The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and Triumphalism

The first three priests of the freshly-erected Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham were ordained yesterday, thanks be to God. There will be many articles regarding them but maybe a good place to start reading is at the sensible Anna Arco’s article at the Catholic Herald.

Fathers Newton, Burnham and Broadhurst (Courtesy of James Bradley - click photo to go to his Flickr page with many more photos)

One thing stuck out when reading The Tablet’s feature article on the matter by Elena Curti. In it she writes in reference to the General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Fr Marcus Stock:

Fr Stock is keen for the Holy Week receptions into the ordinariate to be sensitive in order to maintain good ecumenical relations. “There will be no semblance of triumphalism, but what there will be is a warm welcome for people who have had a difficult journey.”

There can be no problem with what he said. Yet, was he actually so “keen …to maintain good ecumenical relations” by avoiding triumphalism. It is hard to know if that is his sentiment or Ms Curti’s.

Obviously this will be challenging time for the Anglican Communion and good Catholics will not wish to be anything but gracious and charitable. At the same time, we have no need to apologise, nor should we fear a joyful and exuberant celebration of both these first ordinations, and also the receptions and ordinations to come in the next 6 months and beyond.

The Ordinariate is the fruition of honest ecumenism. The Catholic Church does not enter into ecumenical dialogue for mere chit-chat and a warm inner glow. The Church aims to bring our separated brethren back into the Church by means of ecumenical dialogue, demonstrating to them the truth of Catholic teaching and its claims to authentic authority. Fathers Keith, John and Andrew are the first-fruits of a new and potentially large ecumenical harvest of reconciliation to the Church. For this we must rejoice, and not say sorry, nor feel embarrassed. Our Lord was neither apologetic nor coy when he declared that he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 15:24). It was not his exclusive mission, nor is it the Church’s exclusive mission. But it is a real part of its mission and now that it bears much fruit we should rejoice.

Nor should we worry too much about ecumenical sensitivities. While rejoicing we are not gloating. Yet it is true that the heat has been turned up on the Anglican communion. There are now even fewer reasons to stay and more than ever to come back to the Church for those Anglicans with Catholic sensibilities. This may upset some Anglicans but it need not upset Catholics: it is the seed of ecumenism grown to a point when it can bear much fruit. The Anglican communion has given much to England: a wonderful liturgical sense, a missionary endeavour worthy of admiration, the voice of conscience to a country that has grown ever more secular and unbelieving over the last 250 years or more. On these levels God has used it to bring good out of the damage of the Reformation. But now the Anglican communion has largely ceased to voice the Christian message in any significant way and has yielded to secular forces especially in the areas of morality, theology and social teaching. I suspect that its day has passed, and now is the time for English Christians to return to the Church that brought Christianity here originally.

To say so is not triumphalistic. It is to be confident in the truth and rightness of the Church’s ecumenical endeavour. It is to rejoice at the return to the fold of so many lost sheep. It is to turn to the Anglican communion with arms outstretched and say, “Now is the acceptable time. Come home.” If we are in any way triumphalistic it is only the triumphalism shown by the father as he welcomed home his prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). And for that we have our Lord’s own warrant:

But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

And certainly let us who are in the Church not be like the prodigal’s elder brother as we see our separated brethren return:

Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.” But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, “Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!” And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

How can we rest and be happy until our brethren are back home with us? Perhaps now their return has begun in earnest. If so, let us rejoice and be glad.

Ecumenism update

For once I was too quick to post rather than too slow. I have just found a news item from the Vatican which reports Pope Benedict’s address to the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

His words are consistent with what he has said or hinted at in the past. He states clearly that the most urgent and intense ecumenical dialogue is with the Orthodox churches, with whom the Catholic Church has the “closest intimacy”. Nevertheless no ecumenical dialogue must ever relapse into a search for and satisfaction with compromise, that is, into “political categories, in which negotiating ability or greater capacity to reach compromise come into play, and in which the participants hope that, as good mediators, after a certain period they will reach an agreement acceptable to everyone”.

