Those of you outside of the Anglican ordinariate, or the Traditional Catholic movement, will probably find this little more than a curiosity. Those of you, like myself, who are actively involved in the formation of the Anglican ordinariate within the Catholic Church will find this essential. Any Anglican even considering conversion to the Catholic Church will also find it essential. Traditional Catholics will likewise be very interested.
A controversy has erupted concerning the use of the Traditional Latin Mass (Usus Antiquior, “Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite” or “Tridentine Missal”) in Anglican ordinariate parishes. (Note: this is not the same as the regular “Ordinary Form” of the mass celebrated in Latin.) Mr. Christian Clay Columba Campbell, of TheAngloCatholic.com blog, records his experience with the newly installed Anglican Ordinary for the United States, Monsignor Jeffery N. Steenson…
Mr. Campbell is correct in his assessment of Anglicanorum coetibus and Summorum Pontificum. Ordinariate priests do have the unrestricted right to celebrate the sacraments according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. However, I should point out here that this unrestricted right applies to private masses primarily. Public masses on the other hand, are a different story, Summorum Pontificum stipulates that if a small but stable group of the faithful request such a liturgy, they cannot be denied. The necessary size of such groups has never been stipulated, to my knowledge, but my understanding is that in all cases the bishop (or in this case, Ordinary monsignor) should be generous. This is after all a matter of canon law now.
What I am unsure about is how we should interpret Mr. Campbell’s impression of the conversation in question. In no way do I doubt or question Mr. Campbell’s impression of what happened. He has been, and remains to this day, an unimpeachable source of reliable information for all things related to the pope’s ordinariate program. However, it has been my personal experience that conversations can easily be interpreted different ways by multiple different people. Both my wife and I have listened to the exact same words, spoken by the exact same people, at the exact same time. The only difference between us was the three-foot distance that spanned the space between her ears and mine. Yet, after the conversation, my wife and I have walked away with two completely different interpretations of what was just said. It happens all the time. From this I have learned to listen to her impression, while explaining mine in turn, as we sometimes agree to disagree, or else determine that the “truth” was actually something in between our respective interpretations. I tend to pity the poor souls who’s words are often subject to our evening deliberations.
I should point out here that I have more than a vested interest in this controversy…
I’m sure you can understand why Mr. Campbell’s account of his encounter with Msgr. Steenson was particularly troubling to me. Before allowing myself to be hurt by it however, I decided to approach this whole thing the same way I approach evening deliberations with my wife. I felt it might be important to try to understand this from more than just one perspective.
Now admittedly I wasn’t there for Mr. Campbell’s conversation with Msgr. Steenson, so I cannot say what my impression was. I simply have to take Mr. Campbell’s interpretation of events at face value. Fortunately however, Msgr. Steenson decided to release a statement to help clarify his thoughts on the matter. I relay that statement in its entirety…
Overall, I thought this was a fair explanation, and it seemed to confirm what I had previously suspected when I first read of Mr. Campbell’s encounter with Msgr. Steenson. I wonder if perhaps Msgr. Steenson did not appreciate the delicacy of the topic at hand during his conversation with Mr. Campbell, and perhaps spoke in terms that were far too generalised and sweeping. (Just a thought.) This latest statement seems to demonstrate a much more reflective approach. There have been more developments since this latest statement, most of which can be found on TheAngloCatholic.com blog, but I think this serves as a good primer for me to express my own thoughts on the matter…
As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, clearly explained in Summorum Pontificum, the Roman Rite consists of two forms — Ordinary and Extraordinary. The Ordinary Form is what is most commonly translated into the vernacular languages (such as English or Spanish, etc.) and commonly used today. The Extraordinary Form is the strictly Latin liturgy that was used exclusively up until 1969. The prayers and rubrics of the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms differ considerably, in addition to the language, as does the lectionary and psalter. Prior to Summorum Pontificum (2007) many bishops restricted the use of the Extraordinary Form in their dioceses, and in my opinion, this caused some serious problems to develop in the Catholic Church. This prohibition of the Extraordinary Form led to an artificial and unnecessary split in the laity between “traditional” and “contemporary” Catholics. Sadly, hostilities developed between these two groups. This in turn led each side to entrench in their positions; with “contemporary Catholics” taking every opportunity to innovate in the liturgy as much as possible (i.e. “liturgical abuse”), and “traditional Catholics” shunning the Ordinary Form entirely, occasionally subscribing to conspiracy theories as well. It is into this scene that Pope Benedict XVI released Summorum Pontificum in an attempt to heal the developing fracture. As a matter of Church law now, every priest has the right to privately celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (if he is properly trained of course), and ordinary bishops must supply a public celebration of the Extraordinary Form whenever a “stable group” of Catholic faithful request it. It is my opinion, that the healing process has only just begun, and it will take at least ten years before we can safely say this unfortunate rupture in the Church (between “traditional” and “contemporary”) is finally behind us.
Two years later, the Holy Father released Anglicanorum coetibus, which provided for the establishment of ordinariates for Anglicans within the Catholic Church. These ordinariates specifically fall under the Roman Rite, though the liturgy will effectively serve as another “form” of the Roman Rite. In the past this “form” was called the “Anglican Use of the Roman Rite.” Some have inaccurately referred to it as the “Anglican Rite.” There is no “Anglican Rite” in the Catholic Church as of yet, but that has not been entirely excluded from possibility in the distant future. For now however, the Anglican ordinariates operate within the canon law of the Roman Rite, and the Anglican liturgy operates as another “form” of the Roman liturgy that is exclusively Anglican in nature. Unfortunately, this Anglican “form” has not been officially approved by Rome yet, and this only serves to complicate matters. In the United States however, ordinariate priests are permitted to use the “Book of Divine Worship” which is a prototype version of a Vatican approved “Book of Common Prayer.” It is supposed to serve as a temporary liturgy for the U.S. ordinariate until the official ordinariate liturgy is approved by Rome.
