Why Do Regular Catholics Join Ordinariate Parishes?

Incarnation Catholic Church, Ordinariate Parish in Orlando, Florida with
Bishop Steven J. Lopes on October 23, 2016.

What is an Ordinariate parish? These are specialty parishes, designed to host a specialty liturgy that was originally designed to accommodate Anglican and Methodist converts to Catholicism. Thus, they are called the Ordinariates of English Patrimony (or “Anglican Patrimony” if you prefer). The liturgy is fully approved by Rome, but follows the traditions and customs (patrimony) of traditional, high-church Anglicanism. However, these parishes are not limited to former Anglicans. In fact, any Catholic can attend Mass there and even join these parishes (learn more about that here). The question is, however, why do regular Catholics join Ordinariate parishes? What’s the point? What’s the appeal? We have found that the answer to this question is complex, and that different people join Ordinariate parishes for different reasons. The four most common reasons are as follows…

  • Proximity — An Ordinariate parish just happens to be the one nearby.
  • Family — An Ordinariate parish happens to be a family home.
  • School — An Ordinariate parish school happens to provide education for one’s children.
  • Preference — An Ordinariate parish happens to offer a form of worship that is appealing to some.

The first three reasons are fairly obvious and practical. The fourth one is more of a curiosity. To understand this we have to look at the liturgy the Ordinariate provides. The type of liturgy the Ordinariate provides is called “Divine Worship” and this covers everything from the Daily Office to the Administration of Sacraments, to the Mass itself. The liturgy of the Mass is officially called “Divine Worship: The Missal.” However, many people simply refer to it in shorthand as the “Divine Worship Mass” or DWM. A sample of this form of the Mass can be seen in the video above.

As you can see, the Divine Worship Mass (DWM) is a little different. It follows the same format as the regular New Order Mass (NOM) that’s been used since 1970 in nearly all Catholic parishes. It should be noted, however, that this form was used by Anglicans a lot longer, going back well over a hundred years. Even though the basic format is similar to the NOM, the details and atmosphere are strikingly similar to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) used in all Catholic parishes prior to 1970.  So it has a very traditional appeal to those Catholics interested in that.

What makes it unique is that because the liturgy is celebrated in English, and the format is virtually identical to a NOM, the average Catholic can slip right in to this traditional form of liturgy and feel right at home within a matter of minutes. There is no need to learn Latin responses, or follow carefully in a Latin-English Missal, as one needs to do in a TLM. So it makes for a fairly easy switch from a contemporary parish to a traditional parish, without having to relearn everything. Many regular Catholics find this appealing for various reasons.

One reason might be that a Catholic has no interest in worshiping in Latin. While it’s a good idea for all Catholics to know a little Latin, the idea of worshiping in Latin all the time just seems overwhelming to some. This is understandable, especially if one is older and learning another language (or following carefully in a Latin-English Missal) is harder, or if one is concerned about younger children understanding what’s going on during Mass. Some Catholics just want a more traditional form of worship, but they simultaneously don’t want to worship in Latin. Another reason might be a spouse or a family member who isn’t fully on-board with going traditional Catholic. For example; suppose a wife wants to leave her contemporary parish and get into a more traditional Catholic parish. She’s fully into traditional Catholicism, is learning Latin, and ready to go. However, her husband wants nothing to do with Latin, or changing the form of the Mass he’s known all his life, or doing any of the other things common to Latin Mass parishes. In this case, a DWM in an Ordinariate parish might be a reasonable compromise for the couple. The wife would get a hefty dose of traditional worship, while the husband wouldn’t have to deal with any more Latin than he would in a contemporary parish, and the form of worship (meaning the basic order and format of the liturgy) would be identical to what he’s used to, even if the details are different. The wife is satisfied and the husband is as well. They’re both getting a good dose of what they want. It may not be all of what either spouse wants, but sometimes marriages require compromise. A third reason might be a Catholic who’s an Anglophile, meaning he/she loves all things related to English and England. It’s a fairly common phenomenon. Lots of Americans, Canadians, Australians, and even some Englishmen really have “thing” for English traditions and culture. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Ordinariate parishes can (and do) rise to the occasion in this area.

