What the heck is an English Ordinariate Parish? The short answer is simply this. When a bunch of Anglicans decided to come back into the Catholic Church, from 1980 through 2012, they requested that they could bring elements of their Anglican (English) Patrimony with them. A good part of these elements, found in the Book of Common Prayer, originally came from the old Catholic Sarum Use before the English Reformation anyway. So it was really just a matter of re-adopting what the Catholic Church had lost under King Henry VIII back in 1535.
In 1980, Pope St. John Paul II established the Anglican Use Pastoral Provision, which was a temporary experiment to see if this would work. It worked quite well. So in 2009 through 2012, Pope Benedict XVI established three Ordinariates (more permanent diocesan-like jurisdictions) to allow this process to continue in a more permanent way. The whole thing was created as a way for English-speaking Protestants to come back into the Catholic Church in a way that preserved their English heritage and customs. In some ways, it’s similar to the Uniate churches of Eastern Rites, but in another way, it’s somewhat unique in characteristic.
So what is the English Patrimony? The English Patrimony is the Christian liturgical and pastoral heritage that comes to us from England. It originated in the Middle Ages, in what was called the Sarum Use within the Catholic Church. It was preserved in the Book of Common Prayer after the English schism with Rome, and re-adopted back into the Catholic Church after 1980. The best way to see the English Patrimony in action is to watch an English Patrimony Mass, formally called Divine Worship: The Missal…
The other way is to watch Evening Prayer according to Divine Worship: The Office…
Any Catholic can join an English Ordinariate parish. You don’t need to have any special qualifications or pre-existing conditions. You just show up for mass. If you like it, you sign the parish roster and join. It’s as simple as that. Your bishop remains the same. You just happen to go to an Ordinariate parish that has its own specially designated priest and bishop. You just become a member of that parish. No strings attached.
Certain Catholics, however, may qualify for Ordinariate membership itself. Becoming a member of the Ordinariate is different from becoming a member of an Ordinariate parish. Parish membership is just like it sounds — you’re a member of that parish, but your diocesan bishop remains the same. Ordinariate membership means changing your bishop too. When one becomes a member of the Ordinariate, it’s kind of like becoming a member of a religious order. Not only are you a member of an Ordinariate parish, but you also become a member of the Ordinariate jurisdiction, which means your bishop changes too. Instead of your regular diocesan bishop, you now come under the authority of the Ordinariate bishop, which in the United States and Canada is at Our Lady of Walsingham Cathedral in Houston, Texas.
Some Ordinariates don’t actually have their own bishop yet. For example, the Ordinariate for the United Kingdom, as well as the one in Oceania, still has a priestly Ordinary, who has all the episcopal powers of a mitered abbot, but is not actually a bishop. Instead, he is a Catholic priest who works with local bishops to acquire the sacrament of ordination for his priests, but in every other way, he functions as a bishop, even wearing a miter and carrying a crosier for liturgical functions.
However, under the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, which governs the English Ordinariates under Canon Law, only certain Catholics may become members of the Ordinariate. This is subject to change in the future, but for the time being, this is who qualifies…
- Any Catholic with an Anglican or Episcopalian background.
- Any Catholic with a Methodist background.
- Any Catholic who was baptized or confirmed within an Ordinariate parish.
- Any Catholic who has left the Catholic Church, and returns to the Catholic Church through an Ordinariate parish.
Why would one want to become a member of the Ordinariate itself? It’s simple really. Some Catholics are so attached to the English Patrimony that they wouldn’t want anything else for their children or family. So they want to make sure their children are confirmed in the English Patrimony and by an English Ordinary or his proxy.
Another reason is this. Only members of the English Ordinariate can request English Patrimony accommodations when they don’t live near an English Ordinariate parish.
For example, if an English Ordinariate member happens to live in an area where there is no English Ordinariate parish nearby, he (or she) may form an English Patrimony Group, and request Ordinariate pastoral oversight for it. So, for example, the group may consist of a mixture of Ordinariate and Diocesan members who are attached to the English Patrimony. They can meet together as often as they like for Evening Prayer, according to Divine Worship, which is the official English Patrimony liturgy. Anyone can lead Evening Prayer and does not need to be a member of the clergy. (I did it for years, and I’m a layman.) One can acquire official liturgical books for that here.
If the group becomes large enough, and stable enough, meaning at least a few families who regularly attend, then an official Ordinariate member can request provision for an English Patrimony Mass (Divine Worship) to be said as often as possible, depending on priest availability and logistics. Sometimes this can be as often as once a month, or as little as once a year, or something in-between. If the group grows, remains stable enough, and there is an Ordinariate priest who is willing to relocate to the area, an Ordinariate mission can be established there. These are the advantages to actual Ordinariate membership. Only actual members of the Ordinariate can plant new Ordinariate missions and parishes, and only actual Ordinariate members have the right to have their children confirmed by Ordinariate bishops (ordinaries). So Ordinariate membership has its specific benefits.
Naturally, starting and English Patrimony Group has to be done with the friendly cooperation of the local diocesan bishop, which isn’t hard to obtain (I did it) once it’s understood that this is an ecumenical effort, in accord with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). Once it’s made clear that the traditional nature of the English Patrimony is an ecumenical thing, and not a traditionalist thing, most diocesan bishops are more than willing to give their blessing. Some may even make special accommodations to help the effort. Please keep in mind that while the nature of the English Patrimony is very traditional in liturgical form, as well as extremely orthodox in doctrine, it is very much the product of Vatican II. Therefore, any opposition to Vatican II is sure to scrub any chance of making this work. When looking at the English Patrimony, and the English Ordinariates, one has to understand this puts Vatican II in a new light. Some have said that the Ordinariates are an example of what Vatican II originally intended.
Any Catholic, even a regular Diocesan Catholic, can start and English Patrimony Group. The best way to do this is to get acquainted with the English Patrimony, and that is best done through the liturgical books found at the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society website. Then, if it is something you love (and that’s important), then you should have a chat with your local bishop, or his vicar general, as soon as you’re able. Let him know you want to attempt an ecumenical outreach in your area using these Vatican approved books of the English Patrimony. Tell him you are planning to do this in your home, but if he would rather you do it in a parish environment, you’re open to possibilities. If you approach things in this way, just as I have said, you should have little trouble securing a small prayer chapel at a nearby parish. If it doesn’t happen, no worries, just do it out of your home.
Then begin getting the word out in whatever way you can. Parish bulletins and diocesan newspapers can be helpful. Internet presence is also important. Using social media can be beneficial too. Sometimes, even the local newspapers will help by doing a story on your group.
Set up your meetings monthly to begin with, and see what happens. It could take months, or even years, for things to get rolling. You’ll also want to register your group with the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society here. This will help in many ways. You wouldn’t want to do this without the resources and support of the society. Plus, getting on the society’s map will help the Ordinariate know where you are and keep track of your progress. You want this.
The goal is to get at least a few families who are eligible for actual Ordinariate membership. Once they are registered, they can request Ordinariate pastoral oversight. Once that happens, the process can begin for establishing an Ordinariate mission, as priestly logistics allow. Success will depend on The Three P’s: patience, persistence and prayer. If you regularly meet, regardless of the attendance, pray according to the English Patrimony, and patiently wait for as long as God wants, you stand the greatest chance for success. If you are serious about doing this, I’ll be happy to give you some pointers. I was probably the first to establish an Ordinariate mission from scratch, so I have some experience in doing this, but I can’t do it for you. This has to be a grassroots effort, coming from the grassroots level. I can provide advice and direction, based on my own experiences, but that’s about it. You would have to do all the work yourself. As I said above, it only takes three P’s.