January saw the 10th Anniversary of the Erection of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the first of the three Personal Ordinariates around the world. It was established in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI to allow Anglicans to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church while retaining much of their heritage and traditions. We exist to promote the unity of all Christians with the Apostolic See, and to faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the rich treasures of our traditions.
Since the 1950s, and earlier, senior members of the Catholic wing of the Church of England have had regular meetings with the Roman Curia as dissatisfaction with the direction the Anglican Communion was moving in grew. By the time Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was named in 1981 as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, these discussion had become more urgent as both the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church, in the eyes of many, were drifting further and further away from the truths, both theological and moral, handed down from Apostolic times.
In October 2009, much to the surprise and delight of many, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, announced that Pope Benedict XVI had created a new provision in response to the many requests from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wished to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church.
The publication of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus introduced a canonical structure that provided for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates which would allow Anglican clergy along with their people to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of their distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.
Cardinal Levada wrote, “This Apostolic Constitution opens a new avenue for the promotion of Christian unity while, at the same time, granting legitimate diversity in the expression of our common faith. It represents not an initiative on the part of the Holy See, but a generous response from the Holy Father to the legitimate aspirations of these Anglican groups. The provision of this new structure is consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church.”
The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was erected in January 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI when three former Church of England bishops were ordained to the Catholic priesthood in Westminster Cathedral and the Holy Father nominated the Reverend Keith Newton, former Bishop of Richborough, as the first Ordinary of this Personal Ordinariate. Writing about the event Cardinal Levada said, “It is my fervent hope that, by enabling what the Holy Father calls ‘a mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimony’, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will bring great blessings not only on those directly involved in it, but upon the whole Church.”
In March 2011 Pope Benedict XVI granted Fr Newton the title of Protonotary Apostolic, the highest grade of Monsignor. This coincided with over 60 Anglican clergy resigning their livings on Shrove Tuesday and, along with their people, beginning a period of formation. We were received into the full communion of the Catholic Church at Easter 2011. For these clergy, their Formation for Catholic priesthood had already begun at Allen Hall Seminary in London following a programme approved by the Holy See which would continue for a further two and a half years.
For me this meant travelling from Inverness to London every week for the first year, taking me away from home for three days at a time. It may sound hard, but in fact, being part of this group of more than 60 former Anglican clergy who all felt that, after many years of prayer, at last we were all “coming home”. Although clergy had to vacate their church houses and lost their income, and laity, the churches generations had worshipped in, we all felt privileged to be part of Pope Benedict’s vision that this new structure would be a way “to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared”.
Our Mass and its Propers are distinctive. “Divine Worship: the Missal” uses the language of Anglican prayer books and maintains the dignity and ceremonial of the Anglican Missal, itself based on the Sarum Missal which dates from the late eleventh century until the English Reformation.
I was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in July 2011 by the late ArchBishop Philip Tartaglia, then Bishop of Paisley, but the path that led to me becoming a Catholic priest really began in 1968 when I began my Anglican theological training. By the time of my ordination as a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1973, the Catholic Church in Scotland was working closely with the Episcopal Church on documents including joint statements on baptism, confirmation, marriage and the eucharist. While great things were hoped for, this was not to be. Over the years the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion moved away from what the Episcopalian motto declared as “evangelical truth and apostolic order”.
Coming into the full communion of the Catholic Church along with my wife, Ruth, and sixteen other former Episcopalians and, of course, my ordination to the Catholic priesthood, marked a new beginning. Things have gone from strength to strength ever since. At the beginning of 2012, as part of a Thanksgiving Pilgrimage to Rome with over 100 members of the Ordinariate, I was invited by our Ordinary to give the homily at a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, an occasion I will never forget.
The Gospel for the day was the Transfiguration of Our Lord. It could not have been more perfect. I began my homily with a tear in my eye and the words of St Peter, “Lord, it is good for us to be here” ... and it continues to be very good indeed, ten years later.
Fr Len Black
Senior Pastor to the Scottish Catholic Mission of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham