ARLINGTON, Texas — One of the most beloved prayers in the Anglican tradition is called the Prayer of Humble Access, but some cherished words were omitted from the Anglican-use Mass, the Vatican-approved liturgy that allowed former Episcopalians and Anglicans to bring elements of their liturgical tradition with them into the Catholic Church.
Come the First Sunday of Advent, however, the missing words of Humble Access will be included in the new ordinariate-use Mass, no doubt gladdening the hearts of many former Episcopalians who recently have become Catholics through the ordinariate.
Said by a kneeling congregation before going to Communion, the famous Prayer of Humble Access begins:
"We do not presume to come to this, thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies …"
Humble Access — as it is colloquially known — was retained in the Anglican-use Mass, which was established by a 1980 Pastoral Provision for former Episcopalians and Anglicans by Blessed Pope John Paul II. Anglicanorum Coetibus, Benedict XVI’s November 2009 apostolic constitution, provided for personal ordinariates to accommodate groups of Anglicans coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Leaving some former Episcopalians just a bit wistful, however, the initial Anglican-use version of Humble Access omitted the earnest words asking "that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood." The Anglican-use text was based largely on the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which customarily omits that clause.
The restoration of this evocative petition is just one of the changes ordinariate Catholics in the U.S. will notice when their revised liturgy debuts in the U.S. Most parishes will begin to use the new liturgy in Advent, though a few have started earlier. The term "ordinariate use" is now correct, superseding the term "Anglican use."
The revised liturgy is based on a number of Anglican and Episcopal sources, most notably including the English prayer books of 1549 and 1662. The revised liturgy was unveiled to the U.K. ordinariate in October at a Mass in London. It will be the text for ordinariate Catholics in the U.K., Australia, Canada and the U.S.
The new ordinariate-use texts are the fruit of the work of the Vatican’s interdicasterial Anglicanae Traditiones Commission. Msgr. Steven Lopes, an American priest who is an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is one of the commission’s two secretaries, but it included other representatives from the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Australia.
Msgr. Andrew Burnham, formerly the Anglican bishop of Ebbsfleet and now assistant to the ordinary of the U.K.’s Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, also figured prominently in the work of the commission.
‘Anglican’ Accent, Latin Rite
Ordinariate priests in the U.S. got their first taste of the revised texts at a recent clergy conference in Tampa, Fla.
"The clergy were unanimously enthusiastic about this gift of a Mass text that is fully Catholic, clearly part of the Latin rite, but also which is so clearly derived from the Anglican liturgical tradition," said Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the official name of the U.S. ordinariate.
"It expresses the Mass of the Latin rite in English with a particularly ‘Anglican’ accent," said Father Timothy Perkins of St. Mary the Virgin parish in Arlington, Texas. "This was accomplished by including familiar texts and prayers from the Anglican liturgical tradition that accord fully with the faith and teaching of the Catholic Church."
St. Mary the Virgin became a Catholic parish in 1994 under an older dispensation for Episcopalians known as the Pastoral Provision. The parish is in transition to the ordinariate. St. Mary the Virgin was one of the U.S. parishes that were allowed to do a trial run with the new ordinariate-use liturgy.
Father Perkins added, "The language is formal and resonates with the desire to offer prayer in distinctly sacral language, just as has been accomplished in the new edition of the Roman Missal; and some of the distinctive prayers [in the ordinariate use] will lend new insights into the breadth of the Catholic faith that we share."
Eric Wilson, a layman who is master of ceremonies at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Bladensburg, Md. — the first formerly Episcopal parish to come into the Catholic Church under Anglicanorum Coetibus — is also familiar with the new text.
"The new ordinariate use is truly a two-way gift," he said. "Rome has taken the very best of Anglican spirituality and liturgical sensibility and infused it with the sound, traditional Eucharistic theology we’ve been looking for."
"One of the defining characteristics of this Mass," Wilson said, "is the fusion of the ordinary and extraordinary form, with an ample serving of Anglican sensibility. In a single Mass, you have prayers taken from the traditional Latin Mass, the Book of Common Prayer and the Novus Ordo, all stunningly blended together."
"The revised Eucharistic liturgy is sensitive to the best of the Anglican liturgical tradition, while reinforcing its relation with the Latin rite from which it came," added Father David Ousley of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Philadelphia.
While the first aspect of the ordinariate use that many will notice is the sacral language — Anglicans love their "vouchsafes," "thys" and other old words, which are abundantly present in the ordinariate use — a priest familiar with the process of revision stressed that the most important consideration was theology.
Speaking in February at an ordinariate-use symposium held at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Msgr. Lopes said that the "first principle" in developing the ordinariate use was that the "liturgical vision of the ordinariates is none other than the liturgical vision of the universal Church."
Msgr. Lopes, however, went on to recognize the centrality that the Book of Common Prayer has long held for Anglicans and Episcopalians.
"The Book of Common Prayer not only formed and informed Anglican worship for 500 years," he said, "but it also supplied authority." He said that prayer-book worship is "enriched" by "access to the magisterium."
Still, it cannot be denied that the language is striking — and some of it even more so than in the Book of Common Prayer phraseology familiar to ordinariate Catholics from their Anglican pasts.
For example, in the old General Confession used in Episcopal churches (roughly similar to the Confiteor), the congregation was exhorted to "make your humble confession to almighty God, devoutly kneeling."
In the new ordinariate use, this becomes "make your humble confession to almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees." For the purpose of consistency, Holy Spirit is preferred over Holy Ghost, except in a few places.
Most ordinariate priests in the U.S. celebrate ad orientem, but ordinariate use also allows the celebrant to face the people. The Last Gospel, a feature of the older Latin Masses, is optional.
The Prayers of the People are set and not changed from time to time, though one form does allow for participatory responses from worshippers.
Support From Pope Francis
Some expressed concern in the early months of his pontificate that Pope Francis would not be as sympathetic to the ordinariates as his predecessor. The Rt. Rev. Gregory Venables, Anglican bishop of Argentina, was quoted as saying that, as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis had expressed doubts for the need for the ordinariates.
Several clergy and lay members of the ordinariate, however, insist that the Holy Father has actually broadened the definition of who can belong to the ordinariates, thus giving them even more potential for growth.
"This question has come up on several occasions," said Father Perkins. "And when I’ve been asked, ‘What do you think of Pope Francis?’ my answer is always the same: ‘I think he is the Successor of Peter and that I therefore owe him loyalty, allegiance and obedience. He is our Holy Father, just as he is for every Catholic.’"
In trust of the Pope’s leadership, Father Perkins said, "As he continues to shepherd all the faithful, I am confident of his love and support for us as he exercises Godly and inspired leadership and authority."
Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.