What is now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was founded by a community founded in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States by Father Paul Wattson in the 1890s, and entering the full communion of the Catholic Church in 1909. To begin, this time set aside to pray for the reunion of Christendom was known as the Octave of Christian Unity, running from the 18th to 25th January each year. These dates are of course significant: 25th January is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, whilst 18th January is known as the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter or, in some Anglican circles, as the feast of the Confession of Saint Peter. In fact, the gospel traditionally assigned for this feast—whichever name we choose to apply—is the account given by Saint Matthew of what we have just heard this morning from Saint Luke, which includes the Christ’s response: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church (Mt. 16: 18). In other words, the confession of Saint Peter—Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God—is intimately linked with the power bestowed on him by Christ in his Chair, that seat of his apostolic authority after which the personal ordinariate in North America takes its name.
Given for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
As we celebrated, this past week, the fifth anniversary of the canonical erection of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and look forward to the episcopal consecration of Monsignor Steven Lopes as the first bishop-ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter in a matter of weeks, it is fortuitous that we come this week to the annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In Monsignor Lopes’s own words, the personal ordinariates are “ecumenism in the front row,” which is to say that the entire project of Anglicanorum cœtibus is one founded on the principles of ecumenism as understood and lived by the Catholic Church. At the threshold of this particular time set aside for prayer for the unity of Christians, it is worth revisiting the ecumenical mission of the ordinariates, not simply to comprehend more fully the structural and theoretical implications of that mission, but so that each of us—who make up the clergy and lay faithful of the ordinariates—might realize our own part in that work, and be better equipped to articulate that purpose to those who, in the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, are “shivering at the gates.”
This week the Catholic Church, together with other Christian communities, celebrated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For those from the Anglican tradition, the origins of this week are significant, because it was the effort of Anglican ecumenists that founded what was originally known as the Church Unity Octave, and which had the express intention of the reunion of Anglicans with the Apostolic See. The involvement, in 1933, of the French priest Fr Paul Couturier saw this develop into the Week of Universal Prayer for the Unity of Christians, again, with unity with Rome at the very heart.
As you may have picked up, I am currently living at St Patrick’s, Soho Square, where I’ll be based over the summer whilst I complete my dissertation and await news of my next move. It’s a fantastic parish to be living in – lots of people my age, daily holy hour, public Morning and Evening Prayer, meals together, and so central I can walk to almost anywhere in central London in about 20 minutes.
St Patrick’s is now well-known following a significant and impressive facelift overseen by Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, the Parish Priest. I was fortunate enough to deacon the reopening ceremonies with Archbishop Nichols, Bishop James Conley, and Cardinal Pell, last year, and it really is a pleasure to enter the church each morning and pray. There are very few churches where you can walk in and be content with where everything is – this is one of them.
The parish is also home to the St Patrick’s Evangelisation School (SPES). This provides young adults with nine months of formation in the Catholic faith, in a context where there is daily Mass, communal meals and offices, and community living in central London. It’s tough work – regular essays and daily conferences and seminars – but it’s so impressive to see the result: Catholic adults who are ready to lead catechesis in their parishes and institutions when they leave.
The parish also hosts visitors. At the moment (aside from me!) there is a Spanish seminarian here from Valencia, and during Nightfever last week (see this post) we also had a German seminarian from St Boniface’s home town of Fulda.
What has been so encouraging for me is the immediate sense of solidarity between us. The SPES graduates, the seminarians; all of us share a vision and hope for the Church which – I think we would all say – is so well articulated by Pope Benedict. It’s a confident Catholicism which looks out to the world and speaks boldly of the love and grace of the life lived in communion with the Church, and which is not afraid of proclaiming unfashionable truths firmly, but with the charity and gentleness which our Lord himself shows us when we err.
When I was an Anglican seminarian we used to joke about the termly get-togethers between the theological colleges in Oxford. So varied were they that we called them “Interfaith Worship”.
The Catholic Church is not by any means uniform – a healthy plurality which reveals a genuine unity of faith is no bad thing – but there is an immediate universality between Catholics, and it’s something which only shared communion can produce. This is what the world needs if we are to bring about a change, and particularly as the Global Village becomes a smaller and more intimate place, we need to draw closer together so the voice of Christ can be heard above the noise and bustle. Ut unum sint!
I had the great privilege of proclaiming the gospel from a pulpit he used often and hearing confessions in his confessional in St Patrick’s, Soho Square. I’m also adopting him as the patron of my work as Communications Officer for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Imagine how devastatingly effective he’d have been with YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the like… *shudders*.
