WASHINGTON — When Cardinals Donald Wuerl of the Washington Archdiocese and Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stopped by for a visit to the ordinariate community of St. Luke’s at Immaculate Conception Church in Washington, the cardinals and priests halted in the church on the way out to sing together the hymn Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.
In a quiet way, it was a remarkable, unplanned scene: Fathers Mark Lewis and Richard Kramer, who had begun their ministries as Episcopal priests, singing a hymn to the Virgin Mary with two cardinals of the Catholic Church, Msgr. James Watkins, pastor of Immaculate Conception, and several priests from Rome, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of then-Pope Benedict XVI’s Anglicanorum Coetibus.
Issued Nov. 4, 2009, Anglicanorum Coetibus is an apostolic constitution that provided for personal ordinariates for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. The document allows former Episcopalians and Anglicans to bring elements of their patrimony, including their distinctive liturgy, into the Catholic Church.
“Every now and then, a momentous event takes place. Few if any since the Reformation have more significance than Anglicanorum Coetibus,” said Father Lewis, pastor of the St. Luke’s ordinariate community. He and Father Kramer were ordained Catholic priests in 2012 by Cardinal Wuerl. “Pope Benedict XVI, with one fell swoop of the pen, opened the door for whole groups of Anglicans to reunite with Holy Mother Church.”
The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established in England in 2011, and an ordinariate for the U.S. and Canada — the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, to which the St. Luke’s community belongs — followed the next year.
The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross was erected later that year for former Anglicans in Australia.
Like Cardinal Wuerl, a staunch supporter of the ordinariates, Cardinal Müller told the representatives from the three ordinariates in a meeting in Rome earlier this year that they “will come under scrutiny from many quarters. All eyes are upon you!”
With that in mind, Father Lewis was especially pleased to be able to tell the two cardinals that St. Luke’s, which entered the Catholic Church as a parish in 2011, has experienced a noticeable upswing in numbers since moving from rented quarters in Bladensburg, Md., to Immaculate Conception in downtown D.C. in September.
St. Luke’s-Immaculate Conception has an average Sunday attendance of 125 — up from around 85 in Bladensburg — and a number of pending applications for membership. This may sound small for a regular Catholic parish, but it far exceeds average Sunday attendance at a typical Episcopal church. Ordinariate parishes are cozy by Catholic standards. “If you are sick enough to call a doctor, you’re sick enough to call your priest,” the bulletin at St. Luke’s occasionally reminds members.
“We are doing extremely well,” said Father Steve Sellers, communications director for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. “As you know, we started this journey in the United States and Canada on Jan. 1, 2012, and we began — basically — with nothing, nothing except for the presence of the risen Lord in our midst and the blessing of the Holy Father. Of course, that was really all we needed.”
Father Sellers stressed the help received from the local dioceses and added, “We are receiving inquiries almost every day — at all of our parishes and missionary outposts — from people (and clergy) who are interested in exploring full communion with the Holy See.”
“Our growth to this point has been modest but steady,” said Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. An ordinary is similar to a bishop.
“The big project that we are working on now is a catechetical program to help groups of Anglicans in discernment, to help them to understand what the journey to full communion involves,” Msgr. Steenson added. “I have a first-rate team of ordinariate clergy working on this. We are simply presenting what the Catholic Church teaches about herself and the path to unity that she has laid out in the ecumenical dialogues and in the Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, whose 50th anniversary is on Nov. 21. We have the challenge of bringing people into full communion, all the while respecting and cooperating with the Catholic Church’s ecumenical work.”
Five New Parishes
The U.S. ordinariate is in the process of erecting five new parishes, in addition to St. Luke’s.
“We used criteria to determine that five of our communities are ready to be moved into this category, and that means their priests become pastors,” said Msgr. Steenson. In addition, a thriving Anglican-use parish, St. Mary the Virgin in Arlington, Texas, is being transferred from the Diocese of Fort Worth to the ordinariate. (St. Mary the Virgin, a Catholic parish for 20 years, is a pastoral provision parish. The pastoral provision was established by Pope St. John Paul II. It is a forerunner of the ordinariates.)
An Anglican-use parish differs mainly from an ordinariate parish in that its congregation came into the Church as individuals, not a group. It is also under the diocesan ordinary, while ordinariates are led by their own ordinary.
The U.S. ordinariate plans to dedicate its new chancery, which is under construction adjacent to Our Lady of Walsingham, the U.S. ordinariate’s principal church in Houston, in February. Cardinal William Levada, who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when the ordinariate was created, is scheduled to be there.
“On that occasion, we will also be commemorating the gift of [the book of] Divine Worship, in particular our new missal, which is an extraordinary project to bring the great elements of the Anglican liturgical tradition into the life of the Catholic Church,” said Msgr. Steenson.
Catherine Utley, spokeswoman for the Our Lady of Walsingham Ordinariate, reports similar optimism.
“The ordinariate in the U.K. is doing well,” Utley said in an email. “We have 86 priests and about 1,500 laity, spread out in about 40 groups across the country. There are three seminarians, and they were not hitherto Anglican priests. The clergy minister to their groups of ordinariate laity and also serve the wider Church as chaplains in prisons, hospitals and schools and as diocesan parish or assistant parish priests.”
Utley said that one ordinariate community in the U.K. is engaged in the “very exciting project” of trying to acquire a former Methodist church that could be used for both worship and mission. She said that too few diocesan Catholics know about or understand the ordinariate and that they are putting on events with Evensong (vespers) and Benediction to make the ordinariate better known in the U.K.
Although the ordinariates are often spoken of primarily in terms of beautiful liturgy, St. Luke’s Father Lewis stressed that, while important, this isn’t all that the ordinariates have to offer.
“St. Luke’s must not be solely about good liturgy or greater membership, but, rather, about the salvation of souls,” he said. “This does not just mean to bring others into the Church, but also to educate and form brothers and sisters in the faith — this is our mission.”
To this end, St. Luke’s offers an apologetics course, currently taught by Third Order Dominican Steve Graves, every Sunday after Mass. The St. Luke’s community plans to participate in worship and charitable activities with its host, Immaculate Conception.
The ordinariate clergy in the U.S. just completed a retreat in St. Louis. Father Sellers said that a big topic at the retreat was “the gift of Anglicanorum Coetibus and this opportunity to work side-by-side with our Latin brothers in the building up of the body of Christ. Our retreat leader, in fact, said one of the major characteristics he saw among the ordinariate clergy was the gift of joy. Indeed: That is my experience as well. Grateful hearts tend to bring joy, though, don’t they?”
According to Vatican Radio, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sent a message to the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on the anniversary of his document, responding to a letter he received from Nicolas Ollivant, the chairman of the Friends of the Ordinariate, a charity set up to support the ordinariate's work.
Ollivant’s letter also included information on the ordinariate's central church in London, Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, on Warwick Street. It is the site of the former chapel to the Bavarian embassy to England, which greatly pleased the pope emeritus.
Benedict said, "Your thanks for the establishment of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has greatly moved me, and I ask you to convey my thanks to all its members. Naturally, I am particularly glad that the former Bavarian chapel has now become your ordinariate's church and serves such an important role in the whole Church of God. It has been a long time since I have heard news of this holy place, and it was therefore with all the more interest and gratitude that I read the description with which you accompanied your letter. Once more, many thanks, and may God bless you all."
Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.
She is a member of the St. Luke’s Catholic community.