There are a few peculiarities that people should know about Ordinariate parishes before attending one…

First of all, the liturgy is a little unique. While it follows the basic format of the New Order Mass (NOM) which was promulgated in the Catholic Church in 1970, one has to understand that it’s not done this way for the sake of following the NOM. The new liturgy, that was given to Catholics in 1970, actually parallels (in many ways) the format of liturgy used in Anglican churches for centuries. Whether this is intentional or not, nobody knows, and it could just be coincidental. Nevertheless, the reason why Ordinariate parishes use this format is because it’s nearly identical to what Anglicans had already been doing for a very long time. It’s not that the Divine Worship Mass (DWM) copies the format of the NOM, but rather, what Anglicans had been doing for a long time is similar to the NOM. So it was only natural for the Ordinariates to re-adopt that liturgical format for the DWM. It fits right in to the English Patrimony the Ordinariates are designed to preserve.

Second, there are many prayers used in the DWM that you’ll never hear in a NOM, and some of these prayers are recited by the congregation during the liturgy. They are beautiful prayers, that are extremely Catholic in content, but like I said, they are unique to the DWM.

Third, the language used in Divine Worship liturgies is Sacred English, not the Common English we use in the New Order Mass (NOM). Common English is what we use in everyday speech, and this has been the case since the 17th century (1600s). There were many social reasons for this, which I won’t go into here. In spite of that, however, the English-speaking (Anglophone) world opted to retain the use of Sacred English in Scripture and prayer books even though it was already starting to fall into disuse by the general public in the 1600s. This form of English continued to be retained in sacred books well into the middle 20th century (middle 1900s). This was partially for the purpose of punctuating the idea that we offer our best to God, even our best language. Sacred English uses a different case for second-person, singular pronouns (thee, thy, thine, & thou), and different suffixes for verbs in the second person, singular, present tense (-st, -est) and the third person, singular, present tense (-th, -eth). We’re all familiar with it. Even William Shakespeare used it in his plays. It’s also considered the language of poetry and romance even to this very day. Three English Bibles were published using this kind of language; the Geneva Bible published in 1560, the Douay–Rheims Bible published in 1610, and the King James Bible published in 1611. At this same time, the first edition of the Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549, with some updates thereafter. All of them used Sacred English. All of them retained Sacred English well into the middle 1900s, long after the Anglophone world had dropped its use in everyday speech. The point of using Sacred English for worship is to punctuate, through language, that this time of worship is special and different from all other times of the day or night. It is a time, and activity, “set apart” from everything else in life. So the language is different. This is a very big part of the English Patrimony. Some Catholics do the same thing with Latin. Jews do the same thing with Hebrew. Muslims do the same thing with Arabic. It’s a common practice in many religions. Beyond that, Sacred English was also retained for doctrinal reasons, to insure that scholars would properly interpret the Bible with the intent of its authors. The Bible was originally written in Koine Greek and Classical Hebrew. Both languages contain specific words for second-person, singular pronouns. Thus, in order to properly translate such words into English, you must have specific English words for second-person, singular pronouns (thee, thy, thine, & thou). Sacred English has these words. Common English does not. Therefore, any Common English translation of the Bible is going to have some ambiguities in the text that could become interpretation problems later on. Traditional Anglicans have always been sticklers about proper translation of the sacred text. So this is another part of the English Patrimony that is retained in the use of Sacred English.

Fourth, the DWM is celebrated ad orientem (facing east) or versus Dominum (facing the Lord). That means that during the second part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest faces in the same direction as the congregation, leading them all in prayer before the Holy Trinity. In this sense, he’s acting as an intercessor for the people, not as an entertainer to the people. This is one of the features of the DWM that makes it look a lot like the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). This same posture can be used in the NOM as well, but it is rarely ever done. Some people don’t understand the symbolism this posture conveys, so they think the priest is “turning his back to them” in a gesture of rudeness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ad orientem posture is used in the Eastern Catholic rites, and was used by all Catholics in the West up until 1970. The Divine Worship Mass (DWM) keeps this tradition too, according to traditional Anglican custom used for centuries.

