WHEN I ORDAINED FATHER WILLIAM ST. JOHN BROWN, THE ANGLICAN CONVERT I referred to in my post King Henry VIII is Spinning in His Grave… I became friends with Father Christopher G. Phillips, himself an Anglican convert, who was in the process of establishing an Anglican Use  Parish in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.  Father Phillips just sent me an email giving his reaction to the news that Pope Benedict is about to promulgate an Apostolic Constitution establishing Anglican Ordinariates in the Roman Catholic Church.  I thought you might be interested in what Father Phillips has to say on the subject:


What a day it’s been.  I’m still trying to get my mind around just how historic and consequential this Apostolic Constitution will be.  I’ve had lots of calls, emails and visits.  I’ve talked with the media, with other Anglican Use clergy, and with many parishioners.  There’s plenty of excitement, and lots of questions.  Nothing can be answered in any definitive way until the Apostolic Constitution is promulgated.  Of course, that doesn’t stop any of us from trying to figure it all out, right?

I’ve been asked how this idea of a Personal Ordinariate is different from what we already have in the Pastoral Provision.  Here’s an imperfect analogy: it’s kind of like the difference between living in an apartment and living in a house.  What do I mean?  As things are now, we have a wonderful home in the Catholic Church.  We have a beautiful liturgy.  We have a marvellous church and school.  We have a terrific archbishop who readily expresses his respect and affection for us.  We’re extremely fortunate.  That’s not the case in many other dioceses.  There are bishops who have made it clear that they don’t want an Anglican Use parish in their jurisdiction, and there have been many cases where requests have been flatly refused.  Many chancery officials view the Pastoral Provision as being temporary, and will do very little to assist Anglican clergy and they completely ignore the inquiries of Anglican laity.  As it is now, the Anglican Use depends upon the charity of the local ordinary.  That’s a very shaky foundation for building anything permanent.  A landlord can eventually get rid of an unwanted tenant.  A home-owner has a whole lot more stability.

When an Ordinariate is erected, it becomes (in every important way) like a diocese, with its own prelate, its own clergy and its own laity.  As a juridical person, it owns property.  While there must be cooperation with other bishops, the existence of the parishes of the Ordinariate won’t depend on someone else’s permission or good will. The prelate will determine when a new outreach should take place, and where a parish should be erected.  The training and ordination of clergy will be coordinated within the Ordinariate, and their assignments will be directed by the prelate.  All this contributes to a stability and permanence which will lead to further growth and effectiveness.

Some people have asked, “What about our beautiful liturgy?  Will that change?”  Actually, it probably will — and for the better.  The present Book of Divine Worship, while it’s a thing of beauty and is far more than we expected at the time, isn’t completely satisfactory.  The liturgical politics of twenty-five years ago meant that we were required to “novus ordo-ize” parts of the Mass.  Too much was incorporated from the 1979 Prayer Book, which is not the version most of us knew and loved.  Many of us had come from what were called “Missal parishes,” where we used things like the Anglican Missal, the English Missal, or the Knott Missal.  These were beautiful expressions of the traditional Catholic Mass, in impeccable English, incorporating the Prayer Book along with traditional and ancient Catholic elements.  Many of the Anglicans who will enter the Church through the Personal Ordinariates come from those same kind of parishes, and will be looking for that kind of liturgy.  The Book of Divine Worship serves us well, but it needs to be amplified and improved.  It’s my hope that this will happen now.

We’ll know lots more when the Apostolic Constitution is promulgated.  How long before that happens, we don’t know.  But the Holy Father won’t take more time than is necessary.  Until then, we’ll keep talking and asking questions and filling the space with what we think might happen.

The whole thing is just fantastic, and quite honestly, I never thought I’d live to see this day.  Deo gratias.

As I think more about the Apostolic Constitution, and talk with others about it, the irony of the whole thing just struck me: Pope Benedict XVI is working to preserve the worthy elements of Anglican worship and devotion, while the majority of the Anglican hierarchy is doing everything possible to destroy it!

The canonical permanence of the Personal Ordinariates means that within a generation or so, when there are no real Anglicans left to convert, the best of Anglicanism will still be growing in the Catholic Church.  Although our parish has a number of Anglicans in the process of becoming Catholics, our greatest growth is coming from our own families.  Have you noticed the tremendous number of children we have?  Our growth has become an organic growth, rather than just depending on the occasional inquirer coming through the doors.  This healthy and organic growth is the real future of what the Holy Father is establishing with the Apostolic Constitution.  He’s giving a place for the patrimony we love so much to flourish.  Ironic, but true.

