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Anglican Ordinariates in the Catholic Church

Updated on January 23, 2013

What are Anglican Ordinariates?

The Anglican Ordinariates are an initiative of Pope Benedict XVI. They offer a home within the Catholic Church for those Anglicans who wish to be in communion with the Pope and Catholics across the globe whilst maintaining their own traditions of worship and of spirituality, which they in turn can share with the wider church.

Picture credit: Wikipedia

John Henry Newman, later Cardinal Newman
John Henry Newman, later Cardinal Newman

History behind the Ordinariates - 1

The Catholic roots of Anglicanism, the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism

There is much history behind the ordinariates but, in short, when the Church in England, under the aegis of King Henry VIII, repudiated its allegiance to the Pope, it separated itself from the wider Catholic Church. Whilst to many this was not a problem, to others it was felt as a grave loss. Various currents within Anglican thought pointing towards the importance of maintaining Anglicanism's Catholic heritage arose over the centuries, receiving their most concrete expression in the Oxford Movement in the 19th century and its successor Anglo-Catholic movement of the twentieth. Whilst both of these movements had some success in re-presenting the Catholic roots of Anglicanism and of impelling Anglicanism in a more "catholic" direction, nonetheless for some individuals within these movements that was not enough, and their spiritual journeys led them "home to Rome". The future cardinals Manning and John Henry Newman are only the most famous examples of this trend. (Read Fr Aidan Nichols' "The Panther and the Hind" for more on this interesting subject.)

Picture credit: Wikipedia

Ordinariates in more detail

The basic building block of the Catholic Church is the diocese, that is the group of faithful in a particular area gathered around their bishop and the priests who minister in his name. Normally this arrangement is territorial - that is, dioceses have fixed boundaries and do not overlap. Everyone of the faithful within the boundaries of that diocese belongs to it. The situation in relation to the ordinariates is slightly different; here the faithful gather around their ordinary but he (for pastoral reasons connected with the historical Anglican practice of a married clergy) need not be a bishop, nor is he constrained other than by the boundaries of the bishops' conference to which he belongs (or whatever other limits have been ascribed to his authority). Rather, the ordinary provides leadership for and provides pastoral care for those of the faithful from an Anglican background who seek it. This care is exercised on his behalf by groups and parishes under the care of ordinariate priests across the country in a manner, and using liturgical books, drawing from the Anglican tradition.

Joining the Ordinariate

In terms of clergy there are specific requirements which the relevant ordinariate will be able to advise on and which I shall not endeavour to summarise here for fear of inaccuracy. Members of the laity wishing to formally join the ordinariate will need to be enrolled, a process which is managed again by the relevant ordinariate, who will also be able to put enquirers in touch with their nearest ordinariate parish or group.

See weblinks below:

Ordinariate-related material to buy - Amazon

The Catholic Church and England: The Pope's Offer of Personal Ordinariates
The Catholic Church and England: The Pope's Offer of Personal Ordinariates

By a former Anglican bishop, and now ordinariate priest, Monsignor Edwin Barnes.

The Roman Option
The Roman Option

A fascinating description, by a well-know former Anglican, of an abortive attempt to set up a structure for Anglicans within the Catholic Church, which may nonetheless have sown the seeds for the Ordinariate...

Anglican Papalism: An Illustrated History 1900-1960
Anglican Papalism: An Illustrated History 1900-1960

Interesting background, with life stories and descriptions of this small but important movement in the life of the Church of England.

The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism
The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism

An important survey of the Catholic and other strands within Anglicanism by a great friend of the ordinariates.


How many Anglican ordinariates are there?

There are three Anglican Ordinariates at present, one for Great Britain, one for North America and one for Australasia. The British is the first in point of time, erected on 15th January 2011, and is named after its heavenly patron, as The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Personal Ordinariate of The Chair of Saint Peter, for North America, followed roughly a year later on 1st January 2012. The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, for Australasia, is the most recent to be established, on 15th June 2012. Strictly, the ordinariates should be coterminous with the territorial extent of a particular bishop's conference, but the first two ordinariates extend further - OWL extends north into Scotland and CSP north into Canada, where a separate deanery has been established for Canadian Anglicans.

