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.
LONDON — In medieval times, England was called “Our Lady’s Dowry” — a dowry feared lost with the English Reformation. In modern times, the Ordinariates, Catholics dioceses with an English patrimony, are helping recover that dowry at the very moment the United Kingdom is becoming lost to Christianity entirely.
This month marks the 10th anniversary of Benedict XVI’s creation of the Ordinariates with the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which brought the traditions of the English Church back into its Catholic home. In this interview with the National Catholic Register, Msgr. Keith Newton, the ordinary for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, shares his thoughts about the past 10 years journey and how the Ordinariate’s witness to the “Englishness” of Catholicism can aid in bringing the United Kingdom back to the fullness of faith in Our Lady’s son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Monsignor Keith Newton, we’re celebrating 10 years of Anglicanorum Coetibus, what are your thoughts? Is how the Ordinariate in the U.K. has developed what you could have anticipated, prepared for, or expected with the apostolic constitution?
It’s a very difficult question to answer because it’s starting a new structure, which is what this Ordinariate is, with very little resources. I mean, there was an initial generous offer of money from the local bishops' conference, but that was not enormous. So you’re starting from scratch really. My real worry in the first months was making sure that the priests who made this journey would have somewhere to live and have enough money to live on, but that all worked out.
I hope that people may begin to recognize its ecumenical significance. We just had a symposium in Rome in the Gregorian University for the 10th anniversary, and that point was made by Monsignor Langham who is the Catholic chaplain at Cambridge University, that [the Ordinariate] is “realized ecumenism.” This is what happens when you take ecumenism seriously; not just talk about it, but actually do something about it. We show that it is possible in the universal church to bring in other traditions, which can influence and be accepted as “treasures to be shared,” which is what Pope Benedict called it, between other Catholics. So that’s a slow process, but I think it is happening.
What would you say is the state of ecumenical dialogue today? Have you been able to continue that discussion with other groups about possibly joining the Ordinariate, or petitioning Rome for one themselves?
There’s a regular trickle of Anglican priests who come and talk to me. Not all of them then decide to be received into full communion, but a good proportion of them do. I've just received a young man whom we will put forward for ordination. He was only in his late 20s, I think early 30s, who’s not been ordained an Anglican very long and we will hope to process him for possible ordination as a Catholic priest.
As far as ecumenism is concerned, I think one has to recognize that the ecumenical discussion, between Anglicans and Catholics, is in a very different phase than it was 20 or 30 years ago. I think for all of them, they all recognize that corporate union in the future is a much more long term goal whereas there was a much more hopeful atmosphere in the 70s and 80s. That now has become more about discussing differences and how we might learn from each other in some ways. But I think the possibility (in my view) of what the Lord prayed for, which is the Church might be one, has disappeared a bit and that’s really sad. I mean as for our involvement in ecumenism that just doesn’t really happen because on both sides I think there’s a slight embarrassment about our presence.
So what is the unique pastoral situation the Ordinariate finds itself vis-a-vis evangelizing the U.K.?
As I said, the U.K. desperately needs to be evangelized. One of the things that former Anglicans bring is a sense that evangelization is not simply about getting lapsed Catholics back to Mass. I think that sort of mindset is very common in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Whereas for Anglicans, and those who've been Anglicans, it’s always been a sense of you have a responsibility for everybody who lives in the area in which you are. So all these people need to be evangelized.
Now, again, as I said, we’re a very small thing. So you can’t say of the Ordinariate, “Well, there’s the great hope for evangelization.” But one of the things it does do is say there’s an English form of Catholicism, which perhaps has been neglected in the past, for obvious reasons. When the [Catholic] hierarchy in England and Wales was restored in the 1850s, it was very much a sort of Italianate or Irish sort of tradition was brought into England, so that we almost forget the pre-Henry VIII Catholic Church in England, which was very vibrant, with lots of great saints who have almost been forgotten. It’s a reminder of all that, and all the great writings of “the Cloud of Unknowing” and Julian of Norwich, and all these great English spiritual writers. That is something I hope that we can remind the whole Catholic Church of, which is a sense that there is an English Catholicism.
