Saturday, 26 October 2013

Ordination in the Catholic Church of those previously ordained as Anglicans


I have been giving much thought and prayer to the topic of Anglican orders and the ordination of former Anglican clergy in the Catholic Church. What exactly do they bring with them? Their wives, of course, are the most visible and talked-about feature of married Anglicans being ordained to the priesthood in the Ordinariates of the Catholic Church.

Then there is the question of the meaning of former ministry and the character of ordination in the Anglican Communion. Candidates for Catholic ordination after many years in Anglican ministry must deal with this question of moment for them and for their friends who remain in Anglican orders. As well, the question continues to be asked of those who made the journey across the Tiber years ago. To date over 1000 former Anglicans have been ordained Catholic priests over the past 20 years (most in the UK).


Some of the more than one thousand former Anglicans ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

In an insightful article,"Anglican Orders – Recognised or Received?" (The Messenger No. 292, April-August 2010), Fr. Mark Woodruff reflects upon the theology of Catholic ordination as well as the experience of the  now thousand plus former Anglican priests. 

Fr. Woodruff states that the Catholic Magisterium affirms liturgically that:

"Anglican clergy are ordained 'in some sense'. 


For those received in 1994 and throughout Cardinal Hume’s  tenure [Catholic Primate of England and Wales], this continued to be recognised officially and liturgically. We were told that we were free to petition for conditional ordination like Dr Graham Leonard (the retired Anglican Bishop of London, who had been ordained to the Catholic priesthood in April of that year), in case there might be sufficient evidence to establish a “prudent doubt” as to our ordination’s invalidity too. But we were also warned that the process was complex and verification could take some time. Given this array of considerations, each of us was satisfied that a request to be ordained absolutely was the right course. 

If there were any doubts in our minds, they were allayed by the spirit of the preamble and prayer devised by Cardinal Hume and inserted prior to the Litany of the Saints leading up to the prayer of conditional ordination for Dr Leonard. This remarkable interpolation, which constitutes a part of the “absolute” ordination rite for former Anglican clergy, at the discretion of the ordaining bishop, is worth giving in full: 


Oratio ad gratias agendas pro ministerio ab electo in Communione anglicana expleto [Prayer for giving thanks for the ministry of the candidate completed in the Anglican Communion] 

Deinde omnes surgunt. Episcopus, deposita mitra, stans manibus iunctis versus ad electum dicot   [Then all rise. The bishop, having set down his mitre, standing with his hands joined and turned toward the candidate, says:]


N., the Holy Catholic Church recognizes that not a few of the sacred actions of the Christian religion as carried out in communities separated from her can truly engender a life of grace and can rightly be described as providing access to the community of salvation. And so we now pray.


Et omnes, per aliquod temporis spatium, silentio orant. Deinde, manus extensis, Episcopus orat dicens [And all pray in silence for a while. Then, with hands extended, the Bishop prays, saying]:


Almighty Father, we give you thanks for the X years of faithful ministry of your servant N. in the Anglican Communion, whose fruitfulness for salvation has been derived from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church. As your servant has been received into full communion and now seeks to be ordained to the presbyterate in the Catholic Church, we beseech you to bring to fruition that for which we now pray. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Populus acclamat [The people acclaim]: Amen."

Deacons during the Litany of the Saints at their ordination to the Catholic priesthood.

Fr. Woodruff goes on in his article to explore how these ordinations and future Catholic ordinations of Anglicans will affect the call to unity to which many Anglicans and Catholics seek to be faithful to. 

He refers to Father Paul Couturier who was responsible for re-founding of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Lyon, France, in much the spirit of the former Anglican American Franciscan, Fr. Paul Wattson of Graymoor, NY.  

Fr. Couturier had imagined how unity could be achieved by different traditions “vying” with each other i.e.  imitating and outdoing each other in the pursuit of ever greater holiness – towards union with God in Christ and unity with each other (Decree on Ecumenism §11). 

He called this spiritual emulation which did not envision the extinction of Anglicanism or other traditions of separated brethren in ecclesial communities. Fr. Couturier looked for what he saw as the interplay of distinct traditions within the one Great Church of Jesus Christ with the traditions shared not absorbed. He called this parallélaboration.  

However, each Christian tradition has suffered because of the sin of separation and so each is deprived of the fullness of the riches that God gives for his people. By taking steps towards unity in repentance each tradition learns to need the other and the patrimony which each brings to the one Church. This humility to learn involves a self-emptying after the pattern of Jesus himself . 

Ordination of former Anglican clergy in the Catholic Church brings together two shards of the one Church of Christ, into which we have all been baptized. The one vessel, from which the shards come, was broken at the time of the Reformation. This is how Fr. Aidan Nichols, in his prophetic address to the 2011 Toronto Anglican Ordinariate Conference, envisioned a healing of the Church with the Ordinariates bringing people from both sides of the Reformation rift together in unity while retaining their own patrimony of Christian life and culture.

Such a vision helps all of us see what God is doing through the Ordinariates and the ordinations which are to serve the greater unity of Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

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