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Angela Tilby: The Ordinariate could heal old wounds

05 November 2021

YouTube/Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, lays hands on Dr Michael Nazir-Ali in a shot from the YouTube video “Ordination of Michael Nazir-Ali”, on Saturday, from the Ordinariate church Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street, in London

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, lays hands on Dr Michael Nazir-Ali in a shot from the YouTube 

LAID up with a foul cold (not Covid), I watched the YouTube video “Ordination of Michael Nazir-Ali”, on Saturday, from the Ordinariate church Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street, in London. (News, 22 October).

Musically, it was all very “Cartholic”, in the Anglican sense. A well-known chant for the Angelus, Newman’s “Praise to the Holiest”, “Jerusalem the golden”. Scripture and prayer were in traditional language. It was strange to hear the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Liverpool vowels in the background, articulating Prayer Book “thees” and “thous” as he prayed the ordination collect, sang his way rather hesitantly through the communion Preface, and led the Prayer of Humble Access. Vincent Nichols will have grown up with the Latin mass, but, through most of his ministry, he will have used the contemporary vernacular.

Still, he made it clear that he believed that Dr Nazir-Ali’s former ministry in the Church of England had been made fruitful by the same grace that now gathered him into a wider Catholicism. What he said could almost be a Roman Catholic take on the Declaration of Assent, which affirms that the C of E is, indeed, “part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

There were many who were critical of Pope Benedict’s promotion of the Ordinariate. One commentator suggested that it represented an aggressive parking of the Vatican’s tanks on the lawn of Lambeth Palace. Yet supporters of the Ordinariate are perhaps justified in seeing it the other way round. The Ordinariate fosters the inclusion of Anglican instincts — scholarship, love of scripture, and liturgy — into the wider Catholic Church at a time when the C of E seems hesitant about its traditions.

I can sympathise with Dr Nazir-Ali’s claim, made in a recent interview in The Spectator, that, “What Anglicanism in its classical form has held most dear is being fulfilled in the progression of the Ordinariate.”

Watching the service, I cannot deny that the simple seriousness of it all got through to me. No self-conscious welcome at the beginning, no coy jokes in the sermon, no sense that the liturgy had to be first laboriously explained and then endured, no “spontaneous” clapping. Too often, when I go to church these days, I feel that we are praying to ourselves, having lost both Protestant seriousness and a Catholic sense of the transcendent.

The Ordinariate is a strange beast ecumenically, but, for the first time, I began to see that its claim is serious, and that it could play a part in healing some of the wounds of the 16th century. I couldn’t help wondering, though, what Thomas Cranmer would have made of it all: to find his liturgical work preserved by the RC Church at a time when the Protestant English for whom he had laboured, and even gave his life, had (with the honourable exception of the Prayer Book Society) largely abandoned it.

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