Liturgy & Ecumenism in Tandem

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[An article in The Catholic Herald (U.K.) by Fr. James Bradley.]

Professor Stephen Bullivant’s excellent article on Ordinariate worship and the “the real spirit of Vatican II” has been well-received by those of us involved with the Ordinariate. It is gratifying to read of his enthusiasm for an experience of the Roman rite that is at once numinous and faithful to the Western liturgical tradition, and at the same time open to authentic participation on the part of the faithful.

It’s also encouraging that Prof Bullivant has found in Divine Worship, the liturgical form proper to the Ordinariates, a manifestation of the sort of liturgical renewal articulated by Vatican II. In their codification of Anglican liturgical texts and ritual practices, the Anglicanæ traditiones commission was inevitably guided by the council’s principles for liturgical reform.

But I would take Prof Bullivant’s argument a stage further. Divine Worship follows Vatican II in more ways than one. It not only embodies the council’s liturgical principles, but also its teachings on ecumenism and church structures.

Firstly, then, the ecumenical vision of the council. As I have argued elsewhere, the chief purpose of Divine Worship is the maintenance of the Anglican patrimony in the Catholic Church. The Divine Worship missal, in its own words, gives expression to and preserves for Catholic worship the worthy Anglican liturgical patrimony, understood as that which has nourished the Catholic faith throughout the history of the Anglican tradition and prompted aspirations towards ecclesial unity”.

This is, to my mind, an embodiment not of liturgical but ecumenical principles. And a close reading of the conciliar documents shows that these two ideas are often held in tandem. For example, the decree on ecumenism has numerous references to the sacred liturgy. Of ecclesial communities separated from the full communion of the Catholic Church it states: “The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation” (UR 3).

And, again: “their form of worship sometimes displays notable features of the liturgy which they shared with us of old” (UR 23). Still more: “this Sacred Council solemnly repeats the declaration of previous Councils and Roman Pontiffs, that for the restoration or the maintenance of unity and communion it is necessary ‘to impose no burden beyond what is essential’” (UR 18).

Surely the provision of distinctive liturgical rites in the form of Divine Worship is, in the wider context of the personal Ordinariates, a beautiful embodiment of this principle for those Anglicans who, as Ad gentes would have it, might otherwise be “kept away from embracing the Catholic Faith because they cannot adapt themselves to the peculiar form which the Church has taken in [their region]” (AG 21).

Secondly, the new structural flexibility proposed by Vatican II. The council sought to provide new structural means for the care of the faithful in particular circumstances. Indeed the decree on the life and ministry of priests, Presbyterorum ordinis, suggests that the better distribution of priests might be served by “special personal dioceses or prelatures” (PO 10). And whilst this might be more closely applied to personal prelatures and structures like the Mission de France, it is not entirely unrelated to personal Ordinariates.

During the drafting of Unitatis redintegratio Archbishop Šeper, who as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would later oversee the Pastoral Provision for Anglicans in the 1980s, spoke of maintaining the structural integrity of the Oriental Churches should communion be achieved: “Provided they accept the primacy, they should be allowed to keep the structure which they have now … There should be no Latinization, especially in liturgical matters.” It is not hard to see how this principle was carried through first to the Pastoral Provision and, now, the Ordinariates.

And so if this distinctive liturgical life is essential to the purpose of the personal Ordinariates, it is also related to its structure; one makes sense of the other. Neither our distinctive liturgy nor churches set aside for our life are intended to be rare, but the norm.

Archbishop Augustine Di Noia has said: “The manner in which an ecclesial community worships uniquely expresses its inner life.” We might add: the manner in which an ecclesial community is structured expresses the authenticity of its mission and worship.

So I would join Prof Bullivant in encouraging all Catholics to discover the rich Anglican liturgical patrimony now happily at home in the communities of the Ordinariate. At the same time I would say to them: encourage the Ordinariates to bring about a clearer articulation of this vision: one that sees the Church’s liturgy and structures oriented toward the same end. In this way not only will the liturgical life of the Church be enriched, but her unity will be more fully articulated: a prophetic sign of the fulfilment of Kingdom of God.

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