By Daniel Martins

In October 2009, under the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued an “apostolic constitution” named (as is customary) by its opening words, Anglicanorum Coetibus. This was in response to persistent requests over the years from various Anglican and para-Anglican individuals and groups to enter full communion with the See of Rome, while retaining both married clergy and certain liturgical forms and ceremonial practices that have evolved and become beloved within the broader Anglican tradition.

Anglicanorum Coetibus paved the way for the creation of what are now three personal ordinariates — one each in the United Kingdom, North America, and Australia. These entities function almost as dioceses that geographically overlap the familiar diocesan boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church, with a few key distinctions. (They are analogous but not identical to groups of Eastern Rite parishes within the Roman Catholic Church.)

In the United Kingdom and in Australia, the Ordinary of each ordinariate is a former Anglican bishop, who has all the power and authority of a Roman Catholic bishop, but has not actually been (re-)ordained to the episcopate, since the accommodation for married clergy in the Roman Catholic Church extends only to priests, not bishops.


In North America, however, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter now has a Roman Catholic bishop. Consecrated in February 2016, Bishop Steven Lopes has never been an Anglican. He grew up in San Francisco and was ordained to the priesthood through that archdiocese. His theological formation took place in Rome, and he lived there for several years, serving as a staff member of the CDF. He was, as it were, on site during the development of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and has thereby attained a practical working knowledge of Anglican liturgy.

Last September, I received an invitation from Bishop Lopes to serve as the guest preacher at an ecumenical choral Evensong at his cathedral, Our Lady of Walsingham, in Houston. This took place during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Sunday, January 23. My wife and I flew to Houston the day before.

We first attended the 9 a.m. Eucharist at St Martin’s, a nearby Episcopal church, so we could make our Lord’s Day communion. But then we pointed our rental car in the direction of Our Lady of Walsingham in order to attend their 11:15 Solemn High Mass. I was curious. I knew about the ordinariate and its liturgical practices. I know many of their clergy, the great majority of whom are former Episcopalians. But I had never experienced the ordinariate concept on the ground. What would it feel like? What would the vibe be?

We were greeted with over-the-top graciousness. We arrived at the cathedral church about ten minutes before the scheduled beginning of the liturgy, and the nave was already so full that it took some effort on the part of the greeter to find us a spot. I was told later that this was only one of five Masses on the weekend, and the building is always filled to capacity for each of them. The cathedral is only about 20 years old, but there is a new, larger, one already in the planning stages.

I have attended Roman Catholic Masses multiple times over the years. It is always an experience that is simultaneously familiar and jarring. The basic paradigm, the structure of what happens, is of course what I am used to as an Anglican. I recognize the genre; I’m not lost at sea.

To be sure, in the midst of this familiarity, there is a baseline level of anxiety, since I know I am not welcome to receive Holy Communion when the time comes. I do not fully agree with the reasons behind this lack of eucharistic hospitality, but I understand and respect it. My anxiety is ameliorated because the mainstream Roman rite as it is practiced in the United States, especially in the 2011 translation, is different enough from my regular liturgical experience that it doesn’t feel like I’m being denied a meal in my home. It feels like I’m a guest.

At Our Lady of Walsingham, however, that dynamic was very different. The eucharistic liturgy across all three ordinariates is the same. It is a carefully stitched-together amalgam of elements from Books of Common Prayer across time (1549, 1662, 1928, 1962, 1979) and space (Church of England, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church of Australia, Anglican Church of Canada), with certain emendations. The most notable changes are the clarification that the words of the celebrant following the General Confession are not a sacramental absolution, and an entirely unfamiliar Eucharistic Prayer.

The liturgy includes such familiar texts as the Collect for Purity, the Summary of the Law, the General Confession and Comfortable Words, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the Cranmerian post-Communion prayer. Episcopalians will recognize the 1979 BCP’s Form I of the Prayers of the People, and the fraction anthem, Christ our Passover.

At Our Lady of Walsingham, the Hymnal 1940 is in the pew racks. The service music that day was from Healy Willan’s workhorse, Missa Sancta Maria Magdalena, all of which is in the Hymnal 1982 and still familiar to most any Episcopalian who routinely attends a sung Rite One liturgy. There was a fine organ, played in a very Anglican manner, and the choir sang one of my favorite anthems (a setting of Christ, whose glory fills the skies by the Anglican Frederick Candlyn).

Apart from knowing precisely where I was, there was nothing to distinguish what I heard and saw from what I have experienced in a number of Anglo-Catholic parishes, both in the United States and in England. In that context, then, having to step out from my pew to allow others to go to the Communion rail, but not walk forward myself, was profoundly unsettling. It felt like it might if I were to travel in time to my boyhood home and see my parents and siblings and all the same bric-a-brac on shelves and paintings on walls, only to find my room had been let out and I couldn’t spend the night there.

After the liturgy, the pastor — a young man with a wife and children, a graduate of Nashotah House, the son of a priest who is also a graduate of Nashotah House and in the ordinariate — told me that about 55 percent of his 850 households are composed of former Episcopalians, the rest being cradle Catholics. He then took me on a tour of the impressive physical plant, which includes a school, along with a scaled-down replica of an arch from the ruins of the medieval abbey in Walsingham. Right behind the cathedral campus is the chancery building for the ordinariate (what Episcopalians might call a “diocesan center”). It is large, with a monumental quality, done in stone, conveying an intention of remaining there two or three centuries from now. It was not built on the cheap. The chapel features a marble altar and carved marble reredos. The conference room has state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment. The reception area features beautiful icons and statuary. And it’s practically brand new, paid for, I was told, by a single donor.

The Evensong was almost an anti-climax, but gorgeous. I told a friend that it sounded like Westminster Abbey and looked like All Saints Margaret Street (an Anglo-Catholic shrine church in London). The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were from the Anglican Charles V. Stanford’s scrumptious setting in the key of C. The organ and choir were magnificent. The whole thing felt utterly and familiarly Anglican. My homily was enthusiastically received.

If you have read this far, you are probably wondering, with me, what it all means. According to Anglicanorum Coetibus and the stated intent of those who labored for its creation, the ordinariate plan is an ecumenical gesture, not merely a pastoral one. The hope is that it will be a sort of magnet for those Anglicans who organically already have Catholic sensibilities. It is a good-faith attempt to honor the Anglican patrimony as an important thread in the tapestry of liturgies and forms of spirituality that make up the Catholic Church. Those who developed the structure believe that the Anglican tradition has something valuable to offer that can enrich the larger whole; indeed, something that the larger whole needs for its renewal and vitality. I am inclined to take the CDF at its word that the ordinariates are an expression of a desire for unity and reconciliation.

Not all see it this way. A plausible argument can be mounted that it is a poison pill dissolved in the well of ecumenism. The Apostolic Constitution was revealed without any evident consultation with or even notice to the See of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion Office. Indeed, many Roman Catholic bishops in England were less than enamored of it.

Moreover, do the ordinariates really manifest the genuine Anglican patrimony? Or are they just a hothouse version of one style of the Anglo-Catholic fringe, a convenient way for clergy and laity who already feel fundamentally compromised as Anglicans to just continue doing what they’re doing, only with a different structure of accountability (no more vestries and standing committees and synods, but a clear hierarchical authority)? Do the ordinariates in fact undermine unity by bleeding off the motivation for the hard ecumenical conversations that are necessary? These are significant questions around which there is not yet abundant clarity.

Is there a future for the ordinariates? Sooner or later they will run out of disaffected Anglicans. Will they be able to do first-level evangelization? Are there very many Catholics who will find that liturgical ambience compelling? There are already more Anglican clergy who wish to row that particular boat across the Tiber than there are congregations that they can lead. In North America, there are 53 parishes in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Some, like Our Lady of Walsingham, are booming. Others are marginal. All live in relative isolation, spread across the vast expanse of the United States and Canada.

