In setting up the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Pope Benedict XVI explicitly welcomed it as an opportunity which would allow Anglicans coming into corporate (and full) communion with Rome to preserve their Anglican patrimony. If we are to understand what that meant, we have to go back to the 1981 report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) which declared that:
Anglicans are entitled to assurance that acknowledgement of the universal primacy would not involve the suppression of theological, liturgical and other traditions which they value or the imposition of wholly alien traditions
Implicitly in theory, and explicitly in practice, this was the Anglican Catholic tradition of Andrewes, Herbert, Newman, Pusey, Keble, Gore and Ramsey. That is not to say that all those gentlemen would have joined the Ordinariate, but it is to say that the traditions which were valued enough for the Church to wish to embrace them, were those which those gentlemen loved and for which they serve as representative examples.
The Church of England, rather like Noah’s ark, contained within it beasts of every variety, and the Catholic wing tended to downplay its Protestant heritage, and vice-versa; the Ordinariate allows Catholic Anglicans to embrace, fully, their Catholic identity without in any way abandoning the Anglican style of worship which they, rightly, treasure. Newman’s argument that there was nothing in Anglicanism’s 39 Articles which could not be read in a Catholic sense may have been rejected by the Anglican bishops of his day, and, eventually, by himself, but it was not by Anglican Catholics, and, having failed to carry the day in the Church of England, its adherents can rest secure in the bosom of Holy Mother Church. What was missing from their Catholicism has been supplied by the Church, and what is present in abundance in it can enrich the Church; there is no point having your cake unless you eat it.
There were not lacking those, especially Cardinal Kasper, who was then President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, who advised against the creation of an Ordinariate, preferring, they said, to work for the crporate union of the whole of the Anglican Church. That such men also argued that the Anglican Church would regard the Ordinariate as a hostile act rather makes one wonder quite what it was they wanted and when they wanted it? Several centuries had failed to produce anything by way of corporate union, and the direction of travel of the Anglican Communion was not making that more probable. Fortunately, Pope Benedict XVI saw all of this and decided that if Catholic Anglicans wanted to cross the Tiber together, he would provide a bridge.
This allowed entry into the Church of a group of people whose views are essentially traditional – which may, the cynics (or realists?) would say was why Cardinal Kaspar and the pretty liberal English & welsh bishops were not keen on the idea. Catholic Anglicans believe, as does Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, that revelation cannot be properly transmitted unless the meaning of Scripture can be gathered from Tradition, notably through the Creeds, the historic liturgies and the writings of the Fathers – Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God committed to the Church. Ordinariate Catholics are, I suspect, closer to what Catholicism in the West used to be than to what it is now, at least in terms of liturgical forms and reverence for Tradition. We are too close to the beginning of the Ordinariates to know how they will develop, but in bringing into full communion with Rome the Anglican patrimony, they remind Rome of parts of its own tradition which some seem to have forgotten.
There is a Catholic patrimonial heritage after the Reformation which has flourished and nourished generations of English (and Welsh) men, and we should not join the modern philistinism of throwing out what is old and beautiful in the name of some pretended ‘relevance’. If the last fifty years has shown anything in this sphere, it is that throwing out the old liturgical practice has not brought anyone into the Church, although it had driven many away. The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham has been described as ‘the sort of Eucharistic Order Cranmer might well have established had he been doctrinally orthodox (and lived in the twentieth century’). It marries substantial elements of the English Liturgy of the pre-Reformation period (the Sarum Rite) with those features of the Prayer Book that still held the affection of many, together with the best products of Roman rite revision and its Church of England counterpart. It provides a link back cross time to our Catholic heritage for those of us who value it, and who value our own cultural heritage. It is a fitting embodiment of the Catholic elements within Anglicanism. Were I asked to draw a comparison between it and the Novus Ordo, I should decline, as they are two different ways we can worship the Lord; but were I asked which I feel more at home with, it would be the Customary.
Pope Benedict XVI has many achievements to his credit, but I suspect that in time, the creation of the Ordinariates to allow Catholic-minded Anglicans to come home to Rome will be thought among the greatest of them.
In case anyone wants to hear the Anglican patrimony, try this: