The Ordinariate decreed by the Pope for Anglicans wishing to convert to Rome yet retain their liturgical "Anglican patrimony" is up and running in Australia and services in the Anglican tradition, suitably modified to conform to Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, are being held at a Catholic parish church in Melbourne.

It might be argued that the extent of the modifications leaves room for only a limited degree of recognisably Anglican patrimony; but given that most if not all members of the Ordinariate come from the High or Anglo-Catholic Anglican tradition, whose liturgy is closely modelled on Catholic rites (pre-Vatican II Catholic in some cases) and owes not much at all to that touchstone of Anglican orthodoxy, the Book of Common Prayer, there is not a great deal of Anglican patrimony to accommodate.

This, however, is not the case in the branch of the Ordinariate now established in the inner-city municipality of Burchett Hill, where the Ordinary, the Right Rev. Hugh Lancelot Waldegrave Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield, is determined not only that the "historic face of Anglicanism" will be expressed in liturgy, but that Catholic doctrine and practice "will have to adjust to our tradition rather than the other way round." A proud and independent spirit (he is the direct descendant of two Anglican Bishops of London), Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield is invariably to be seen around Burchett Hill in the traditional day costume of Anglican bishops as worn until the 1950s - gaiters, apron and frock coat and a Homburg hat with strings on it. When officiating he wears a voluminous rochet with bands and billowing lawn sleeves and a mortar board, with, "as a concession to Catholic patrimony," a stole and chasuble over the rochet if the service is Mass.

"We represent an Anglicanism untainted by the Oxford Movement or Tractarianism," says the Ordinary, "the pure undefiled Anglicanism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that remarkable epoch of Erastian vigour. Ours is the Anglicanism of Parson Woodforde, of George Herbert and that eminent divine Nathaniel, third Baron Crew and Bishop of Oxford," he explained, adjusting his lawn sleeves in preparation for a service of Commination.

The Burchett Hill Ordinariate has been assigned the use of the Catholic church of Our Lady of the Pierced Heart, a dedication Ordinariate members feel "is not really very Anglican-sounding" and which they hope to change to St George's. The church building has already undergone some necessary adjustments to fit it for Ordinariate services. An Italian marble high altar with throne of exposition and attendant angels has been crated up and reassembled in the Ordinary's residence (the rambling twelve-bedroom presbytery beside the church) where, laden with silver salvers, bowls of fruit and decanters of port, it is in service as a sideboard in the dining room - the Ordinary believes that "to be consistent with our Anglican patrimony" he should live like an eighteenth-century prelate as well as act like one in church. In place of the altar there is a wooden communion table - "portable, as the Elizabethan Injunctions require," explains Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield, "and covered with the decent carpet of stuff prescribed by Canon 82 of 1604." Behind this is what is now the centrepiece of the church, a towering three-decker pulpit with sounding board. Here the Ordinary officiates twice a day, sonorously intoning Morning and Evening Prayer. There is no parish clerk to make the responses, but the presbytery housekeeper, Mrs Kathleen O'Malley, who has been kept on to run the Ordinary's domestic establishment, does her best to "help out", taking her place in the lowest level of the pulpit and reading out the responses from a vast Prayer Book on a purple velvet cushion, though somewhat undermining the classic dignity of the liturgy by the impenetrability of her Connemara brogue and by frequently losing her place. "It's all a lot of stuff and nonsense anyway," she has been heard to grumble. "Why can't I use me Little Flower Daily Missal like we used to?"

Beside the communion table a tall pot-bellied stove, as once seen in many a rural English church, sends out intermittent bursts of heat on cold days. Though untroubled by speculations about climate change - he would describe himself as a Latitudinarian in this regard - Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield had the church's gas heating system turned off for good when the last bill came in. "There's too much mollycoddling these days," he says. "Gilbert White didn't have ducted heating. And I for one never feel the cold," - this latter assertion being hardly surprising given the proximity of the stove to the triple-decker pulpit. When the Ordinary ascends to the uppermost level at sermon time to deliver one of his substantial homiletic disquisitions, in a tradition of preaching Dr Johnson would have savoured, replete with quotations in classical Greek, he is level with the top of the stovepipe.

A screen for projecting the words of hymns, mounted on the east wall by the former parish priest, has been replaced by elegant polished timber boards in a Georgian design inscribed with the words of the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. The low bench pews have been removed from the church and proper high-walled box pews constructed in their place, two of which, reserved for principal Ordinariate benefactors, have their own fireplaces, as was common in the eighteenth century. Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield is toying with reintroducing pew rents, once the St George's congregation increases above its present four.

The church has a fine Fincham organ, unused since after the Second Vatican Council when a then curate, long-haired jeans-clad Father Damien "Chuck" McHartigan, very popular with the younger parishioners and now resident c/o the Sexual Offenders' Unit, HM Prison, Burchett Hill Heights, introduced a "teens' combo" to play and sing at Sunday Mass under the name of the Marty Haugen Groovers. For Ordinariate services Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield is hoping to get enough voices together for "a traditional Anglican village choir", as depicted in the well known painting by Thomas Webster in the Victoria & Albert Museum, to be accompanied "in true eighteenth-century fashion" by viol, cello, clarinet and flute. Its repertoire would be drawn exclusively from the pages of Hymns Ancient & Modern.

The Ordinary has also devoted his attention to the presbytery and done his best to turn it into something resembling an English episcopal palace. Its principal rooms, uniformly dull and indiscriminately used by earlier parish priests for meetings, watching television and storing donations for the parish op shop, have been formally designated drawing room, library, morning room, music room and audience room, in the last of which Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield presides over Ordinariate chapter meetings in a full-bottomed eighteenth-century wig. The hideous jazz-patterned curtains, the "Fler" chairs, leatherette-upholstered couches, faded Genoa velvet club chairs, AWA radiogram with its recordings of Father Sydney MacEwan ("Mountains of Mourne", "The Wearin' o' the Green") and other 1950s furniture accumulated by his predecessors have been thrown out, together with the framed prints of racehorses and Sacred Hearts that cluttered the walls and a bronze bust of Archbishop Mannix. The Ordinary has refurnished the presbytery, thanks to a timely bequest from an aunt, with chintz-covered sofas, breakfront bookcases, Victorian landscapes in gilt frames and a huge mahogany partners' desk for himself, with silver inkstand and candle-snuffers. Firelight flickers on tooled leather bindings, silver, glass and marble from the roaring blaze Mrs O'Malley is charged with keeping going in all main rooms.

The latter functionary, in order that she might not to spoil the stately effect with her floral pinny and lambswool slippers, has been persuaded, albeit with some difficulty, to wear a white cap and apron when going about her duties. "Got tickets on 'imself, that one 'as," she confided to the newsagent while doing her Tattslotto, "thinks 'e's living in Downting Abbey or somewhere."

The Ordinary's assertion and implementation of the true principles of Anglicanism raises the question of why he joined the Ordinariate in the first place. "The Anglicanism of today is not the Anglicanism of the past," he explains. "It might seem paradoxical but that vanished Anglicanism has more in common with Catholicism than the present-day version with its female clerics and the rest. Catholicism has a reputation for rigorous conformity but this has not so far been the experience of our Burchett Hill Ordinariate. Once you're in you can do pretty much as you like."

3 November 2012

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