And what about the future of a married priesthood? That it is a question of discipline and not doctrine has been widely known for decades. The principle is this: a married man may be ordained a priest, but a priest may not marry. This is, in fact, the case among Orthodox churches, in which graduating seminarians are known to scramble to find wives before ordination! I suspect this sort of culture will develop among the ordinariates. I might also conjecture that the mainstream of the Latin Rite might look on the ordinariates as a sort of laboratory for seeing what sort of culture develops when married clergy are routinely allowed to be pastors of parishes.

Some years ago, a prominent Anglican liturgical scholar was reported to have remarked, in an ecumenical setting, that the Roman Catholic Church has perfected the art of unity and authority, but is underdeveloped in the dimensions of diversity and subsidiarity, while Anglican churches are second to none in diversity and subsidiarity, but have much to learn in the areas of unity and authority. It will be interesting to see how these polar tensions play out as Anglicanorum Coetibus comes of age.


About The Author

Bishop Daniel Martins is retired Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in the Episcopal Church, which encompasses central and southern Illinois. He is also secretary of the Living Church Foundation’s board of directors. Among the members of the House of Bishops, he hangs out with the group known as the Communion Partners. He has previously served parishes in the dioceses of Louisiana, Northern Indiana, and San Joaquin.

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7 Responses

  1. Richard Grand

    The issues that propelled these former Anglicans/Episcopalians to leave for Rome aren’t mentioned here. Joining this group means a rejection of any ordained ministry for women and a refusal to see gay people as anything but disordered. This is conservative Romanism with all that implies, especially an attachment to rigid doctrine and socially conservative views, veering very much to the right. Their politics follow suit. This is more than people who like the Pope and the BCP. There is a culture and worldview that many ther Roman Catholics would find extreme. This group exists on the right-wing of Roman Catholicism, hence its attraction to hardline conservatives, both Roman and Anglican. Small wonder that it’s in Texas.

    • Anthony Clark

      As a point of clarification, Washington, D.C. was also considered for the location Personal Ordinariate because of the easy access of international flights. Houston was ultimately chosen because it was more centrally located, since its jurisdiction technically goes from Canada to the southern tip of South America.

    • Steven Rabanal

      Coming from being a cradle Catholic myself, now within the Ordinariate, it looks like you’re seeing things as you may have heard from common misconceptions. Orthodox Catholicism has never looked at gays as solely disordered. The Catholic Church always stresses pastoral care. We never should look at gays as intrinsically disordered people that are doomed, but as souls that deserve God’s love and the Church’s pastoral care. Pope John Paul II even approved then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”.

      I also know that joining the Ordinariate does not mean becoming a right-wing Conservative Catholic. All it entails is submission to the Catholic Church’s teachings. I even know Ordinariate communities and parishes that are not so hardline conservative, but generally, take more moderate stances.

      • Mary Barrett

        Being born a Roman Catholic and a gay person, I think Richard is right on track. Glad to be Episcopalian, never going backwards.

  2. Jonathan Mitchican

    Thank you, Bishop Martins, for a largely charitable read of your experience. It was a joy for me to be with you at Mass that day and to hear your excellent homily that evening at Evensong.

    If I may offer a couple of small nitpicks and then a few scattered thoughts on some of the harder questions you ask.

    Nitpick 1: There are no “Eastern Rite parishes in the Roman Catholic Church.” Indeed, there is no “Eastern Rite.” There are several Rites in the Catholic Church that developed in the East, such as the Byzantine Rite and the Alexandrian Rite. And there are roughly 23 different Eastern Catholic Churches with varying degrees of autonomy. I think it’s important to note this because the analogy does not quite work. The Personal Ordinariates are part of the Roman Catholic Church and our liturgy is a form of the Roman Rite. We have certain differences in our practice that we have been granted, but we are not autonomous, at least not any more than any other diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is.

    Nitpick 2: The Ordinariates do not “retain a married priesthood” but have been given the opportunity to ordain married men to the priesthood on a case by case basis, as approved by the CDF and ultimately by the pope. That may seem like a paper distinction, but it will make more sense in response to one of your questions below.

