The path to Rome includes Texas barbecue. Not as a requirement of the faith, but in the mysterious workings of Providence, a reward for it. That’s not a metaphor. There was a barbecue as part of the official proceedings for the Feb. 2 ordination of Steven Lopes as first bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. It’s a mouthful, with a history.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated
Anglicanorum coetibus, which permitted groups of Anglicans to become Catholic together, maintaining their Anglican heritage, which is principally a more elevated language for worship, a more traditional liturgy, magnificent music and, at least for the time being, a married priesthood. The main beneficiaries were the former Anglicans themselves, though their liturgical heritage certainly can profit the wider Catholic Church.
In 2012, a “personal ordinariate” was created for the United States and Canada. Practically speaking, it’s a diocese without borders but consisting instead of a particular group of people, in this case those who used to be Anglican or who are attached to the Anglican traditions. Governed by an “ordinary” — a priest with the authority but not the rank of a bishop — for the past few years, the ordination of Bishop Lopes now means that the former Anglicans are now fully established, with their own diocese and bishop.
When the Personal Ordinariate was set up in 2012, it was given the title “Chair of St. Peter” rather than the usual geographic title that dioceses are given. Houston was chosen to be the seat as the parish of Our Lady of Walsingham — named after the English shrine — had already been functioning as a Catholic parish with Anglican traditions for 30 years under special provisions. So upon Houston this week descended a group of passionate Anglophiles — not required for Ordinariate membership
de jure, but apparently
de facto — to celebrate their first bishop in Texas style.
In 2010, a few months after
Anglicanorum coetibus, we hosted at Queen’s University Cardinal William Levada, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He spoke at our St. John Fisher Dinner, giving a major lecture on the significance of Pope Benedict XVI’s gesture in providing a generous path for Anglicans to reassume full communion with the See of Peter and the Catholic Church universal.
Accompanying Cardinal Levada on that trip was his secretary, Fr. Steven Lopes, who, as an official of the CDF, had done much of the heavy lifting in getting the “personal ordinariates” off the ground. Six years later, he is a most suitable choice for the ordinariate’s first bishop. And in a nice personal touch, Bishop Lopes asked Cardinal Levada to preach the homily at the ordination Mass.
I experienced the high Anglican tradition during my studies at the University of Cambridge and came to appreciate the richness of both the sacral English of their liturgical prayer and their splendid choral tradition. At Cambridge the devotion was quite evidently more intensely for the language and music than the doctrines they expressed or the God they worshipped, but beautiful it was. There is always a danger that the liturgy, of whatever kind, can become something of an idol, about itself rather than the right worship of God, but it seems that the Ordinariate is aware of that danger. Some years back, Fr. Lee Kenyon, the former Anglican priest, now Catholic, who is pastor of the Ordinariate parish in Calgary, told me that his parish is not intended to be a “boutique” of liturgical exotica, but an engine of evangelization. Quite right.
Last Advent, the Ordinariates began to use their own version of the Roman Missal, entitled “Divine Worship.” It has no noticeable Texas drawl. But it does have some prayers that English-speaking Catholics might be wise to look at. Their “Confiteor” puts ours to shame, even if ostentation as penitence is an odd object for competition. My view is that regarding the efficacy of seeking pardon, God would be more inclined to grant it if it was presented in a pleasing literary manner. The “Prayer of Humble Access” recited before Holy Communion is magnificent and prepares well the soul for reception of the sacrament.
It’s hard to know what the Ordinariate might contribute to the life of the wider Church, aside from nourishing the faith of its own membership. The number of Anglicans left available for conversion is dwindling, and despite my affection for it, one must concede that there do not appear to be vast numbers hungering after the language of the King James Version, whether set to polyphony or not. In most parishes, it is the Masses in a simpler liturgical style that attract the most numbers. Nevertheless, my hopes are high.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including, please God, the influence of those former Anglicans worshipping with us now in spirit and in truth.