Do you think that the Ordinariate also helps you make the case to people that Catholicism is not truly foreign to the United Kingdom?
Absolutely. That’s exactly the point, that it’s not. There has been the sense in England that [Catholicism] is exactly that. I think the Ordinariate should be reminding people that it’s not really [foreign]. That is to say, there is a long history of the Catholic Church in England. It’s almost as if, isn’t it, that the Catholic Church finished in England at Henry VIII, and then restarted in 1850. But that’s not really the case. I mean, certainly there was a whole Recusant witness throughout those years of many Catholic families and ordinary Catholic folk who were worshiping in difficult circumstances. But also there was a sort of reminder that there was an Englishness that was Catholic, and some of that was maintained in the Church of England. I think that’s what the Holy See was saying, that these were things which impelled us towards unity.
In many ways, hasn’t that also been part of the long struggle within Anglicanism over the prayer books: to preserve the Catholic spirit in English worship?
That’s true. And one of the beautiful things that’s happened in the Ordinariate is to bring [to the Catholic Church] part of the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer, which has great influence beyond just sort of religious practice in terms of language and beauty like the English Bible and so forth. Some of those great prayers in there are now incorporated into a form of Catholic Mass, you know. It’s part of the Roman Rite now.
I mean quite a lot of priests say to me “I wish we could use that [Divine Worship form of the Roman] rite” because there is a beauty about it which perhaps has been lost. And that is this sort of English tradition, I suppose.
Is there any like realistic speculation or possibility of the Ordinariate being able to revive Sarum Use as its own version of a Latin Mass?
That was considered by the [Anglicanae Traditiones] Commission, which met to put together the liturgy, but it was put to one side. So I think the missal we have is what we've got at the moment, which uses some of the things in the Book of Common Prayer, certainly the Roman Canon, the main Eucharistic prayers of the Roman Canon, but also has the option to use some of the things from the extraordinary form in English, the prayers at the foot of the altar, the last gospel, the traditional offertory prayers. It’s unlikely in the near future anybody’s going to look at the Sarum Use.
Where do you see things going in the next 10 years? What are some of the challenges and opportunities?
Well, the challenges are to be able to use buildings better for our mission. In some places, we've been lodgers in other people’s churches. Although people have often been very welcoming, it’s never a totally satisfactory situation. You want buildings in which you can engage in mission from, where our priests are the parish priests. That’s why we've negotiated with some bishops to have taken over parishes that may have been failing or could have closed and say, well, let’s just take this parish over and introduce Divine Worship as well as the Novus Ordo, so that people can see [our] treasures. One of the interesting things about the apostolic constitution is that the pope [Benedict XVI] talks about “treasures to be shared.” Now, if you’re going to share treasures, you can’t put them in a cupboard and hide them away. They've got to be seen; they've got to be visible; they've got to be available for people. So you do find that when we do this, you get people from some of the [other] Catholic congregations who come because they like that sort of more dignified form of worship in terms of language. It happens probably more in America than it happens here, but it does happen here.
The Ordinariate’s strongest presence is in England, but you’re also in Wales and Scotland as well?
We’ve got a group in South Wales and three small groups in Scotland. Wales is part of the same bishops’ conference, Scotland is different bishops’ conference, so in theory [Scottish Ordinariate communities] should have a separate Ordinariate, but because there weren’t enough really to make that practical, it was decided to draw Scotland to us, just as Canada is drawn to the States [in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter].
So where do you see evangelization going?
This is just something we share with the rest of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and to remind them, as I say, that evangelization is about everybody. It’s about bringing everybody to the love of God in Jesus Christ. So we have that mission to the whole country.
How is the introduction of the Divine Worship missal in the experience of the Ordinariate in the U.K.? I understand because of 20th-century liturgical changes that many people would have been a bit removed from the Book of Common Prayer?