Fifth, communion is always served on the tongue while kneeling. This is standard practice for all Ordinariate parishes while celebrating the Divine Worship Mass (DWM). This is yet another feature that the DWM has in common with the TLM. Like the ad orientem posture, this tradition comes to us from the English Patrimony. But it is consistent with how Catholic worship has always been done in the Eastern Catholic rites, as well as the Western Church up until 1970. Kneeling for communion, and receiving on the tongue, punctuates two things: (1) the real presence of Jesus Christ is transubstantiated into the Eucharistic elements so we must kneel before him, and (2) Holy, Mother Church feeds us our Lord like little children, because our Lord said that is what we must become like to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3-6).

Sixth, the priest might be married and have children. Chances are the Ordinariate parish priest is a convert from Anglicanism, and Rome has decreed that it is possible for experienced Protestant clergy to convert and become Catholic priests on a case-by-case basis. It would be ridiculous for Rome to demand that they give up their families to serve in priestly ministry. So these men remain married husbands and fathers, while they train for the priesthood and are eventually ordained if suitable for the job. Priestly celibacy is a Church discipline, not a doctrine, so exceptions can be made, and the practice can be modified as the Church sees fit. The Eastern Catholic jurisdictions ordain married men to the priesthood all the time, and they’ve done so consistently for 2,000 years, and yet they also maintain a healthy and robust celibate priesthood in monastic communities. Likewise, all Eastern Catholic bishops are chosen only from celibate priests. While the Western Church has mandated celibacy of all priests for the last 900 years, it is a discipline and it can be changed if needed. That being said, the married priests of the Ordinariate have wisely decided to stay out of this debate. While many within their own ranks are married, they do not comment or debate Church policy on this issue. They are grateful for their own ordinations, and they keep their peace quietly on this topic.

Seventh, Ordinariate parishes are usually very traditional, but also small and friendly. Upon entering such a parish, one might be immediately struck by the traditional Catholic arrangement of the parish, the many women wearing veils and hats, the conservative manner of dress, and the absolute silence maintained before Mass. After the Mass is over, one may be struck again by how the atmosphere immediately changes to friendly and sociable. Potlucks after Sunday Mass are a fairly common thing in Ordinariate parishes. A common mantra in Ordinariate parishes is: “we’re formal but friendly.” This comes over from the conservative English Patrimony. Anglican parishes are usually small and tight-knit. In the Catholic Ordinariate, sometimes parishes can grow larger and faster than many former Anglicans are used to, but they still manage to carry over that family-friendly atmosphere that was characteristic of the Anglican parishes they originally came from.

Eighth, most Catholics in Ordinariate parishes are very doctrinally conservative. This means they study what the Catholic Church teaches and actually believe it. Fidelity to historic Catholic teaching is high on their checklist. Remember, these parishes were founded by recent converts to Catholicism. They didn’t leave Protestantism so they could act like Protestants again. They converted so they could become Catholics! So they take historic and traditional Catholic teaching very seriously. This is something you’ll want to be mindful of when worshiping at an Ordinariate parish. If you’re a person who disagrees with traditional Catholic teaching on this or that subject, it’s probably not going go over well if you bring it up in conversation after Mass. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or in this case; when among many converts, do as the converts do. The Ordinariate parishes are filled with converts, and they were all founded by converts. So keep this in mind, and don’t upset the converts’ fresh new faith.

While I may not have completely answered the question of why regular Catholics join Ordinariate parishes, I think I’ve given a ballpark idea of the multiple possible reasons that play as factors. When considering regular Catholics who join Ordinariate parishes, I think it’s a mistake to put them all into the same category. Stereotyping rarely helps anyone and it’s usually wrong anyway. Different Catholics join Ordinariate parishes for different reasons, just as it is with regular Diocesan parishes. Each regular Catholic has his own reasons, motivations and practical considerations, so each regular Catholic should be treated as an individual, not as part of a stereotypical group. Ordinariate parishes are here to stay, and they’re growing rather rapidly. They’re becoming very much a part of Catholic life in the English-speaking (Anglophone) world, so it’s a good idea for regular Catholics to get a better understanding of them.

3 thoughts on “Why Do Regular Catholics Join Ordinariate Parishes?

  1. It is important for a Catholic to have a good priest who uncomprisingly teaches the Catholic faith. Every Ordinariate priest I have met is rock-solid and I suspect they all are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would like to add that the Ordinariate bishop is solid as well, and in any case where he suspects an Ordinariate priest might not be, he deals with it in effective ways.

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