We met at the Oratory School near Reading, founded by John Henry Newman. The occasion was a Colloquium, organised by the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. I went there, as did a number of other priests of the Ordinariate, not quite knowing what to expect.
Ever since leaving the Church of England last year, there has been a Society of the Holy Cross-shaped hole in my life. The SSC was a great support and encouragement to Anglican priests during the dark days of the 1990s, and it had continued to sustain many of us until we joined the Ordinariate. Did the Catholic Church have anything like this to offer?
By Divine Providence it was just about the time that we were leaving the CofE that the British Province of the Confraternity was being founded. It came about as a direct response to the Visit of Pope Benedict, and his beatification of Cardinal Newman. For me, the aims of the Confraternity seemed to echo those of SSC: in brief, Fidelity, Formation and Fraternity. But how would we ex-Anglicans be received? I wrote to ask if it would be possible for us to join and attend the Colloquium, and had a very positive welcome.
The welcome at the Oratory School was no less warm. What is more, I was pleased to find some familiar faces — not just from the Ordinariate, but also the Secretary to our Portsmouth Diocesan Finance Council, Dn Stephen Morgan, and Fr Selvini in whose Anglican Parish we had once conducted a Mission from St Stephen's House.
There were others, too, who had begun their priestly formation at SSH, or had some other past link with Anglicanism. Of the Ordinariate, Mgr Burnham was present — no doubt to hear Mgr Andrew Wadsworth of the ICEL speaking about the new Translation of the Roman Missal.
Fr Simon Heans is earning a crust back in teaching, so it was a busman's holiday for him to come to a school during half-term. Even more this was so for Fr David Elliott who, besides looking after the Reading Ordinariate Group, teaches at the Oratory School. You probably know, from his blog, that Fr Ed Tomlinson was there from Sevenoaks, and other bloggers are likely to add their own take to the event. At both Masses during the Conference, Dn James Bradley, photographer extraordinaire and personal Deacon to the Holy Father, did the Ordinariate proud by never putting a foot wrong. So six of us in a total attendance of fifty was a pretty good representation. As more of the Ordinariate get to hear about the Confraternity it seems likely that more will sign up — though already there are twenty Ordinariate paid-up members. Oh, and our Guru from Allen Hall was there too, Fr Stephen Wang. So it was a very happy occasion.
For me, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury was a huge help, basing his talk on priesthood not just on St Jean-Marie Vianney, the Cure d'Ars, but also on his own pastoral experience. Mgr Andrew Wadsworth opened up the new translation of the Missal in very revealing ways — how a new, more serious register of language might help in engaging the laity more fully in worship, and how reverting to the ad orientem approach to the Altar might remind us we are worshipping the Almighty, not our local community.
Before we left we heard Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett from Australia, giving us the history of the Confraternity in the antipodes — for our international brotherhood began in the USA, continued in Australia, and has only now reached Britain. He was prepared to answer, he said, "easy questions" — so Fr Peter Edwards rescued him when a googly was bowled asking his opinion of the English Hierarchy.
In all, a wonderful occasion. We expressed our Fidelity to the Holy Father and the Magisterium at every turn, but especially in the Liturgy. We were helped in our Formation by all those who addressed us. Perhaps above all I welcomed the Fraternity I found, making me feel truly welcome in this part of the Catholic Church. The Fraternity's web site gives information about future meetings, and about how you can register an interest. While primarily for Clergy, it is possible for lay people to show their support by becoming Friends of the Confraternity.
The Societas Sanctae Crucis — Society of the Holy Cross — has a long and fascinating history in England and beyond. For me, this week's meeting in Reading recalled some of the same spirit as was shown in the early days of SSC. How good the Lord is, in preparing a way for us.
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