Here is the sticky situation Monsignor Steenson faces as I personally see it. The U.S. ordinariate is new. It is still in a malleable phase of its development. The official ordinariate liturgy hasn’t even been approved by Rome yet. (This is a problem Rome should remedy, as an approved ordinariate liturgy would help tremendously in this situation.) New Anglican communities are still coming into the ordinariate, and still more are expressing interest. The ordinariate is in the process of ordaining priests and the number of ordinariate parishes is still very small. All the while, the voices of Anglican critics, outside the ordinariate, are constantly ringing with the warning that the whole ordinariate scheme is a “trap.” They criticise that Rome is attempting to “lure” Anglicans into the ordinariate so they can “Romanize” them. The ordinariate, on the other hand, promises to be a place where Anglicans can be fully united with Rome but not absorbed by Rome, as the mantra goes “united but not absorbed.” The U.S. Anglican Ordinary is faced with the prospect of not only fostering the Anglican patrimony, but championing it aggressively, so as to demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the ordinariate is a safe refuge for Anglicans to continue their traditions under the pastoral protection of the Bishop of Rome. He must effectively prove that the Vatican is not out to absorb or “Romanize” them. Lest the Anglican critics of the ordinariate gain more fuel to add to their fire.
Into this environment, former Anglican clergy are ordained as Catholic priests within the ordinariate. Some of these clergy recognise the beauty and solemnity of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Some of these clergy want to celebrate it. Some want to learn how to celebrate it. Some already celebrate it within their ordinariate parishes. So what is an Anglican Ordinary to do? He must aggressively champion the Anglican patrimony while making sure there is no appearance of “Romanizing” the ordinariate. It is in this context that I personally interpreted Mr. Campbell’s account of his encounter with Msgr. Steenson. In other words, I walked away from that article with a different interpretation than that of Mr. Campbell and many others who were rightfully “disturbed” by the story. I see Msgr. Steenson as a man who is hopelessly trapped in the impossible situation of having to champion an Anglican Patrimony that has not yet even been approved by Rome. My sympathy goes out to him.
All and all, I think Msgr. Steenson’s statement above is a fair one. I disagree with but one line of it, wherein it says: “the Extraordinary Form is not integral to the Anglican patrimony.” I don’t see it that way at all, as the Anglican Patrimony has drawn upon the Extraordinary Form extensively, back when it was the only form of the Roman Rite during the 1800s. Yet, perhaps I’ve misunderstood Monsignor and need more clarification of this statement. I am however, inclined to agree when Monsignor follows with this statement: “The Ordinariate will remain focused on bringing Christians in the Anglican tradition into full communion with the Catholic Church.” Of course it will! The ordinariate simply MUST be a place that remains attractive to ANGLICANS! Suppose for example an ordinariate parish were started in a certain city, and the priest of that parish (along with most of his parishioners) were attracted to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Now let’s suppose this same priest, and his parishioners, decide to celebrate the Extraordinary Form every other Sunday, alternating with the Anglican liturgy from the “Book of Divine Worship.” How might that look to potential Anglican converts coming to visit? I think it would look very “suspicious” to some, especially if they already have a fear that the Vatican might be covertly intending to “Romanize” them. What does that say for the Anglican patrimony? What does that say for the nature of the ordinariate itself? I disagree with the Ordinary’s stated historical reason for his decision, but I take into account the complex political circumstances that may have contributed to it. Certainly there is room for the Extraordinary Form in some ordinariate parishes, but those parishes should be well established, with a solid liturgical schedule in place that clearly expresses the Anglican Patrimony. Such parishes do exist within the ordinariate, to be sure, but they are few in number right now. Most ordinariate parishes at this time are just getting started. Some aren’t even parishes yet, in a proper sense, but rather prayer groups and fellowships waiting on the ordinariate to send them a priest. What would happen to them if they received a priest who intended to celebrate the Extraordinary Form most of the time? When you look at it this way, Monsignor Steenson’s words start to make a lot more sense. He has plainly ENCOURAGED his priests to learn the Extraordinary Form, but likewise instructed them to put that skill to use in regular diocesan parishes (in their area) that already offer the Extraordinary Form. It should be clear what his intention is by this. He is trying to assist in the development of the Extraordinary Form in diocesan parishes, while simultaneously trying to preserve the specific Anglican character of ordinariate parishes. In other words, it’s as if he is saying to his priests: go ahead and learn the Extraordinary Form, but when you put it to use, please help nearby diocesan parishes, and keep the ordinariate parishes limited to the Anglican Form, or at the very least, an Anglicised version of the Ordinary Form.
It would appear the outstanding question that remains to be settled is this. Does the U.S. Anglican Ordinary have the legal right under canon law to restrict the use of the Extraordinary Form within his ordinariate parishes? (It should be noted, he has not actually done this yet, but only said: “it is not properly used in our communities.”) That remains yet to be seen, and it is a question only the Vatican CDF can answer. So we will have to wait and see. In the meantime, I would encourage all interested parties to refrain from judgement on this matter. I think it is reasonable to assume that Monsignor Steenson’s only intention here is to be a strong advocate for the Anglican patrimony. I do not believe he means any ill toward the Extraordinary Form or traditional Catholicism in general. The last line of his official statement above should put those concerns to rest, and his mention of the “hermeneutic of continuity” should clearly demonstrate to us that he shares the Holy Father’s vision of Vatican II