In Defense of Divine Worship

[From the blog of Fr. Ed Tomlinson of the Tunbridge Wells Ordinariate Group. Click here to be taken to the essay.]

It saddens me that one or two of the clergy within the Ordinariate have started slating the Divine Worship Missal on social media. Partly because in-fighting will damage any emerging movement in the church. Partly because the charges are entirely unwarranted. And partly because this is an indication, I think, that not all ordinariate clergy are on the same page. Allow me to flesh these three points out in a little more detail.

But first two points need to be made. Firstly there is not a major rebellion against Ordinariate liturgy occurring at present. Most groups are taking to it well and so I am speaking of a minority. Secondly those who are not enamoured with the new liturgy are good priests, and friends of mine, who are entitled to their view. I respect that they have reached different conclusions to me and they remain at liberty to disagree with what follows and come back at it. That is what healthy people do. They debate in love and learn by such debate. I am attacking ideas here not people.

The danger of infighting

Firstly the danger of infighting. This needs little explanation in terms of the damage it can do. By all means let us debate but we need to ensure this does not descend into unhopeful negativity. For if the Ordinariate does not pull together it will fall apart. After all it already faces multiple challenges; a lack of enthusiasm and support from certain Catholic bishops, chronic under funding, hostility from Anglo-Catholics, struggles in terms of establishing a functional national leadership and no buildings or churches of our own.

The charges are unwarranted 

Divine Worship aims to bring more reverence, beauty and majesty to the Mass. It was put together to be a more faithful interpretation of the desires of the Second Vatican Council. A mass in the vernacular but with roots in the extraordinary form. Inevitably people will experience it differently; depending on how and where it is done and their subjective taste regarding liturgy.

So it might not be your bag but I refute the suggestion it doesn’t work. Here in Pembury we have used it, for over a year, at our principal Mass on Sunday, in the week and on certain feast days. And the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed some cradle diocesan Catholics have been amongst its greatest supporters. It works. It can be done with dignity, beauty and solemnity. It can and does lead souls closer to God. So please respect this before lashing out.

I was, however, sceptical about establishing it. I thought people might struggle because it is different. But it proved the easiest transition I have managed. Even the detractors (we have one or two) could see that our being an ordinariate group necessitates  its use. If we don’t adopt it then who will? What is the point of an Ordinariate liturgy if it is not being used in the larger Ordinariate settings?!

Yet, surprisingly, Divine Worship was not mandated by Rome. Our clergy have been granted the liberty to use or neglect it. And situations will dictate. In small groups, where the majority are diocesan members of a certain hue, one might understand a pastoral decision to rely solely on Novus Ordo. But I would challenge such a decision in larger settings. It might be legal but is it prudent? If all we offer is Novus Ordo done well- what of it? How are we different to any decent parish like St. Patrick’s Soho Square? Why didn’t we simply join a diocese? And whilst it is true that our patrimony is broader than one particular liturgy- that liturgy, if done well, is such an effective vehicle for those broader aspects to flourish that it seems wrongheaded to simply dismiss it.

An anecdote highlights this point. Last Sunday I had to console a crestfallen parishioner who had taken a friend to Warwick Street in London, enthusing all the way about how wonderful and dignified Ordinarite Mass would be. But when they got there it was Low Mass, according to Novus Ordo, with priest facing West. “Father, I might as well have gone to St. Augustine’s, Tunbridge Wells.” Quite. Now there is nothing wrong with Novus Ordo. Nor with St. Augustine’s Tunbridge Wells. Nor did the priest do anything wrong in opting for the Novus Ordo. Yet this felt like an own goal. Because people traveled in expectation and were left disappointed. Surely the central Ordinariate Church in London- of all churches- should solely be offering worship according to the Ordinariate Missal?

NB: to be fair to Warwick Street they do use Divine Worship much of the time.

Why is there hostility? 

Why are a minority of clergy not embracing the Ordinariate liturgy? The reasons will be various. But here are the ones I discern:

1) There are those who spent so long as Anglicans ‘trying to be Catholic’ that they came to delight only in the Roman Rite. Anything hinting at Anglican patrimony was automatically iffy and suspicious. Thus the Divine Worship experience does not speak to them of the ancient English Spirituality of pre-reformation days (as it should) it just stinks of protestantism. The rose tinted spectacles focused only on Rome and never on England remain firmly on their noses. Meaning they carry baggage with them in terms of devotional life. This explains why the only people I meet strongly opposed to Divine Worship are current or ex-Anglicans, while Cradle Catholics tend to enthuse about it.

Some of these need help to better grasp the vision. Others only ever wanted to become Novus Ordo Catholics and the Ordinariate was a convenient way of doing it. Now safely on the banks of the Tiber they just want to go native. They have zero interest in what we are about. Perhaps we should honour their consciences and release them to the diocese? For how can they help us establish our goals if totally opposed to the liturgical life which Rome herself has gifted us?

Then there are those who see merit in using Divine Worship but are afraid it will not be well received. Perhaps they lead congregations in which knives will come out if they push it. Perhaps they are only assistant priests in large diocesan settings and therefore a minority voice. Here we must rescue individuals by securing our own buildings. For whilst our clergy have a duty to work within and alongside the diocese, if the ordinate is to succeed, they cannot be diocesan workers first and ordinariate clergy second. And the bishops of England and Wales- and congregations who benefit from our priests, need understand that respect and gain is a two way street. Respect needs be shown to our liturgical life.

Finally there are those in tune with the Ordinariate mission but who, themselves, are minimalists where liturgy is concerned. Having been formed in the seventies and eighties they tend towards low church worship. And that means they will ever prefer the simplicity of Novus Ordo over the majesty of Divine Worship. These might be encouraged to help the Ordinariate by taking the St. Anselm’s approach. Which is to say do both! A little compromise in other words. But please let us not reject it out of hand. For it really can be done well and prove effective.


I am passionate about Divine Worship. If done well it brings beauty and solemnity to worship and a distinctive English spirituality. Indeed it is the most obvious thing that can make the Ordinariate distinctive and fit for purpose. Yet I respect the fact that others have not warmed to it and prefer the Novus Ordo. To them I would simply say this. Would it not be better to keep such dissatisfaction to yourself and quietly get on with celebrating Mass according to the Novus Ordo? Nobody forces you to use it and any public raging against it only hurts those trying to make it work and get it off the ground whilst delighting our detractors. Sometimes silence is golden.


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