For the past ten days I’ve been in the United States on my some holiday (not ‘vacation’, as I was told by an American who doubted my provenance when I used the term). We spent a few days in Washington DC last week and have been in Florida (dodging thunderstorms) for a week. We return to the UK next weekend.
In DC I was able to visit the church of St Luke, Bladensburg, which is just outside the District in the metro area of DC. This was one of the first Episcopalian parishes to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church following the publication of the Apostolic Constitution. Fr Mark Lewis, together with Fr Rick Kramer and Fr Randy Sly, have been co-ordinating three groups of former Anglicans in the DC area, going out into Maryland and Virginia.
Last Saturday I joined them for Solemn Evensong & Benediction (which I was privileged to officiate at) as they gathered together with the Vicar General of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, Fr Scott Hurd (formerly of St Stephen’s House, Oxford), to discuss their plans for the future.
The following morning I was the celebrant and preacher at the Solemn Mass at St Luke’s – a well-appointed former Episcopalian church which is now the temporary (though semi-permanent) home to the community.
The Mass was celebrated according to the Book of Divine Worship; eastward-facing with traditional vestments and a competent serving team. The choir sang an unfamiliar but attractive English setting of the Ordinary of the Mass (the text is the same as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer), and we had a few good Anglican hymns as well as some of the plainchant propers.
During the Mass there were two baptisms, which were celebrated according to the Rite of Baptism in the Book of Divine Worship – again drawn from the language of the Prayer Book, though with a notable emphasis on phrases about ‘regeneration’.
On Monday I was the guest of a member of the John Carroll Society, based in the Archdiocese of Washington, as we were addressed on the subject of religious liberty by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Dolan was engaging and as enthusiastic as ever. His vigour is inspiring to see and hear, and it was significant to hear the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops speak so clearly and decisively in the home of American politics, not least as the US presidential election looms.
In fact, Monday was the day when teams began to erect the staging for the next presidential inauguration ceremony on the hill. Will the next man to stand there and address the American nation respect the ‘first and most cherished liberty’ of the American people as outlined in the First Amendment?
‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…’
And on Sunday this week (16 September) I was privileged to visit Incarnation Catholic Church – as it now is – in Orlando. Here we witnessed around 140 people being received into the full communion of the Catholic Church via the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. We also welcomed a good forty or so people back into the fold.
It was significant that the Bishop of Orlando, the Right Reverend John Noonan, was present in choir as Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate here, was the Principal Celebrant at the Mass. In the sacristy, Bishop Noonan was principally concerned with whether he should concelebrate or not – because, he said, ‘It’s very important to be clear that Monsignor is the Ordinary’. A man who is clearly to be a great friend of the US Ordinariate.
Mgr Steenson received the former Anglican Bishop – Louis Campese – from the Traditional Anglican Communion, together with other TAC clergy, who have brought their faithful, church building, and school, into the Ordinariate. The whole day was tremendously encouraging, and it was great to spend some time with the Ordinary – not least watching him and my father banter about floatplanes!
A nice little story that aptly indicates the astonishing things which are taking place: when I got out of the car outside the church I was stopped by two joggers. ‘Father’, they said, ‘is this a Catholic church?’. ‘It will be in two hours’, I replied. Both of them were Catholics and they’d heard about the transition. They promised to visit the following week.
I certainly have some things to think about, having seen how things are panning-out over here. I’m always impressed by the ‘can-do’ attitude of Americans, and finding a way of translating that the UK situation – where we’re too often timid and reserved in our proclamation of the boldest Truth we know – is something worth considering.
Not least amongst these considerations is the influence of the Book of Divine Worship on the life of the Ordinariate here. More than ever, I am convinced that a distinctive liturgical life is what will make or break the Ordinariate project at home. For all the faults of the current provision (and the Americans will tell you about them as robustly as we would, and with the experience of having used the texts), it is what the Apostolic Constitution (AC III) describes as:
[L]iturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.