The badge of the Catholic League
The badge of the Catholic League

Ordinariate history 2

Individual conversion and coporate reunion

The issues which informed the trajectory of the Oxford and related movements remain current of course, and still inform decisions today. Following the "Second Spring" of Catholicism in Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, an event not unconnected with the conversion of Newman, Manning and other luminaries, there continued to be a steady stream of conversions to Catholicism right up to the present day. What distinguishes this general movement from that which impelled the formation of the ordinariates is that it was predicated on the conversion of individuals.

There have, of course, been movements within the Anglican church seeking "corporate reunion" (as it was known) of the Anglican church with the Catholic - the Catholic League/Unitas being the best known. These bodies continue to look to, and pray for, reunion, and there was a time when such efforts, combined with the renewed focus on ecumenism after the Second Vatican Council and the work of the Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), seemed likely to bear fruit in a general reunion. As such, up until more recent years it seems that little serious consideration had been given to Anglicans moving into communion with the Catholic Church en bloc, outside of the context of full reunion.

Picture credit: The Catholic League

Anglo-Catholic shrine Church, St Barnabas Brighton
Anglo-Catholic shrine Church, St Barnabas Brighton

Ordinariate Liturgy

Liturgy in the ordinariates is still under consideration, but provision has been made initially through the Book of Divine Worship (BDW) for liturgy and the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham for daily office purposes. In addition, ordinariate parishes have been given the right to use the Revised Standard Version (RSV) Lectionary to provide the readings for the liturgy, a version which, being derived from the Authorised Version/King James Version, is more in accord with their accustomed liturgical practice and "voice" than, for example, the Jerusalem Bible Lectionary.

Picture credit:

Ordinariate Liturgy on Amazon

Holy Mass: According to the Book of Divine Worship
Holy Mass: According to the Book of Divine Worship

The Book of Divine Worship is the first liturgical resource designed to address the liturgical needs of Anglicans in communion with the Catholic Church and is available to be used as a resource by ordinariate congregations whilst liturgical material specific to them is being developed.

Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham
Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham

An important liturgical resource, combining Anglican and Catholic forms of daily prayer in a satisfying synthesis.


Ordinariate liturgical kalendar

Each, ordinariate, much like each individual diocese of the Catholic Church, will have its own liturgical calendar, which sets out the saint's days, feasts and fast days which its priests and people will observe each year. The kalendars of the ordinariates are based on the general calendar of the Roman Rite with some local additions to reflect saints of the British isles and the pre-Reformation traditions of Ecclesia Anglicana. The latter include such observances as Rogation and Ember days and the naming of the Sundays of Ordinary Time as "After Epiphany", "After Trinity" and the traditional names for the Sundays before Lent (Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima).

Illustration from a 15-16th century Sarum Missal
Illustration from a 15-16th century Sarum Missal

Is an ordinariate a "Ritual Church"?

Although they will share their own distinct way of celebrating the liturgy and daily offices, the ordinariates will not be "ritual churches" in the sense of having their own distinct Rite, such as the Eastern Catholic churches. Rather, the ordinariate liturgy will be a Use (local adaptation) of and within the Roman Rite - in much the same way as the old Sarum Use, from which so much of the Anglican patrimony, through the prism of the Book of Common Prayer, is derived, was a Use of the Roman Rite.

