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Side altar in Salisbury Cathedral

Side Altar in Salisbury Cathedral

What is the Anglican patrimony? This is a question that has thousands of different potential answers, and yet it is also one that many find very difficult to answer at all. For the past four years suggestions have been made, serious academic papers have been written, and many people have come to their own mind about what it is that the personal ordinariates are (and are not) supposed to preserve and promote.

For the most comprehensive collection of essays on this subject we can turn to the Catholic League’s special edition of The Messenger, which is available to download here. Suggested categories there and elsewhere have tended to include the Anglican musical tradition, the liturgical texts and language, the Anglican approach to preaching, even the ‘coffee hour’ or simply the people themselves.

Certainly this discussion is important, not simply because it reawakens the minds and hearts of former Anglicans who had, at least in part, distanced themselves from traditional Anglican practices, but also in terms of the ecumenical context in which Pope Benedict placed the ordinariates. In his mind, as we see in the Apostolic Constitution, his address to the bishops of Great Britain in 2010, and his address to the plenary meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012, the ordinariate project is significant because of the role it plays in highlighting the legitimate plurality of traditions with the Tradition of the Church. This reality strengthens the Church, by giving diversity to the authentic expression of the Faith, whilst also opening up conversations with non-Catholic Christians about their own traditions and practices.

That being said, we must take care to ensure that this discussion – of what is and what is not the Anglican patrimony – does not become a red herring. Those of us who are members of the ordinariate are not, for example, being asked to discern and implement what we think the Anglican patrimony is. We are not being asked to simply continue doing what we’ve always done (nor, for that matter, forget everything that has brought us to this place), but rather we are asked to present ourselves to the Church with the gifts of our tradition, and to ask her to decide what of those treasures should be preserved, and how.

That process of discerning the legitimate Anglican patrimony is not one that any one of us is called to undertake as individuals. We are no longer in the business of choosing  which elements of various traditions suit our personal preferences. The Church – to whom we owe filial obedience – is now the arbitrator of what our tradition is, articulating that which is legitimate within that tradition Anglican patrimony, and how it is to be made manifest in the context of the Catholic Church.

Somewhat starkly, this means that the idea of the ordinariate as a place in which we continue the practices of our Anglican past – whatever traditions we adopted, whatever liturgical rites we used – is false. When we enter into the full communion of the Church, we come with what we perceive to be the treasury of our patrimony (what Mgr Burnham describes as our ‘Anglican knapsack’), and we ask the Church to decide what we keep and what we discard, and how we employ those elements of our tradition that we are to retain. We do not reject our past – far from it! – but we begin again, conforming our lives and practices to the Church’s intentions for her newborn child.

This discernment by the Church, I would argue, is now done. The Apostolic Constitution identifies two principal areas of the Anglican patrimony for the personal ordinariates to embody. First, ‘the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See’ (AC III) and, secondly, the administrative systems of the governing council, the ordinariate pastoral council, and the mandatory parochial pastoral councils (AC X; CN Art. 14 §1). These elements are fundamental to what the ordinariates are called to be, no matter what other aspects of our tradition are retained.

The significance of these elements – liturgy and governance – is further defined when we realise that they are unique to the personal ordinariates. For example, the liturgical books may only be used by those clergy with the faculty to do so (given by incardination, as per AC III), and our administrative structures are found nowhere else in the Catholic Church. Solid Anglican hymnody, our approach to homiletics and pastoral care, even the ordination of married men in the Latin rite (with the necessary permissions) – all of these are ably demonstrated within other jurisdictions, both by former Anglican clergy who have gone the ‘diocesan route’, and others. These elements are not unique to the personal ordinariates, even if they are particularly present within them. What is unique, and therefore of the essence of our identity, is that which the Church has decided for us to embody: namely, the way we pray and the way we live our common life in Christ.

If we believe that the ordinariates have a role to play in contemporary ecumenical dialogue, if we believe that they have a real part in the new evangelisation and the repristination of the sacred liturgy, then the first thing we must do is tighten our focus on what the ordinariates are, not simply what we might like them to be. Only by being faithful to the Church’s vision for those of us called to this ‘definite service’, will we be able to offer an effective witness to the beauty of holiness and the splendour of truth found in the full communion of the Catholic Church, and so bring others to ‘the one true fold of the Redeemer’.