Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
With the authorization of new updated norms, Pope Francis has fully charged the Personal Ordinariates to bring people into Christ’s Catholic Church through the evangelizing power of their English Patrimony.
The Holy See Press Office made the announcement of the new norms for the Ordinariates at 12 p.m. Rome time on April 9. An explanatory note from the Holy See added that Pope Francis approved the new norms on March 8.
The norms come nearly 10 years after Benedict XVI promulgated the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which created Personal Ordinariates, special dioceses directly under the pope, so that groups of Christians from the Anglican, Episcopalian, Methodist, AME Church and other related traditions could enter the Catholic Church together.
The first set of norms were largely limited in scope to dealing mainly with Christians from the Anglican tradition and their family members becoming members of the Ordinariate. But the updated norms incorporate changes Pope Francis made in 2013, and make clear the Ordinariate has the same evangelical mandate as any Western or Eastern Catholic diocese to bring all people into the Catholic Church.
Bishop Steven Lopes, who heads the North American Ordinariate with its see in Houston, described the updated norms in a letter circulated to Ordinariate priests and deacons as “a marked improvement over the previous norms,” and once again has “placed a notable accent on our mission of evangelization.”
The norms make explicitly clear that any validly baptized Protestant, as well as anyone who is not validly baptized and comes into the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate, can become canonical members of the Ordinariate. Fallen-away Catholics who come back to the practice of the faith and receive Confirmation and Holy Communion through the Ordinariate can also become canonical members of the Ordinariate. The original 2009 norms emphasized having an Anglican background, or a relative in the Ordinariate, as the main grounds to apply for canonical membership.
Canonical membership in a diocese or ordinariate places a Catholic directly within that eccesial jurisdiction and under the pastoral care of that jurisdiction’s ordinary, or bishop. Overall, the changes make explicitly clear the Ordinarates are not dioceses for former Anglicans and Episcopalians, but are dioceses for Catholics that have the living patrimony of the English Church.
“This goes to Pope Francis’ central desire that we understand ourselves as a force for evangelization, enlivening the Church by attracting new members through a winsome proclamation of the Gospel,” he said.
The updated norms also provide a path for the more than 70 married priests in the U.S. ordained under St. John Paul II’s Pastoral Provision to transfer from the jurisdiction of the Latin-Rite diocese where they are assigned, if they so choose, and become incardinated into the Ordinariate. In the U.S. and Canada, the Ordinariate presently has approximately 45 parish communities in various stages of formation, and 90 clergy, most of whom are married, with a growing cadre of celibate priests and seminarians.
The norms also state clearly that only priests incardinated in the Ordinariate have the right to offer Mass (both publicly and privately) according to Divine Worship: the Missal. Divine Worship is the Ordinariate form of the Roman Rite, begun under Benedict XVI and authorized by Pope Francis in 2015.
The norms also specify that any Catholic priest can offer Divine Worship for the Ordinariate faithful, if an Ordinariate priest is not available. Also any Catholic priest may concelebrate Divine Worship. The provision is key as a number of new pre-Ordinariate parish communities are emerging, as Catholics, including some former Anglicans, form groups to gather regularly for prayer and fellowship in the English tradition.
In his letter, Bishop Lopes explained the revision came as a request from the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter’s governing council, as well as from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (United Kingdom) and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross (Australia and the Pacific Rim).
Bishop Lopes explained the Ordinariate’s new norms from Pope Francis reflected their mission-driven character and the next stage of their journey.
“The journey into full communion at the origin of our particular Church is but the first movement that gives shape to the Ordinariate, and we cannot get stuck there!” he said. “The second movement is to go out again—armed with the confidence of Catholic doctrine, the beauty of our English patrimony, and the joy of communion—to draw others into the adventure of faithful discipleship.”