HOW, then, to view the Ordinariate? Its coming into existence last Saturday was modest, for all the ceremony that surrounded the supposed ordination of the three former Anglican bishops. And, for all the talk of groups, the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that each new member makes an individual decision, based on his or her desire to become a Roman Catholic. This was not, then, the triumphal launch that was first envisaged. In an interview with The Catholic Herald last week, the former Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Fr Andrew Burnham, said: “Of course my dream would have been that, when I said: ‘We’re going to submit to the Holy See,’ everyone would have followed me and done so — that the priests, the churches, and congregations would do so en bloc, which they haven’t.” Whether they — however many “they” may be — choose to do so in the future remains to be seen. (There is no question, at present, that any churches will be allowed to follow.)
The indications are that the numbers wishing to join the Ordinariate will remain small. Many of the people who long for unity between the two Churches, especially in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, will not be attracted to the scheme. Given that a welcome has always existed to join the RC Church normally, it is hard not to view the Ordinariate as a home for reluctant Roman Catholics, those who feel pushed into the cold by the mood of un-Anglican lack of compromise, and who are grateful for a little warmth from somewhere. The vanguard, though, might be better classed as reluctant Anglicans. In the interview, Fr Burnham spoke of his desire to go over to Rome in 1994, coincident with the ordination of the first women priests. Finance prevented him: “Though I was ready to do that in 1994, as a family we weren’t able to do that.” The rapid priesting of the three bishops suggests that long schooling in the Roman Missal may not be necessary, either.
The choice of “Thy hand, O God, has guided” for the opening hymn at Saturday’s ceremony (not the first time it has been heard in Westminster Cathedral) we interpret in the ecumenical spirit in which it was surely meant. Admittedly, though, it is easier for Anglicans to sing “One Church, one Faith, one Lord” and understand this reference to include those with whom they are not yet in full visible communion.
The hymn would not have been such an obvious choice had the editors of Hymns Ancient and Modern not rejected a verse said, rather implausibly, to be in the original submission to the 1899 supplement. In A Hundred Years of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1960), W. K. Lowther Clarke states that the Very Revd Edward Plumptre had attempted a verse that began:
God bless our merry England,
God bless our Church and Queen,
God bless our great Archbishop, [then Edward Benson]
The best there’s ever been.