Arms of the Traditional Anglican Communion
Arms of the Traditional Anglican Communion

Ordinariate history 3

Changes within Anglicanism in the modern era, the Anglican Continuum and Traditional Integrities

The latter half of the twentieth century was a time of some change in Anglicanism (and also in Catholicism of course); specifically in the context of Anglicanism, changes to the liturgy and the priesthood were made or appeared to be in prospect which, in the eyes of opponents, fundamentally changed the historic content of Anglicanism as an entity. This prompted moves, in particular in the Americas, to create from the historical churches bodies which would maintain the older practices and doctrines; many of these in due course coalesced to form the Traditional Anglican Communion, of which more later. In the British Isles, matters followed a slightly different trajectory; here a particular (but not the only) matter of contention was the departure from the male-only priesthood, and the manner of resolving the resultant dissensions was to agree to the existence of two integrities within the Anglican church, one of which accepted the change and the other which could not. Therefore, as matters stood across the Anglican world there was division, whether overt or managed, between those who supported the changes and those who did not.

For many - although not all - the question was as much as anything else a matter of authority; that is, from where could authority be drawn for the changes made or in prospect? In this light, the question of authority within the wider church, and in particular the claims of the Catholic Church in this regard, came to be re-examined.

Picture credit: Wikipedia/Traditional Anglican Communion

Ordinariate clergy

The clergy in each of the ordinariates are headed by their ordinaries, who stand in the same relation to them as a bishop does to his priests. The ordinaries are members of their respective bishops' conferences by right of their office. It is quite possible for the "ordinary" to be a bishop, but thus far this has not been the case. The ordinaries of the first three ordinariates are married men and therefore could not be consecrated bishops as the Catholic Church, in common with the Orthodox Church and for ecumenical reasons, does not consecrate married men to the episcopate.

Practically all ordinariate priests have previously served as Anglican clergy and have pastoral experience stemming from this. They have, however, all been ordained as priests in the Catholic Church in order that there be no doubt about the validity of their priestly ministry; they serve as Catholic priests in good standing wherever they are sent.

Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ordinariate of OLW
Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ordinariate of OLW

Anglican Religious

Catholics have always considered the presence of people dedicated to the religious life as one of the "notes of the church". Anglican religious were amongst the first to join the ordinariate, and now religious from two Anglican communities have become members of the ordinariates and a new religious order under the aegis of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has now been established.

Picture credit: - The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham

Ordinariate history 4

The "Roman Option" and the Pastoral Provision

In the context of the changes described above, and their re-examination of the claims of the Catholic Church to authority, many Anglican clergy came to the view that, whatever the Catholicity of Anglicanism, their home must henceforth must be in the Catholic Church and made this move on an individual basis. Others, however, had parishioners who felt the same way and wished to explore the possibility of moving over en bloc as a worshipping community, priest and people together, ideally in a way which could be constituted as part of a larger "ritual church" within the Catholic fold. As charted in Dr William Oddie's "The Roman Option" (see above), this possibility was not realised in England and Wales save for one experimental congregation subsequently discontinued. In the United States of America, however, by special Papal permission, a special structure was created, the "Pastoral Provision". Whilst not amounting to a separate Anglican Rite church, this provision did allow Anglican (Episcopal Church) parishes to move as one into Catholic diocese, there to operate pastorally and liturgically in ways respectful of their Anglican heritage (the Book of Divine Worship being one of the fruits of this.) Such parishes continue to exist and flourish.

Supporting the ordinariates

Each of the ordinariates will have, or be looking at setting up, an organisation of "Friends", and this is a good way of offering some support, beginning with the cost of membership. Alternatively (or as well) why not get involved with your local ordinariate group? There is always scope for an imaginative practical gesture - one such was when Fr Christopher Phillips, of the Pastoral Provision Parish of Our Lady of the Atonement, facilitated donations of copies of the RSV Lectionary to nascent ordinariate parishes in Britain, but no doubt there are other possibilities. In addition, there is also the possibility of supporting the Saint Barnabas Society, which assists clergy and religious of all denominations through the process of joining the Catholic Church.