Then the Holy Father articulates the “dual dynamic” of ecumenical activity. “On the one hand it means searching dedicatedly, passionately and tenaciously for all the unity in truth”, for without common acceptance of the one truth there can be no unity; and on the other hand we must realise that all ecumenical activity is subject to the will of God, for “we do not know the time that the unity of all Christ’s disciples will be achieved, and we cannot know it because we do not ‘make’ unity, God ‘makes’ it; it comes from on high…” In other words our part is to work for unity in truth while accepting that this can only come about by God’s power, in God’s good time.

There is in ecumenical endeavour the same delicate balance that marks all Christian activity, between “acting and suffering, activity and patience, fatigue and joy”. Ecumenism is one with all Christian activity on earth, which will never bear fruit unless it is one with the vine and founded on prayer. Thus, says the Holy father, “the unity of Christians is and remains prayer, it dwells in prayer”. It is of course the prayer that issues forth in charity and truth.

The changing nature of ecumenism

The Tablet reports that Cardinal-elect Kurt Koch, the recently-appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has made a bold start in his analysis of the current character of ecumenism. As yet there is no full text of Bishop Koch’s speech to the Council’s plenary session, but what is quoted is incisive stuff.

In a nutshell he sees most of the Protestant denominations as pursuing ecumenism according to a relativistic and pluralistic agenda, rather than one that seeks unity. Many Protestant groups have been settling for inter-communion rather communion, shared recognition rather than unity. In other words, rather than seeking re-union they seek to maintain their own independent existence while recognising the independent existence of other denominations, and in so doing recognising each other’s ministry and sacraments to the point where they can receive the sacraments in each other’s churches. Bishop Koch calls this “ecclesiological pluralism” which works towards a sort of “recognised diversity”.

There is no doubt much that is positive in this development, in the very least insofar as it breaks down hostility between various denominations. However, while it can be reconciled with a Protestant view of the nature of the Church and it is impossible to accommodate it to a Catholic one. For the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox too) there must be agreement in faith before there can be sharing in sacraments. Moreover such a sharing in sacraments and doctrine would in effect establish that the churches would not be essentially different from each other but rather constituent parts of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. Catholic ecumenism seeks unity not recognised diversity.

The Church acknowledges that there is truth to be found in other Christian denominations and that God can and does work through them, but the Second Vatican Council made it clear that those divine elements of truth in other Christian groupings are “forces impelling [them] towards Catholic unity” (Lumen Gentium 8). God works through other denominations in order to bring them back to unity with the Church Christ founded. The Council Fathers put it beautifully in their document specifically related to ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (4):

When the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.

The ecumenical endeavour of the Church is geared towards removing those obstacles and so advance unity. The most obvious obstacles are those of doctrine and sacramental practice. Yet there are also more personal ones, such as hardness of heart, resentment and hostility born of past events, and a spirit of suspicion and mistrust. Doctrine will not change, though our insights into it can and will. But our hearts can change, and according to Pope John Paul II they must change if there is to be progress in true ecumenism:

Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse. Consequently, the commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Lord’s disciples, inspired by love, by the power of the truth and by a sincere desire for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, are called to re-examine together their painful past and the hurt which that past regrettably continues to provoke even today. (Ut Unum Sint, 2).

This is only a quick and shallow reflection. Obviously I have not even touched on what Pope Benedict has to say on ecumenism. Nevertheless it might serve to prompt us to think carefully about what the Church is doing as it welcomes more Anglicans into full communion with the Church by means of the Ordinariate structure. Surely the Church sees that these Anglicans have realised that ecumenism ends in full communion with the Church and wishes to facilitate their entry into communion rather than allow unnecessary obstacles to stand in their way. One wonders if those Catholics and Anglicans who oppose, often with sharp words, this move might not need that conversion of heart that Pope John Paul II wrote of. It is a Catholics Christian duty to welcome our brothers and sisters into the bosom of the Church.

Another prompt to this reflection on Bishop Koch’s insights is that tonight the Anglican Benedictine community of Elmore Abbey, recently moved to Salisbury, are joining with us tonight to celebrate our titular feast of St Edmund (more on which tomorrow). The monks of Elmore (whose heyday was at their former home of Nashdom) have always been closely associated with that movement in Anglicanism that seeks reunion with the Church under the Pope. We might pray that our monastic community’s sharing of Christian hospitality with them might be a powerful instrument in guiding them into full communion with us. Let us pray for a new Pentecost to re-establish one Church before the eyes of the world, that it might believe.