As I See It

Fr. Raymond de Souza

March 19, 2012

In the days after the hoopla of the consistory for new cardinals left town, a smaller, but more historic group of pilgrims was making its way to the tomb of the apostle Peter, and the seat of his successor.

A pilgrimage of thanksgiving arrived from Britain – some 100 members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the new "diocese" set up for former Anglicans who are now Catholics, but with the special task of preserving their Anglican cultural and liturgical patrimony.

Some two years after Pope Benedict made it possible with his document, Anglicanorum coetibus, the new structure is established in Britain, and more recently also in the United States. The arrival of new Catholics from Britain, small in number but fervent in faith, was experienced as a "homecoming" by them, and a tiny step toward healing the breach of the divisions of the 16th century.

"The ordinariate is sometimes attacked for being rather small, and therefore fairly insignificant in the ecclesiastical landscape," writes Msgr. Andrew Burnham, a priest in the ordinariate. "We are sometimes laughed at. We sometimes make others angry or bitter.

SIXTY CLERGY

"Given that Anglicans are famous for being attached to particular churches, and part of particular communities, it sometimes amazes me that anyone at all joined the ordinariate. Yet 1,000 people did so, barely 12 months ago, and others are presently undertaking the Lenten journey, with their eye on being received and chrismated this Easter. Meanwhile, we have 60 clergy, and there are some more on the way."

That's a little bit of the Anglican patrimony by the way – "chrismated" where we would say "confirmed."

"I think our musical heritage is a strong part of our patrimony," Michael Vian Clark, 28, told Catholic News Agency. A convert to Catholicism in 2007, and now the director of music at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England, he told CNA the highlight of the Roman pilgrimage was a Mass at the basilica of San Giorgio in Velabro, which was Cardinal Newman's titular church in Rome.

"It was very, very moving for us to celebrate Mass there with some of the texts Blessed John Henry might have known, but also, importantly, to use two of his hymns as the offertory and post communion, which was really touching in that particular place. (Cardinal Newman) would not have thought that would ever be possible, but here we are and it happened."

In Canada, the principal locus of action has been within the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC), a few hundred Anglicans who separated from the Anglican Communion in Canada decades ago out of a desire for greater orthodoxy and eventual reunion with Rome.

The last two years have been difficult ones for them, as strong divisions have emerged among their membership. In fact, a split emerged in the group, leading to an unpleasant sundering of their one diocese into two.

CALGARY PARISH

But good news appears on the horizon, and some ACCC parishes will soon be welcomed into full communion with the Catholic Church. They will join a former Anglican parish, St. John the Evangelist in Calgary, which became Catholic in December.

The ACCC is part of the global Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), an association of Catholic-minded Anglicans who left the Anglican Communion proper, seeking greater fidelity to the Gospel.

There is great sadness on that front. Long in the forefront of pushing for corporate reunion with Rome, in the past two years the TAC has been divided on how to respond to Anglicanorum coetibus. Recently, their bishops decided to abandon that project altogether, formally rejecting the offer made by Pope Benedict.

For good measure, the TAC also deposed its erratic primate, John Hepworth of Australia, and is headed into an uncertain future.

SLOW PROGRESS

Two years on from the pope's offer, and the record is mixed. The ordinariate structure is certainly far smaller than many, including me, had hoped it would be when originally offered.

The offer itself, perhaps inevitably within a community of Anglicans separated from the main Anglican Communion, brought to the fore more divisions, rather than unity. And it seems that for many in the TAC worldwide, the whole process will leave them permanently outside of communion with the Catholic Church, in a structure without a clear purpose.

Yet, as the ordinariate pilgrims did in Rome, there is reason for giving thanks. There will likely be a few more Canadian ACCC parishes becoming Catholic in the next few months, joining us in full communion. The road to unity is a winding one, and the logic of numbers alone is not the logic of the Gospel.

Fr. Raymond de Souza - rjdesouza@sympatico.ca