This brief article by Msgr Andrew Burnham appears in the Advent edition of The Portal, a magazine which is published to serve the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. You can receive the monthly edition by email if you sign up here. There is no charge to receive it (although gifts and donations are always welcome and always needed).
As we celebrate Advent and Christmas in the Ordinariate, we shall experience some excitement and a few concerns too. Our excitement will be the joyfulness of these celebrations, and what we bring to them. Our concerns will be round some of the unresolved questions.
For Catholics, especially those formed in the Anglican tradition, Advent is a favourite season. The Advent hymns. The Advent antiphons, popularized in ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’ in the last few days before Christmas; the readings from Isaiah; the start of a new liturgical year; the anticipation as Christmas approaches.
An ideal Christmas
The magazines are full of what makes for an ideal Christmas but for Christians the festive fun is a small part of what we are celebrating. We are mindful also of those who are alone, or are in crisis.
The bright light of Christmas reveals the dark places in people’s lives and the promise of the Saviour is not mince pies and booze, but salvation – rescue.
I suspect Christmas for some of the Ordinariate Groups will bring mixed emotions. Mainly, of course, we shall rejoice in the birth of our Redeemer and experience Emmanuel, God-with-us, in a more intense way. But there will be memories of how things once were, maybe a longing for some of the securities of the old life of captivity, and a fear that things will never quite be as we should like them to be.
There are unresolved questions for the whole Ordinariate. There are housekeeping questions. It may take only ten families with a good income between them to tithe and support their own priest, but there are groups where ten annual pledges of £2,000, gift-aided, are just not possible.
There are groups which are not big enough even to generate twenty annual pledges of £1,000, gift-aided. Thus, in practice, most groups are served by a part-time priest, or even a priest fully-employed to attend to the needs of others in hospitals, prisons or schools.
Time and place
Another concern is about time and place. An Ordinariate Group which is obliged to meet at an unusual hour is unlikely to prosper and grow. Cultural minorities – Poles, Ukrainians, Portuguese – are used to meeting at unusual times and in unusual places. We can do it too – and some of us are doing it – but we would never attract more than the most committed Ordinariate types if we continue to meet at unsocial times or in unsuitable locations, miles from where people live.
How to grow
A third is about how to grow the Ordinariate. When will our Anglo-catholic friends finally realise that they are in captivity; that the most that they can expect from the Church of England and Church in Wales is a bit of space to practise a version of Christianity which, for most Anglicans, is fanciful and far-fetched, strange and discriminatory? Some are loyally waiting for a vote in July 2012, but what happens if that vote is inconclusive?
The only disappointment I had when I left the Church of England and came into the full communion of the Catholic Church was that so many who had said that they were heading in the same direction did not follow, despite what they had said they would do.
I suspect that the next eighteen months to two years will see these concerns largely resolved. Personally, I remain very optimistic indeed. This is God’s plan, articulated for us by Pope Benedict, and it is not a plan therefore which will fail.