First Personal Ordinariate Bishop Talks ‘Wonderment of Being in God’s Church’

Bishop-elect Steven Lopes, the first-ever bishop of a personal ordinariate for the Anglican tradition, explains how Catholics of Anglican heritage have an important role in evangelization and enriching the Church.

Bishop-elect Steven Lopes distributes Communion.
Bishop-elect Steven Lopes distributes Communion. (photo: Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter)

HOUSTON — When Pope Francis appointed Bishop-elect Steven Lopes on Nov. 24 to be the first bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter — one of three personal ordinariates set up under Benedict XVI — it marked an important milestone for Catholics of Anglican heritage, who have now seen their Anglican traditions restored to the Catholic Church and Catholic life.

Bishop-elect Lopes is originally not of Anglican heritage, but he has been intimately involved with the process of setting up the ordinariates and the development of their new Catholic liturgy, in his former position at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, since Benedict XVI established such a path with the 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He succeeds Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, a Catholic priest and former Anglican bishop, who led the North-American ordinariate as its first ordinary.

In this interview with Register staff writer Peter Jesserer Smith Dec. 1, Bishop-elect Lopes discusses the milestones of the ordinariates, their new Divine Worship missal and how Catholics of Anglican heritage can play an important role in enriching the life of the broader Church.


Bishop-elect Lopes, you have been appointed as the first bishop for the personal ordinariates established for Catholics of Anglican heritage. How is this an important step forward for them?

Well, in a very real way, it is a fulfillment of what Anglicanorum Coetibus intended. These ordinariates are particular churches in canon law. A “particular church” means a portion of the people of God, sacramentally ordered and led by a bishop. That’s how we define ourselves as Catholics. The fact that the ordinariates now have a bishop is a very public sign that these are permanent structures in the Church and that these are Catholic structures.


Are you aware of whether the two other ordinariates have made any requests for bishops?

No, I’m not aware, but the leadership of the ordinariates in the other parts of the world are in very capable hands, as it was here with Msgr. Steenson. Msgr. Steenson understood the point of the development for the ordinariate here in the United States and Canada to be such that this development was warranted now.


You and Msgr. Steenson celebrated Mass together on Nov. 29 for the first time with the new Roman missal that incorporates the Anglican patrimony. What was the experience like, and how has it been received thus far?

I think, from the perspective of the people in the pews, not a whole lot looked or sounded different from last Sunday. But the tremendous sign, if you will, to the priests and the faithful is to see that missal, that bound book promulgated by the Holy See, sitting on the altar. Because for 30 years, really since we began incorporating Anglican heritage into Catholic worship, it has been binders and papers and cobbling together resources from here, there and everywhere. But now this is simply a missal, as would be seen on the altar in every Catholic parish across the world.

It is another one of those concrete signs, where Pope Francis is taking the vision of Pope Benedict and is saying, “This is what it looks like to worship in the personal ordinariates. And here is a missal, because a missal is a Catholic thing.”


One common question from a lot of people who find out about the ordinariate is: Who can belong to the ordinariate? Can I participate in its Masses and community life?

That’s a very good question! Let me take participation first: The ordinariate is fully and completely part of the Catholic Church. It is a Catholic parish, so any Catholic can come to Mass at an ordinariate parish on any given Sunday and worship there with that community. It fulfills their Sunday obligation. It is simply a Catholic Mass. Full stop.

Canonical membership in the ordinariate is limited to those who come into full communion with the Catholic Church [from the Anglican tradition]; to their close family members, their children; those who are baptized in the Catholic Church through the ordinariate, but also those who are evangelized by the ordinariate. The ordinariate has a mission of evangelization: drawing new people into the Church and new people to experience the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So persons who may have fallen away from the practice of their faith, such that it was never really a part of their lives, who have that faith awakened — and then who complete their sacraments of initiation, so first holy Communion and confirmation — they can be members of the ordinariate as well.

But membership should not be equated with who can come and worship at Mass on Sunday. There are various people who, for whatever reason, find themselves spiritually at home worshipping at an ordinariate community, and that’s okay, too. They have a spiritual affinity with the ordinariate and their mission of evangelization.


On a personal note, you did not grow up with an Anglican heritage, but you have worked extensively in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to establish the ordinariates. How has your immersion in the Anglican patrimony and association with former Anglicans who became Catholic enriched your own personal faith?

I’ll tell you this: My conversion of heart — if you want to call it that, and I think that’s a valid term — came because part of my job [at the CDF] was to evaluate the dossiers, the files of all the Anglican clergy who were applying to be ordained Catholic priests. That included reading all the spiritual autobiographies, the stories of their lives of ministry and of faith, the stories of what led them to seek full communion in the Catholic Church. Reading those dossiers — you know there are about 72 priests in the United States and Canada, about a hundred or so in England, another 20 or so in Australia — reading through all of those was truly a spiritual experience. It was a holy exercise. … I’m seeing how the Holy Spirit was working in the lives of people, and I have to say, I was tremendously, tremendously grateful for that experience.