    You ask some important questions that are worth considering. Do the Personal Ordinariates “really manifest the genuine Anglican patrimony”? This is a fascinating topic to explore I think, probably even more so for Anglicans than for Ordinariate Catholics because it begs the further question of whether or not there is a single patrimony that can be called genuinely Anglican. After all, much as I tried over the years to nail down something that could legitimately be called Anglicanism, the truth of the matter is that there are many “Anglicanisms,” some of which are better at co-existing than others.

    The phrase “Anglican patrimony” only comes up once in Anglicanorum Coetibus, in connection with the need for the Ordinariates eventually to establish their own seminaries and training programs. What Anglicanorum Coetibus talks about instead is the need for the Ordinariates to exhibit 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.” But these traditions aren’t meant to be comprehensive, encompassing anything and everything that might have ever happened in an Anglican context. Rather, as AC says in several places, these norms are to be established by the Holy See. In other words, the Anglican patrimony is identified and given to the Ordinariates by the magisterium of the Catholic Church, not the other way around. This matches the way that ecumenism is talked about in the documents of Vatican II, particularly in Unitatis Redintigratio, where there is a recognition by the Church that the Holy Spirit has been at work in giving graces to non-Catholic Christian communities and that it is for the Church to identify those graces and incorporate them into her common life.

    It seems to me that I would have found this an unsatisfactory way of describing Anglican patrimony when I was an Anglican. I can certainly see how it would feel in some ways limiting, at least from the outside. For me now though, as a Roman Catholic and a member of an Ordinariate, I find the whole thing quite freeing. The Church acknowledges and even celebrates the beauty of the Anglican world that nurtured me, but she also sets the terms for how that beauty is to be brought lovingly into the life of the Catholic Church. I no longer have to be the one who decides and then defends which Anglicanism is the “real” or “correct” one.

    Is there a future for the Ordinariates? I believe there is. But I think it’s a good and fair question to ask what kind of work we will do to evangelize, not just disaffected Anglicans but the increasing number of “nones” out there. And this, I think, is a place where hopefully ecumenism can thrive. Whatever divides us, if we are followers of Jesus then we should all have a stake in carrying the Gospel to those who have not heard it or who have rejected a false version of it. We will all have to work in the years ahead to develop new avenues of evangelization, hopefully embracing the creativity, passion, and dedication necessary to speak the Good News into places that have been unable or unwilling to hear it before.

    That said, I want to push back some against the notion that the Ordinariates are made up of nothing but the “disaffected” or an “Anglo-Catholic fringe.” I certainly do not think of myself in that way. I found there to be a lot of challenges in being faithful in the Episcopal Church, but also a lot of joy in my ministry right up and until the end. I did not become Catholic because I was trying to run away from Anglicanism. I became Catholic because I felt God calling me to do so, and in that calling I came to realize was the fruition of everything good, holy, and true that Anglicanism had planted and nurtured within me.

    Finally, you ask about the future of a married priesthood. I do not dare speculate, but I think we need to be clear on what we are talking about here. The norm for the Personal Ordinariates is the same as it is for the rest of the Roman Catholic Church, celibacy for clergy. At this point in our life that may seem strange to say, given that our married clergy outnumber those who are celibate, but that will change over time. Already, in the UK Ordinariate somewhere around a third of the clergy are celibate. It will be interesting to see how the mixed economy of married and celibate develops in the Ordinariates in the years ahead. But what needs to be said in the here and now is that the purpose of the Ordinariates is not to create and foster a married priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. This is no more a goal of the Ordinariates than it was of the Pastoral Provision. It is a gracious blessing that the Holy See has allowed many of us who are married to seek orders. But that’s not why we exist. We exist to serve the Church and the world.

  3. Dafyd

    For what it’s worth, the “completely unfamiliar Eucharistic prayer” Bishop Martins describes is nearly word for word the Gregorian Canon, which has been printed in the Missal traditions in England and the United States for roughly a century. Andrewes Press’s recent American Missal, for example, contains it.

    • Bishop Daniel Martins

      True. But it is certainly unfamiliar to *most* Anglicans.


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