The ordination of Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester, as a priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham took place on Saturday 30th October at the Church of the Assumption, Warwick Street. He had been ordained a Catholic deacon two days before at the Chapel of Oscott, where St John Henry Newman had given his famous “Second Spring” homily in 1852,
His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, performed the ordination and celebrated the subsequent Mass, with the Ordinary, Monsignor Keith Newton and Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham also present in the sanctuary. The church, originally the chapel of the Portugese Embassy in London, is main church of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham
Some forty priests of the Ordinariate occupied the pews on the northern side of the church together with a few diocesan priests such as Monsignor John Armitage and Canon Martin Edwards. Three Anglican former diocesan bishops, appropriately dressed, were in the congregation – John Hind of Chichester, Michael Langrish of Exeter and Nicholas Reade of Blackburn, as was the now Catholic Jonathan Goodall, former Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
The ceremonial and the music were appropriate to the deeply incense-laden occasion. The ceremony took slightly over two hours. (As Osbert Lancaster once hymned “For experience has taught, the very High are seldom short”).
The rite used was the Ordinariate one, which uses Tudor language, mainly from the Book of Common Prayer. The Cardinal managed this unfamiliar version of the Roman Canon manfully. It was curious to hear a Catholic archbishop lead the congregation in, for instance, the Prayer of Humble Access (“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table..”).
What Cranmer (deposed as Archbishop of Canterbury for heresy) would have thought of a Catholic archbishop using his euphonious words in an English Mass is a matter for speculation. As the 39 Articles say “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of the bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.”
The Mass was celebrated ad orientem by the Cardinal, communion was given to the congregation “meekly kneeling upon your knees” (as enjoined in the Book of Common Prayer) and His Eminence read the Last Gospel, none of these normal features of the current Roman Rite.
The setting of the Mass in English was Herbert Howell’s “Collegium Regale”. The anthem was Tu es Petrus by Robert Lucas Pearsall. These were beautifully sung by the choir. The hymns were St J.H.Newman’s “Praise to the Holiest in the height”, the “Veni Creator Spiritus” as translated into English by the 17th century John Cosin, Dean of Durham and Bishop of Peterborough, “Jerusalem the Golden” in the version by the 19th century Anglican hymnologist J.M.Neale, “O thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray” (by the Anglican William Henry Turton and much loved by Anglo-Catholics over the years) and “Christ is the King! O friends rejoice!” by George Bell, sometime Bishop of Chichester.
The Litany of the Saints was splendidly sung by the Ordinariate deacon, James Patrick (a Circuit Judge in his professional life). St John Henry Newman, St Thomas More and St John Fisher (the martyred predecessor of Michael Nazir-Ali as Bishop of Rochester) were added to the names normally commemorated.
At the end of the Mass Father Michael Nazir-Ali addressed the congregation with a few succinct words on his reasons for becoming a Catholic and why he felt it important for him to become a priest of the Ordinariate. The simple and moving way in which he spoke made one realise what a tremendous gain to the Catholic Church in England he will be. Let us pray that more of his conservative Evangelical brethren, and others, have the courage to follow him. As the chorus of one of the hymns mentioned above movingly states “Oh, may we all one Bread, one Body be, One through this Sacrament of unity”.
The church was packed with standing room only at the back. Due to space restraints, a double reception followed the ordination with guests divided between Challoner Hall in the church basement – which also operates as an Order of Malta soup kitchen – and the dining room of the Presbytery on the first floor. Father Michael, as he is now addressed, along with his wife Valerie, circulated both receptions speaking of his delight in being received into the Catholic church.
Image caption: Dr Michael Nazir-Ali is ordained as a Catholic priest by Cardinal Nichols (courtesy of Michael Hodges)
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