The history of Anglo-Catholics particularly in England is very different from anything in the States or in Australia, because after the Second Vatican Council and the hopes there were for ecumenism, many Anglo-Catholics decided they should just “do what Rome does.” So many [Anglicans], in the hope that there would be united Church soon, went over to using the Roman Rite. Those who didn’t used the modern English rites as close to the Roman Rite in shape as they could get it. I suppose others were so keen on wanting to prove that they were Catholic, that they used everything that was Catholic that they could get away with, and shunned much that was from the Anglican tradition.
Now, in a sense, we in the Ordinariate, we’re having to sort of reevaluate and appreciate some of the things that maybe we didn’t appreciate while we were Anglicans. That’s been an interesting process. There was a lot of criticism about the Divine Worship missal, and for the reason because the language was different and so forth. But to my surprise, more and more groups started to use it, and then appreciate it. So many more people are using it now than I thought would. Some use it every week, some just use it from time to time, but many of the groups that have got a separate Ordinariate Mass will use it on a Sunday. That’s many more than I expected. That’s really, really encouraging.
I've really enjoyed and appreciated the Divine Worship Mass. The poetry of the language, to me, really helps the prayers of the Mass stick to your bones.
It does. People when they come to it they'll say, “it is very different.” I tell them, well, you have to let liturgy seep in. You can’t judge it on one or two occasions. Somehow it’s got to get into you and become part of your spirituality, where you respond to it. And I must say, I'm mostly celebrating Divine Worship now. I still do the [ordinary] Roman Rite sometimes at some churches I go to, either diocesan churches or not. I mean, on Sunday, I'm going to Liverpool and I'm going to celebrate Mass in the cathedral there and it will be Novus Ordo. Having celebrated it now, I do find it a bit weak in parts and its language. Whereas [in Divine Worship] there’s a sort of clarity about what you’re doing. And of course, the Roman Canon is used a lot more in our [Mass], which is much more definite about what is happening during the Mass than perhaps some of the other Eucharistic Prayers. Many [diocesan] parishes don’t use the Roman Canon very often.
What’s the status of your Ordinariate’s daily office for the liturgy of the hours?
We use something called the Customary at the moment, which was put together in the early days, but we’re trying to revamp an office book. We were hoping to have something which would be between America and England and Australia: just one official office book, but that isn’t going to be possible, because those in the Chair of St. Peter wants some different things, which come from a different sort of strand of Anglicanism. So the translations are a bit different. I think we’re very keen here that if we’re going to make an office book, it should be based fairly squarely upon the Book of Common Prayer. So we’re in the process of negotiations for having our own office book printed, which will be for England and Wales, and also for Australia, who would like to come in, because they come from the same source Anglican tradition as it were. But they will be very similar.
We were very keen to make sure that partly because of the musical tradition Anglicanism that [the office] was set to those [1662 BCP] texts, and not to ones slightly changed. So the Te Deum, or the Benedictus, or the Psalms should be [in our office] the texts that have been common to Anglicanism down the years. But we’re going ahead with our negotiations, and that’s all going quite well at the moment.
Is there anything else, looking back at Anglicanorum Coetibus, and everything that’s happened, that we haven’t discussed that you'd like to mention?
It was very exciting in those first years, and it continues to be. It’s very exciting, this new development in the Catholic Church, which has got great ecumenical significance. The thing is you don’t know how these things develop. In some sense you've got to try and see how things work out as time goes on. Where we'll be in 10 years’ time, I don’t know. I suspect some of the groups will dissolve, just fade away, and other ones will become strong. What we'd really like in 10 years’ time is 20 really strong communities around the country that would be on their own, where you know that the Ordinariate liturgy is celebrated regularly, where there’s the Holy Week liturgy, where there is a sense of this Anglican patrimony within the Church and so forth.
That’s happening, but it’s a gradual thing. I keep telling people: 10 years is not a lot in the history of the Catholic Church.