News today of the forthcoming ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood of four Anglican priest-converts who are now members of the "Anglican Ordinariate" in Melbourne prompts one to reflect on this curious creation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Over the years, individual Anglicans, clergy and laity, generally from the "High" or Anglo-Catholic wing of that church, have converted to Roman Catholicism in considerable numbers. The procedure was fairly simple and often accomplished without specific "instruction" or any other kind of song and dance. But then a couple of years ago Pope Benedict conceived the notion that there were whole groups of Anglicans who would dearly love to take this step but were held back by their attachment to the liturgy and "culture" of Anglicanism. I am not certain what was the Pope's evidence for this, unless it was the howls of Anglo-Catholic horror every time the synodical processes of anglosphere Anglicanism came up with some new departure from traditional ecclesiastical order inspired by the progressive secular agenda, especially the ordination of women and gays.

The Pope's response to this cri de coeur - after which those who cried loudest, having registered their protest, generally stayed comfortably put - was a document called Anglicanorum coetibus in which he established a Personal Ordinariate, that is, a kind of non-geographic diocese under his direct authority, which Anglicans were invited to join in groups, even whole parishes, bringing their treasured liturgy with them. In England and the United States there has been quite a substantial response to this invitation, and in a number of places incumbent and congregation have converted to the Catholic Church en bloc.

But having done so, what liturgy have they actually brought with them? Indeed, what is this priceless patrimony of Anglican worship that will, it is said, "enrich" the liturgical tradition of the Catholic Church? The answer is generally the services in The Book of Common Prayer. But not, it then turns out, the whole book, only bits of it. Certainly not its eucharistic rite, which is far too Protestant in tone to be used for Roman Catholic worship - in fact too Protestant even for the kind of Anglicans joining the Ordinariate, who in their own churches have almost universally substituted it with the Catholic Mass in English translation. Certainly not its rites of Baptism and Confirmation: true, the first is acknowledged by the Catholic Church to be "valid", but only because all baptisms administered by anyone, clerical or lay, man or woman, are valid as long as the trinitarian formula is used; while the second is unacceptable to Catholics because to them Confirmation is a sacrament and the Prayer Book states that it is not. Certainly not its ordinal, declared by Pope Leo XIII to be "defective" and incapable of conferring Holy Orders in the Catholic sense, whatever it might confer in Anglican eyes. And certainly - absolutely - not its Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which, though ignored by High Church Anglicans, remain that church's definitive statement of faith - and a very Calvinist statement of faith it is too, in several instances going out of its way to condemn "Romish" error and superstition.

Of all the Prayer Book rites this leaves only Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer as the liturgical patrimony former Anglicans bring with them to the Ordinariate. But these services are themselves sixteenth-century conflations of Roman Catholic daily offices, possessing no element (apart from prayers for the Royal Family which, popular though Her Majesty is, are unlikely to survive the transition to Rome) not also found in the Catholic Lauds, Vespers and other quotidian rites. In other words, there is nothing peculiarly Anglican there, no "patrimony" that the Catholic Church has not itself inherited and been using since long before Anglicanorum coetibus came into His Holiness's head.

Ah yes, the Ordinariate enthusiast will object, but it is not the rites themselves but the beauty of the language in which they are expressed. And here I think we have arrived at the truth. Thomas Cranmer's English, it would appear, is the patrimony the Ordinariate is intended to preserve. Thomas Cranmer's English, except of course when it is expressing Protestant thoughts, as in most of the Prayer Book. Thomas Cranmer's English as the vehicle for such doctrinally uncontroversial elements of worship as the collects and the Psalms.

If that's all there is it doesn't amount to much in terms of a precious liturgical patrimony. Hardly enough, you'd think, to warrant establishing a special body to facilitate groups of Anglican conversions. You might therefore be tempted to conclude, without the faintest implication of papal duplicity, that the liturgical patrimony provision in Anglicanorum coetibus is the icing on the cake of an initiative whose real purpose has nothing to do with Anglican liturgy and everything to do with offering those Anglicans who have been standing timidly on the edge of the Anglican cliff the reassurance that there will be safety in numbers when they leap into the Roman sea.

And numbers was what Anglicanorum coetibus was conceived to attract. Nothing wrong with that, although Cranmer might feel entitled to point out from wherever he is now that the last thing for which he put quill to parchment was to help, even if only incidentally, members of the reformed church for whom he wrote his majestic prose to find their way into the Church that in 1556 had him burnt at the stake as a heretic.

5 August 2012


Publication of the list of Sunday services in what will be the Ordinariate church in Melbourne would seem to confirm the thesis above. There will be High Mass at 11am and Evensong and Benediction at 7pm. Leaving aside the fact that strictly speaking High Mass no longer exists in the Ordinary Form of the Catholic liturgy, if the latter is the rite to be used it is scarcely an example of Anglican liturgical patrimony. Nor is there any authorised Anglican rite for Benediction, a form of worship reprehended in the Prayer Book by Article XXV of the Thirty-Nine Articles. That leaves Evensong as the sole representative of the Anglican liturgical heritage the Ordinariate was purportedly called into being to preserve.

6 August 2012


  1. Interesting post, I'm forwarding it Cranmer.

  2. His Grace has been asking these questions and raising these concerns ever since His Holiness despatched his divisions to establish the Ordinariate. Nothing of Anglican patrimony can be retained where it conflicts with the Mother Church's matrimony. And none is more invidious than the requirement for converting clerics to be 're-ordained', thereby negating their years and decades of Anglican service and, in the case of the Episcopate, holy orders bestowed. Rome is simply reiterating that Anglican Orders are 'absolutely null and utterly void'. But converts are permitted to retain His Grace's cadences because they are as aesthetically pleasing as Shakespeare. Very generous.