If I were given a pound for every time I was asked to explain what it is, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham would be set for life.
This new feature of the ecclesial landscape came about through the pioneering ecumenical vision of Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, and now sees three structures, somewhat similar to national dioceses, in England & Wales, the United States & Canada, and Australia.
These personal ordinariates were established to provide a permanent home for former Anglicans, who wished to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church whilst retaining certain elements of Anglican tradition.
As a Priest of one such personal ordinariate, giving an overview of the life, work, and mission of these structures is a daily task and opportunity.
To assist in this, my friend and colleague Father Edward Tomlinson has written a short tract entitled Understanding the Ordinariate, published by the Catholic Truth Society earlier this year.
Father Tomlinson, a well-known advocate of the personal ordinariates in England, has worked tirelessly to establish a distinctive life in the Kent village of Pembury, not far from his former parish in Tunbridge Wells. Together with former members of his Church of England congregation, and many new parishioners, he has begun to build a community which is at once faithful to the Anglican tradition, as also to those bonds of faith, ecclesiastical governance, and the sacraments, by which one is united to the Catholic Church.
This useful tract presents to the reader what a personal ordinariate is, how one becomes a member, the distinctive life it is to embody, and some frequently asked questions together with concise answers.
To those of us who are engaged in the work of growing the personal ordinariates, it is an attractive and simple introduction to our life and mission, which would be a great starting point for visitors to our parishes and communities, as also for those Anglicans who wish to know more about how the Catholic Church has opened her arms to those who are, as Cardinal Newman put it,
“shivering at the gates.”
It is also fitting that the Catholic Truth Society, who had previously published a leaflet on the personal ordinariates, as well as the handsome liturgical books approved by the Holy See for our use, has given its name to this latest work.
As one who has lived in the United States and who has some knowledge of the personal ordinariate there, I must point out that Father Tomlinson’s tract is a useful contribution, especially for enquirers, but one which focuses on the situation in the United Kingdom.
In the United States and Canada, for instance, the particular liturgical books of Divine Worship—approved by the Holy See for the ordinariates—are normative and central to the ordinariate mission. Father Tomlinson, though himself an advocate for Divine Worship, at times suggests that these texts are perhaps not as essential to the identity of the personal ordinariates as might be considered elsewhere.
And as a canonist, I would also caution against too close a reading of terms and definitions in this tract. This is an introductory guide for the uninitiated, and so should not be considered definitive by those looking for authoritative guidance on the nature or purpose of the personal ordinariates.
This is, we might say, an amuse-bouche rather than the main course.
None of that, however, should detract from the real value of this helpful work.
Clergy and faithful of the personal ordinariates would do well to keep a copy on or about their person at all times, and to give these liberally to enquirers and sceptics alike. So, too, diocesan and religious clergy might not only appreciate a simple and readable introduction to our life and work, but also benefit from having copies to hand for those inevitable Anglicans in their parishes, for whom the Church has always been an attractive but elusive figure.
Father Tomlinson has done a good work in this pamphlet, and we are indebted to him for his efforts.
Read Fr James Bradley‘s article on the Ordinariate Missal here: The Ordinariate Missal Is Important For Us All