If you’re a Catholic, and you speak English as your primary language, then you have a special heritage you may not even be aware of. The English Patrimony, lost in the Protestant world for centuries, has now been restored to the Catholic Church. I’m talking about the English spiritual heritage that was originally Catholic, from about AD 600 to 1535, but continued after the English Reformation under Anglicanism for five more centuries, before it was reunited with Rome in 1980 under Pope Saint John Paul II’s “Anglican Use Pastoral Provision” and then expanded under Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Constitution entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus (Latin: Groups of Anglicans). Today, this English Patrimony, now fully readopted back into the Catholic Church, is manifested in three personal ordinariates around the world, a fully developed Missal and Office, along with an accompanying spirituality that is deep in English heritage. Any Catholic may be enriched by this, especially English-speaking Catholics, and it was Pope Benedict XVI’s expressed will that the English Patrimony be returned to the Catholic Church as a spiritual gift for all Catholics.
The English Patrimony is not Anglicanism or Anglican spirituality exclusively. Granted, Anglicanism and Anglican spirituality drew from the English Patrimony for centuries, but the English Patrimony is bigger than that, and it’s much older. It began in about AD 600 when St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent by Pope St. Gregory the Great to evangelize the English Pagans, who had driven back the Celtic Christians of the British Isles and were causing all sorts of problems for them. These English Pagans (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) were Germanic people who worshiped the Heathen gods of Woden (Odin), Thunor (Thor) and Frige (Frigg). Yes, these were identical to the Nordic gods because they all come from the same Germanic people in northern Europe. Upon St. Augustine’s successful mission to convert the English king, he was made the first Archbishop of Canterbury. The Synod of Whitby (AD 664) saw the full integration of British Catholicism thereafter. It was here, in the 7th century, that the English Patrimony was born.
As the English nation developed, the language was heavily influenced by Catholic religion. Known as “Mary’s Dowry,” England itself became the most Catholic country in all of Europe, second only to Italy for a time. The English language evolved simultaneously along two paths, eventually resulting in two forms of English — Secular (or “Common”) and Religious (“Sacral” or “Sacred”). Common English evolved along secular lines, as in what people use in everyday speech, eventually adopted by the state for legal matters. Sacred English evolved along religious lines, keeping connection to the Latin, Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible and other religious documents, insuring proper translations into the English language, and providing a means to offer a prayer language that is “set apart” from common life. This involves the use of specific pronouns for the second-person singular case (thou, thee, thy, thine), and specific suffixes for verbs (-est and -ith) that indicates who is doing the action. These things may seem small and unnecessary to the average English-speaker, but when translating Latin, Greek and Hebrew text into English, they’re vitally important. They’re small changes, but they’re enough to mark a slightly different dialect of English that’s easy for average English-speakers to quickly decipher and understand. The Catholic Church has always recognized this aspect of the English Patrimony, which is why (even to this day) Sacred English is used for the Our Father prayer during Mass…
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
As you can see, with the change of just five words in the “Our Father” prayer, the entire “feel” of the payer is changed. Not only is this a more faithful translation of the original Greek text from Scripture, but it also gives us a sense that what we’re doing is different. When we pray this prayer in this way, we enter into a manner of speech that is not common or ordinary. It’s something set apart for God. The modern 1970, New Order of the Mass (Novus Ordo or Missal of Pope Paul VI), when translated into Common English vernacular, gives a nod to the English Patrimony by translating the Our Father prayer into Sacred English instead. If you happen to be a Latin Mass Catholic, and you own a 1962 Latin Mass Missal, there’s a good chance that the one you own translates the Latin text of the Mass into Sacred English in the left-hand column. This is an even bigger nod to the English Patrimony in the pre-conciliar Church.
Most Catholics are familiar with Sacred English for the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be prayers. Older Catholics may remember that older Catholic prayer books and missals where translated almost entirely into Sacred English. Why is this? Because it was once well understood by the Church that there is an English Patrimony, which has served Christians as far back as the 7th century, and this Patrimony manifests itself (partially) in the use of Sacred English.