On the great Solemnity of Ss Peter & Paul, though, I am particularly rejoicing in the communion that we in the Ordinariate now share with over two billion other Catholic Christians: the full communion of the Catholic Church. I always expected to be bowled over by the astonishing and profound impact of Catholic communion, but it’s the peace of that communion which has really been an unexpected but welcome gift after the turbulence of former years. Thank God.
And, this week, amidst a whole host of stuff going on that’s made it a more-than-usual challenge to keep my eye on the joy and hope and splendour of all that we have achieved together, it is the Venerable Servant of God who brings me back to what communion with St Peter is all about in these few words from his autobiography, Treasure in Clay:
On a train trip from New York to Boston, I sat next to an Episcopalian clergyman. We began a friendly discussion on the validity of Anglican Orders. He contended he was a priest as much as I was, that he could offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that he could forgive sins. He was well versed in history and in theology and our discussion proved to be so interesting that many passengers gathered around us to listen to the friendly debate. He got off the train at Providence. He advanced several steps, then turned around and, facing the audience which we both enjoyed, thought he would give me the last telling challenge by saying, ‘Remember, Bishop Sheen, I can do anything you can do’. I just had time to answer : ‘No, you can’t. I can kiss your wife, but you can’t kiss mine’.
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being gently mocked? During his homily at my first Mass, Fr Stephen quoted a little phrase I’d used to describe the journey from Anglicanism to the full communion of the Catholic Church. When I preached on the Ordinariate during my first few weeks in the parish, I described it as ‘moving from the gatehouse to the manor house’. I know…
However – despite the ribbing – I do think it’s a pretty decent analogy: moving into the fullness of Catholic Communion, away from the fringes and the partiality of that unique bond between the baptised and the Church, and coming into the full splendour of the unbroken Catholic tradition, with all the rich cultural, liturgical and theological patrimony which that involves.
Last week the Catholic League published the complete special edition of the Messenger, a journal which was released to celebrate the announcement and development of the Personal Ordinariate. It is full of great articles, all of which can now be read freely here. Copies are free to a good home, so if you want a hard copy you can still get them from the Catholic League directly.
Amongst the excellent pieces (some critical, some full of hope – this was before January 2011), is the sermon given by a good friend and mentor on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the foundation of Pusey House, Oxford. The title of the sermon is The Sinews of Behemoth, taken from Job 40:17 (The sinews of Behemoth’s testicles are tightly constricted), and I apologise to anyone who’s already familiar with the content.
With his typical amusing tone and wit (“Which leads me inexorably back to Behemoth’s testicles…”) the preacher negotiates the history of the Anglo-Catholic movement which found space to flourish to fantastically in many of those Oxford institutions: St Stephen’s House, Pusey House, the Cowley Dads, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, and Fairacres.
Read the whole piece. It is, though, the rather stark challenge of the final paragraph which I tentatively reproduce here – as much to confirm my own sense of what the whole Ordinariate-Project is about, as challenge those who might be reading from another shore:
Pope S. Gregory the Great in his great commentary on the book of Job known to us as the Moralia, took this verse [Ed: The sinews of Behemoth’s testicles are tightly constricted] as a type of the perplexed conscience – the constriction of the sinews being the sign of the entangled nature of the moral choices which confront us. You do not need me to tell you that Catholic Anglicans are in a place of acute perplexity at this time. Our mission, the mission of this House and of all those who have served the Movement since its inception, is founded on a confidence that we have an authentic ecclesial mandate grounded in Scripture and Tradition, and sacramental assurance in the ministrations which arise from that mandate. We must be frank when we admit that the great majority of the Churches who name themselves catholic in faith, order and practice have always seen this in us as more a matter of assertion than fact. But for us it has not seemed to be a house built on sand. S. Gregory tells us that if we are hemmed in and held captive, then the best rule is to jump off where the wall is lowest – the shortest fall makes for the softest landing. If we are not to be entirely strangled by our perplexity we are going to have to learn to jump, because the basis on which we have carried out our mission in recent years – the doctrine of a Church of England with two integrities – is coming to an end. Blessed Pius IX told Dr Pusey that he was like a bell summoning people to church but never entering it himself; might we not hope for a better future in a larger room for Pusey House?
Might we not hope for a better future for the whole Anglo-Catholic project? Is not the wall at an unprecedented low point? Is not the landing as soft as we could ever, really, hope? I believe so. Pope Pius IX’s analogy of Pusey is as sad as it is amusing – do we truly want that for ourselves? I suspect not. As someone said just before I was received – the future’s bright; the future’s yellow and white.