Posted in Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, spirituality

The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – but which one?

It would appear that the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham is to continue to offer a home to those now joined or in process of joining the Ordinariate – while, presumably, also continuing to bar Anglican priests who are women from celebrating the eucharist there.

Perhaps here we begin to see what ‘Anglican patrimony’ means – not in the trivial sense that people use one building rather than another, but in the deep spiritual roots of Anglo-Catholicism. Of course priests and congregation of the Ordinariate will be completely welcome at the Roman Catholic Shrine: but there’s something about the particularly Anglican variant on high Catholic liturgy which is expressed par excellence in the Gothic brick of the just-about-Anglican Shrine.  It holds that delicate line of enjoying to the full all that the Western Catholic tradition has to offer, without being obliged to confirm to Roman liturgical norms. It has been a hugely fruitful place for generations of Anglo-Catholics, though it does face a river the other banks of which are much wider, and often appear much greener.

If the Ordinariate is a welcoming place for those who were torn between that Anglo-Catholic spirituality, and a sense of lack at being separated from Rome, then I can have no quarrel with it at all. But it does raise some interesting questions. Is the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham at some level a body which finds its inspiration and spirituality in the Anglican Shrine? If it is, then it may symbolise exactly the opportunity and the challenge the Ordinariate face in relating to (rest of) the Roman Catholic Church in England & Wales – symbolised if you like by its modern chapel.

I’m sure there are many entering the Ordinariate who will be equally at home in this more contemporary Catholic style, though as Tina Beattie said on the radio today, ‘I think they’ll find that the Roman Catholic Church is a lot less aesthetic in its worship than High Anglicanism.’

But there’s another and more difficult question for those who remain within the Church of England. It’s only natural for those still in charge of the Shrine to make it available to their friends who have now gone into the Ordinariate. But if that happens, they will be in the ironic position of welcoming one group with whom they are not in communion, while continuing to refuse hospitality to members of their own church. I do think this is slightly odd – and potentially spiritually dangerous. The Anglican Shrine has lived by being a border post between the Church of England and the wider Western Catholic tradition. If what I envisage comes to pass, it will perhaps have begun to shut itself off on one side – to face more and more exclusively towards Rome. In that case it might end up becoming, not a lively place where boundaries meet, but a by-way for those who remember how it once was: a rendezvous for otherwise parted friends.

I find Walsingham a very moving place, but I have decided not to go there with my parish as long as I have an ordained woman as a colleague; I don’t want to subject anyone else to the naked hostility one of my curates experienced (not from the clergy of the Shrine, I hasten to add, but from other visitors). I would love Our Lady of Walsingham to be a sign that Catholics of all sorts – Roman Catholics of the Ordinariate or of the dioceses, Anglicans both in favour of and opposed to women’s ordained ministry – could find a unity in prayer if nothing else. Sadly not as yet.

One thought on “The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – but which one?

  1. What a generous posting! I am just completing a book on Walsingham and English Imagination and will certainly quote this matter and the wisdom of its sentiments. I certainly appreciate the reference to Tina Beattie, whom I cite frequently in my recent book on the Virgin Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern Literature and Popular Culture (Cambridge UP). I certainly agree that Walsingham should be
    for all–as many of the Shrine’s statements do indeed claim.

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