Obviously, there’s a lot more to the English Patrimony than just language. Specific prayers play into this as well. These are prayers that were common to English-speaking Catholics before the English Reformation (AD 1535) but have fallen into disuse thereafter, due to the schism between Rome and Canterbury. Those prayers have now been restored to the Catholic Church; in the Divine Worship Missal, in the Divine Worship Office, and in the St. Gregory’s Prayer Book. There are also liturgical actions unique to the English Patrimony, which can only be seen in a Divine Worship Mass (DWM). This carries on in the form of parish administration, particular to the English Patrimony, as well as a number of other things.
The point I’m making here is that the English Patrimony is a particularly English way of being Catholic. Most English-speaking Catholics have been robbed of the full package, due to the unfortunate schism between Rome and Canterbury in AD 1535, but those days came to an end in AD 1980, and now in the second decade of this third millennium, we have seen the full restoration of the English Patrimony to the Catholic Church. It’s available to all Catholics who speak English as their primary language. While it is true that the English Patrimony extends into other languages and cultures as well (due to the spread of Anglicanism over the last five centuries), the primary beneficiaries are English-speaking Catholics. If you’re Catholic, and you speak English as your primary language, you’re already touching on the English Patrimony every time you go to a regular Mass.
Many of my readers have expressed to me a desire to return to the traditional Catholic spirituality of the English Patrimony. I have provided below everything one needs to accomplish a deeper connection to that heritage, regardless if one is eligible for ordinariate membership or not. To connect, and rediscover this element of traditional English-Catholic devotion, I recommend you follow these steps in this order…
- Get a copy of the St. Gregory’s Prayer Book (Ignatius) or (Amazon). This prayer book will be the cornerstone for most lay English-speaking Catholics to reconnect with their English-Catholic heritage in the English Patrimony. It features hundreds of prayers, in Sacred English (thee, thou, thy, etc.), as well as the ordinary (people’s responses) in the Divine Worship Mass (DWM), with guides to traditional Catholic and particularly English devotions. This is an absolute “must have” in every Catholic’s library. The book is designed to be used every day in regular daily devotion, as well as to be taken to mass, and to confession, and to just about any other Catholic activity. The idea is to use this little prayer book as part of your family’s devotional life, thereby connecting your spouse and children to their rich English-Catholic heritage contained in the English Patrimony. This truly is the connecting point for all of us who want to rediscover our spiritual birthright as English-speaking Catholics. Get this prayer book here, then if you like, proceed to the next step.
- Connect with the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS). This is a voluntary lay apostolate with members from all three ordinariates, as well as other Catholics and even some people who are not Catholic yet. It provides vital information of interest for Catholics who want to connect to the English Patrimony. This includes free podcasts, featuring interviews from all three ordinaries, as well as other people of interest. Just bookmarking this website, and visiting it occasionally, will connect you to a great deal of information. In addition, if you decide to join with a paid membership subscription, you’ll get access to their “Shared Treasure” journal, which features many fascinating articles for those who want to be “in the know.” If you like this, proceed to the next step.
- Read the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS) Blog. For those who want to stay current and up to speed with all things concerning the English Patrimony within the Catholic Church, this blog has it all. It’s the official communication platform of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS). Bookmark it. Subscribe to it. Get the updates. It’s free. You can also join the “Catholics of English Patrimony” groups on Facebook and MeWe. (I personally recommend MeWe for all social networking due to privacy concerns on Facebook.) If you like this, proceed to the next step.
- Start a devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham. This is the Madonna of all English-speaking people. The original shrine is located in England, but a similar one can be found in Houston, Texas. Statues, icons, medals and such: can be found here. These things must be imported from England, which is appropriate when you think about it, but you can sometimes find local sources if you’re willing to shop around. If you like this, proceed to the next step.
