calendar for England and Wales (though not necessarily exceeding the total number of saints in the local calendars of English and Welsh [and Scottish] dioceses were to be added together).

“There was one unusual feature of the Office of Mattins. Following contemporary Church of England precedent, the second reading at Mattins could be drawn from post-biblical sources. In the context of the Latin Church, the Roman rite Office of Readings is an obvious source for these, but the book drafted for the English Ordinariate contains an alternative cycle for Sundays and feasts taken from insular sources. A number of these are taken from patristic writers (Bede, Aldhelm), medieval sources (John of Ford, Mother Julian, Nicholas Love), and English Catholic martyrs (Fisher, More, Campion), but the larger number derive from the Anglican patrimony (the Caroline divines and their Restoration successors, the Tractarians with particular reference to Newman, and a selection of later Anglo-Catholic writers). It is, as it were, a testimony to what might have been had the English Reformation proceeded on Catholic lines, as did the Catholic Reformation in much of continental Europe. No Baptismal liturgy or liturgy for Confirmation has been provided, on the twofold ground that Anglicanism has not produced a version of such a liturgy which has endeared itself to its faithful, and also that there is something especially fitting about the use in an Ordinariate of the rites of the Roman liturgy for Christian initiation, as a sign of belonging to the wider Latin church (and thus to the Catholic Church as a whole). The same congruence might well be ascribed to the use of the ordination rites of the mainstream Latin Church.”

The angels (not, I think, the devil) will be in the detail: this is a book I cannot wait to have in my hands. Even what we now know from Fr Nichols’s description is a more than ample response to those sneering Roman Catholics who have said “Anglican patrimony? What Anglican patrimony? Why can’t they just become Roman Catholics: what exactly is it that they want to hang on to?” Well, that is what they will be hanging on to. If envy were not a sin, I might be jealous of the great riches they will be bringing with them, if they were riches from the use of which we were personally debarred. It is, says Fr Nichols, “a testimony to what might have been, had the English Reformation proceeded on Catholic lines, as did the Catholic Reformation in much of continental Europe”. What the Ordinariate will be practising will be a true and authentically English Catholicism, untainted by the reductionism of the “spirit of Vatican II”. And I suspect that in the future its influence over the rest of us may well be considerable.

Just one final footnote, in the form of a query. Fr Nichols says that in the American Anglican Use provision, the Book of Divine Worship contains “a version of the Roman Canon in ‘Tudor’ English taken from one of the Anglo-Catholic translations”. I have always understood that far from being a piece of modern bogus Cranmerian, this was in fact the very beautiful pre-Reformation translation by Miles Coverdale (translator of the Book of Common Prayer’s Psalter), still then an Augustinian canon, which I quoted in full a few weeks ago. Read it: I really don’t think this could be anything but the real thing. And this, too, is part of the patrimony.