How can the Roman-Anglican patrimony of the ordinariate enrich the Church as a whole? Are there any practices that the wider Latin rite could benefit from?

Sure. Anglican liturgical patrimony really arises out of an English tradition of Benedictine monasticism. So there’s a focus on biblical piety and spirituality. You will find that right from the beginning to the end of Mass, which is punctuated with all these, not only references to Scripture, but full citations. So the deacon, for example, will turn around, and say, “Hear what the Lord Jesus Christ saith …” and you have a good bit of Scripture there. That Scripture permeates our worship, as it should permeate our life … and brings us back to reflection on what is of ultimate importance. That’s a great example of how patrimony works. That almost monastic sense of reading worship and life biblically is a great area of patrimony.

Another is, of course, the Divine Office. Most Catholics know the Mass. We go to Mass, and that’s a wonderful thing. But the Anglican spiritual and liturgical tradition would preserve a much more lively sense of morning and evening prayer in addition to Mass. And those are real ways of nurturing your Catholic faith. For example, on the First Sunday for Advent in the principal church of the Ordinariate, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, we had Matins (Morning Prayer) between the two Sunday Masses. A number of people from the 9:30 Mass stayed, and a number of people from the 11:15 Mass came early, and we had a full church.

But that kind of rhythm of prayer is meant to be continued through the week.

We’re working on some resources to allow that to continue to grow and flourish as a feature of parochial life in the ordinariate.


So when might Catholics see an ordinariate version of the Divine Office?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has recently sent the three ordinariates guidelines for what morning and evening prayer should look like in the ordinariates: the minimum requirements, the structure and whatnot. The ordinariates themselves are producing their resources. There is one book out already in England, the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham. There will be another for the United States, and Australia is considering its options too, so those are forthcoming.


Do you see the ordinariates as recovering that prominent feature of English Christianity, Marian devotion, which was largely lost to the Anglican patrimony in the wake of the Reformation?

Absolutely. It is such a major, major feature, because it was such a feature, if you will, of medieval piety in England toward Our Lady. There is also the Mass of the Five Wounds of Christ, for example, which is now restored in the Divine Worship missal, and some other things are being brought to bear in a very lively way that I’m sure will make a great contribution.


How would you describe the growth of the ordinariates since their founding, particularly here in the United States?

It’s interesting that the United States’ situation is wholly different than other parts of the world. In England, for example, you have the Church of England, and, therefore, all church buildings and properties are properties of the crown. And so any parish or community that left [the Church of England] to enter into full communion and join the ordinariate couldn’t take anything with them.

In the United States, you have a number of Episcopal and Anglican jurisdictions kind of coming together. So, already from the beginning, ordinariate communities had this backbone of parish churches that came into full communion with the Catholic Church, and they’re now Catholic parishes in the ordinariate.

It's heroic growth, but it starts very small. We have some of our communities worship in elementary schools’ gymnasiums and a number organized in their local Catholic parishes with a Mass time or something. That’s how it starts, and that’s how it begins to grow. But again, one of our larger parishes here, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, had more than 800 people at Mass this past weekend. They began with three. So it’s an amazing thing what God has done, and there’s a vitality in this community that is quite attractive. So things start small, but they have tremendous potential for growth.


How does the ordinariate’s new missal play an important part in evangelization and ecumenism?

Well, it speaks to other communities that may be looking at the ordinariates and were wondering whether the Catholic Church is serious about a diversity of expression within the overall unity of faith. The missal is a very positive sign to those groups. … When you think about it, in the 500 years of the Protestant Reformation, we’ve never had a situation before where the Church has embraced and called its own a liturgical expression that has developed and was nurtured within the context of a Reformation community. So this is an extremely significant step for the Church to take, and it is a great sign for your key ecumenical dialogue partners that the Catholic Church is open to whatever is true, good and beautiful in their communities: that you don’t lose something in the entrance into full communion; you can bring something — a treasure to be shared — and Anglicanorum Coetibus expresses it in Article III.


What do you see as some opportunities for the ordinariate that lie ahead?

I think, really, that the ordinariate has a marvelous story to tell: the story about faith being an adventure. You never know where it is going to lead you; that it is never something taken for granted; that membership in the Church and what it means has implications for the way we live our lives; that the truth of holy Scripture and sacred Tradition impels us to do certain things, say certain things and live a certain way. It’s a compelling story, and as ordinariate communities find new ways of telling that story, they can really be a wonderful contribution to our Catholic life by reawakening in the hearts of Catholics everywhere the wonderment of being in God’s Church.


Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.