- Connect with an ordinariate parish, or consider starting one. This link will connect you to a map that shows where the English Patrimony is practiced in the Catholic Church throughout the world. If you happen to live near an established ordinariate parish, by all means, go visit it and see what it’s like. Any Catholic can visit such a parish, and any Catholic may become a member of such a parish. Did you know that? It’s true. Any Catholic (that means you) can become a member of any ordinariate parish. You don’t need to become a member of the ordinariate to do so. You can remain a member of your local diocese, and also be a member of an ordinariate parish at the same time (see details here). If however, you don’t live near such a parish, check the map to see if you happen to live near an “English Patrimony group.” These are startup prayer groups, designed to eventually become ordinariate parishes in time, if by providence that is God’s will. These groups usually meet once a month, are often lay run, and the type of liturgy that is used is the “Daily Office,” which is the ordinariate version of the Divine Office or “Liturgy of the Hours.” Once again, any Catholic (that means you) can become a member of any such group. One need not be part of the ordinariate (see details here). Finally, if you don’t live near any such parish or group, and you really, really, really love the English Patrimony, and you have the dedication to start your own “English Patrimony group,” you may do so by visiting this page and following the directions. If you like this, consider the next step.
- Join the ordinariate. Any Catholic may join one of the three existing ordinariates if he/she is a convert with an Anglican or Methodist background, OR if he/she has an immediate family member who is already a member of the ordinariate. Joining the ordinariate is the final step for any Catholic, who is eligible, and wants to make their connection to the English Patrimony canonical. It also allows such a canonical connection to be passed down to future generations, and to other family members. In addition, it gives such Catholics the right to request the sacraments and liturgies according to the English Patrimony. So if you ever want to see a Divine Worship Mass (DWM) or ordinariate parish in your area, you’re going to need ordinariate members to request them. Nobody else can. Joining the ordinariate changes one’s canonical, juridic status. Upon joining the ordinariate, one ceases to remain a member of his/her local diocese, and is juridically transferred to the appropriate ordinariate. Unlike changing rites to one of the Eastern Catholic churches, transfers to the ordinariates are not final. One can leave the ordinariate if one chooses, and juridically transfer back to one’s local diocese. Nevertheless, such transfers should not be taken lightly. One should be sure that he/she truly loves the English Patrimony, and really wants to make this connection canonical. This will also legally change one’s bishop. Upon transferring to an ordinariate, one will cease to be under the pastoral direction of the local diocesan bishop, or archbishop, and be canonically placed under the pastoral direction of the appropriate ordinariate bishop or monsignor. One does not need to be a member of an ordinariate parish, or English Patrimony group, to become a member of an ordinariate. Nor does one need to live near an ordinariate parish, or patrimony group, to become a member of an ordinariate. Lots of ordinariate members live in remote locations, far from any ordinariate parish or patrimony group. Though, if one becomes a member of an ordinariate, he/she should consider connecting with the nearest parish or group in some way (phone, email, etc.), or perhaps (if willing) consider starting one’s own English Patrimony group. To join, one must apply to the appropriate ordinariate based on geographical location. Select the one closest to you…
The English Patrimony is in the Catholic Church to stay. It’s not going anywhere, and it’s for every English-speaking Catholic to enjoy and cherish as part of one’s spiritual heritage, at whatever level one prefers. Perhaps Step 1 (above) will be enough for you. Maybe, you’ll be one of those Catholics who’s intrigued by step 1 and move on to Step 2 and 3. Maybe that will be enough. Or maybe, you’ll be the type who moves on to Step 4 and 5. Not everyone can move on to Step 6, due to canonical limitations, but if you can, give it some prayer and thought. I’ve been a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (North America) for years now. I love it and have no regrets. In fact, I’ve never met an ordinariate member who did have regrets. As they say: “come on in, the water is fine.” However, for those who can’t be part of the ordinariate, that should in no way exclude them from the English Patrimony. On the contrary, Pope Benedict XVI insisted that the English Patrimony was for the whole Catholic Church! This would especially be the case for all English-speaking Catholics. If you can’t be an ordinariate member, no worries. Just consider steps one through five above. They’re all available to you.