Weblinks below:

Ordinariate History 5

TAC, The Third Province and the Ordinariates

And so we approach the present day. The Traditional Anglican Communion, having given its assent to the Catechism of the Catholic Church at Portsmouth, and Catholic-minded bishops of the Church of England, seeing the receding probability of a CofE "Third Province" within which those of their integrity could flourish, both petitioned the Catholic Church for a structural solution within the Catholic Church. These petitions were heard by the Roman Curia and with particular interest by the Pope, who was first alerted to the issue during his days at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the period chronicled by "The Roman Option" and took a considerable interest in developments. Under his aegis and with his support the ordinariates were born, offering a structure whereby groups of Anglicans could follow the path to the Catholic Church together, under their own pastors, and be cared for and supported within a distinct national structure respectful of their Anglican heritage but fully compatible with the Catholic ethos.

Anglican Patrimony

Amongst other things, the ordinariates are charged with preserving and sharing their "Anglican patrimony". Some have asked, what is the Anglican patrimony? In the literal sense, of course, patrimony is something handed down, as from Father to Son, and so in this context we can say that it is about the good things which present-day Anglicanism has inherited from its forebears, but more specifically?

The answer to this question is almost certainly an unfolding one but at the very least we can say that Anglican psalmody, hymnody, sacral language, centuries of tradition of vernacular liturgy and much of the canon of Anglican spiritual writing will be key components. How all this will unfold is a matter for the future, but we can point towards Monsignor Andrew Burnham's "Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham", with its careful use of Anglican liturgical forms and spiritual writers, as a very concrete example.

Amazon - resources on Anglican-Catholic ecumenism

The ordinariates have deep roots; some of the texts linked to here will help to illustrate them. (Also see "Anglicans and Catholics in Communion", published by the Catholic League and available directly from them:

The Oecumenical Ideals of the Oxford Movement
The Oecumenical Ideals of the Oxford Movement

Particularly good on Anglican movements seeking reunion


Ordinariate groups and parishes

Below the structure of the territorial ordinariates and their deaneries, there are ordinariate groups and - more exceptionally - parishes. Groups typically meet in the church of a suitably-located Catholic parish and may indeed formally share the building. Ordinariate parishes typically occur either where a congregation has its own building from prior to the canonical erection of the ordinariate or where the local bishop has turned a particular church over to the ordinariate's use.

Parishes served by the ordinariates

Slow but sure growth...

Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street, principal church of the Ordinariate OLW
Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street, principal church of the Ordinariate OLW

Ordinariate "home churches"

The home or principal church of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is, from Lent 2013, to be the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Gilbert, Warwick Street, Soho, London - a charming and very historical venue.

The home church of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter is the Church of Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston, Texas, one of the original "Pastoral Provision" parishes.

The Church of Saint Ninian & Saint Chad, Perth, is the principal church of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, and was originally a parish of the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia.

Picture credit:

What next?

It would be potentially foolish to speculate about the future development of the ordinariates so early in their existence but the Pope has made it clear that one of his goals is the "New Evangelisation" - that is, the evangelisation of the post-Christian population of countries around the world. It is to be hoped that the ordinariates will be at the forefront of this, and early evidence suggests that this is at the forefront of their minds.

Prayer for the Ordinariates

A prayer in traditional Anglican form by a great friend of the Ordinariates


Bishop Peter Elliot

Eternal Father, we place before you the project of forming the Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. We thank you for this initiative of Pope Benedict XVI., and we ask that, through the Holy Spirit, the Ordinariates may become families of charity, peace and the service of the poor, centres for Christian unity and reconciliation, and communities that welcome and evangelize, teaching the Faith in all its fullness, celebrating the liturgy and sacraments with prayerful reverence and maintaining a distinctive patrimony of Christian faith and culture.

Drawing on that heritage we pray:

Go before us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works, begun, continued and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

V/ Our Lady of Walsingham.

R/ Pray for us as we claim your motherly care.

V/ Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus.

R/ Pray for us as we place this work under your patronage.

V/ Saints and Martyrs of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

R/ Pray for us and accompany us on our pilgrim way.

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