The Apostolic Consitution builds a sturdy and wide bridge for Anglican converts.  To think that they can enter the Catholic Church into a jurisdiction expressly created for them!  Those of us who were making the move a generation ago could only dream of such a thing.  In fact, I can remember in the very early years (when I was young, somewhat naive and politically unsophisticated) I suggested to a certain member of the Catholic hierarchy that perhaps we should ask for our own jurisdiction.  After the hoots of incredulity stopped echoing in the room, I was told, “It’ll never happen, and it would be insulting to ask!”  But I never stopped thinking about the importance of jurisdiction, and at every gathering of Anglican Use clergy the point would be made: “we need our own jurisdiction if this thing is going to grow as it should.”  And now, after all these years, it’s happening.  I guess the idea wasn’t so insulting, after all.

So really the Constitution will fulfill a two-fold purpose: it’s a means of entrance for converts, and it’s a means of growth after they get here.  Amazing.

Article after article, blogger after blogger, wonder how many Anglicans will actually avail themselves of this generous offer the Pope is making.  But with the speculation over how many Anglicans will come into the Catholic Church, the larger effect is ignored. What the Apostolic Constitution establishes is a permanent thing, and will reach the point that it will not require converts for its existence. If the Holy Father had done this only for the conversions it might enable, he would not be giving it its permanent nature. No, what he has done is to say that the Anglican Patrimony (everything consonant with the Catholic faith that forms its ethos) is worthy not only of preservation, but of growth. It won’t take long for the strength of the Personal Ordinariates to depend not so much on converts as on its own organic growth. Children will be raised up in this form of Catholic spirituality, and they will grow up to have children; seekers after truth will be attracted to the spiritual life of the Ordinariates, just as people used to be attracted to Anglicanism; clergy will be trained and educated for work in the Ordinariates, and they will in turn become missionaries throughout society, planting new parishes and forming new Religious communities.

The Holy Father is taking the best and most worthy elements of Anglicanism, which are now wilting and near death, and he’s giving them a new place in which to grow and thrive. Certainly, this is a most welcome open door to those Anglicans wanting to come into full communion with the See of Peter; but more importantly, Pope Benedict is giving a new beginning to all that is lovely and true in Anglicanism, so it can continue into the future as a legitimate and worthy expression of the fullness of Catholic Faith.

he National Assembly of Forward in Faith is meeting in London.  This group is comprised mostly of those who would consider themselves Anglo-catholic, and it’s a presence in several provinces in the Anglican Communion.  The galvanizing issue for them is the ordination of women.  Obviously, they’re against it.  Of course, there are other issues that concern them, and they tend to be fairly traditional on things like the liturgy, their understanding of sacraments and ecclesiology.  It was formed in 1992 and is really an amalgamation of several different catholic-minded groups within Anglicanism.  Many, of not most of the members would have reunion with Rome fairly high on their agenda.  Knowing that about them, I thought it would be really interesting to listen to the speakers, and they have the audio presentations available.  You can listen to them at their website.  (

Frankly, I was disappointed.  Yes, they called the news from Rome “historic.”  They acknowledged that some people might be interested in the Personal Ordinariates.  But most of their talk was about derailing the push towards having women bishops in the Church of England, and protecting their place as Anglo-catholics.  They wanted to see what Rome was really offering, to see if it would be a better deal than they could get in the Church of England.  They were disappointed because they want “corporate reunion” between Anglicans and Rome — although how they think there could be anything like that when they can’t even get along among themselves, I do not know.  I mean, the Holy Father did everything except somersaults, and these people are still shopping around for the best deal?  I think some of them were surprised that in order to be part of an Ordinariate, they’d actually be expected to become Roman Catholics.

I don’t mean to sound negative.  I have no doubt that there is a goodly number of serious-minded Anglicans who will prayerfully and gratefully grasp the Holy Father’s outstretched hand.  I think the Ordinariates will be built slowly, which is no doubt the best way.  I liken it to the very gentle snowstorms I remember from my childhood in New England, which would start with a slight dusting of flakes on the ground and then slowly, slowly building up until everything was completely covered and sparkling white.  The Ordinariates will be provided as they’re needed, until they spread out wider and wider, and I believe more and more people will come to the realization that their real spiritual home is to be found in full communion with the See of Peter.  That, along with the inevitable and natural growth of our existing parishes, means that the future of our beautiful patrimony is secure.

England, and by extension, all of Anglicanism is Mary’s dowry.  Since we belong to our Lady in a special way, we know her deepest wish is to have her whole dowry back in the Catholic Church as it was established by her Divine Son.  At the end of the 14th century, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, wrote to his bishops, “The contemplation of the great mystery of the Incarnation has drawn all Christian nations to venerate her from whom came the first beginnings of our redemption. But we English, being the servants of her special inheritance and her own dowry, as we are commonly called, ought to surpass others in the fervour of our praises and devotions.”  And now, finally, at the beginning of the 21st century, Pope Benedict XVI is helping to bring that very thing to pass.

Of course, we all wait for the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution, when the details will all be clearer.  Meanwhile, please pray for those who are presently Anglican as they discern God’s divine Will for them, and pray for those of us already in the Anglican Use, that our transition to this new juridical situation will be a smooth and fruitful one.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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