Elizabeth Scalia invited me to write a personal account for a series Aleteia is doing on differing liturgical expressions in the Catholic Church. Above is a picture of me taken by Jake Wright on the day our parish was received into the Catholic Church.
What a joy to be invited to write on our beautiful Divine Worship: the Missal!
Of course, what I submitted was too long and had to be substantially trimmed. However, since I have a more specialized audience here that might be interested in more details, I will post my original here.
Why I feel called to the Anglican Ordinariate
By Deborah Gyapong
I am called to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, one of three Ordinariates set up for former Anglicans who believe the Catholic faith, and out of a passionate desire for Christian unity wished to be in communion with the Pope. At the same time, I am grateful Pope Benedict XVI made provisions for us to retain distinctive elements of our Anglican patrimony—including our liturgical traditions. We are fully Roman Catholics with an Anglican accent and ethos.
Our liturgy is called Divine Worship. It’s a Catholic Mass in the language of Shakespeare. We pray using sacral language such as the formal “thee” and “thou” when addressing God. Though fully approved by the relevant Vatican congregations, our Mass is touched by the Reformation through the use of some of Archbishop Cranmer’s gorgeous English translations of Latin collects, the inclusion of the Comfortable Words of Scripture following our Penitential Rite and the beautiful Prayer of Humble Access before Holy Communion. Our liturgy also incorporates elements of pre-Reformation English Catholicism in its use of Sarum collects and chants.
The rubrics are similar to those of the Traditional Latin Mass—it is a ballet of genuflection usually prayed ad orientem — facing God, not the people—but it has many of the hallmarks of the reform of the liturgy called for in the Second Vatican Council: it’s in the vernacular; our people actively participate in the Mass; and in addition to traditional chanted introits and graduals we sing hymns, and it is Anglican patrimony to sing robustly often in four-part harmony! Of course someday we hope to have the grand choirs to bring the treasures of our musical heritage to life in the Catholic Church—and some of our larger parishes already do– in the meantime, our congregations are the choir.
Many people might ask ‘Why not become a normal Roman Catholic? Why cling to these old-fashioned forms of worship that even most Anglicans of the Canterbury Common don’t celebrate anymore?’ It’s a long story.
Though I was baptized Russian Orthodox, my parents sent me to various Protestant Sunday schools to acquaint me with Bible stories so I would know what Noah’s Ark is, and the Tower of Babel. The intent was to make me culturally literate, not faithful. My father, a choral singer by hobby, got paid to sing in Boston’s best Episcopal Church choirs, but we seldom joined him except on Christmas Eve.
By the time I attended college, the 1960s were in full swing and it became fashionable to throw out the works of “dead white men.” I held churches, especially the Catholic Church, in active derision.
When I reached my early 20s, however, two profound experiences of God in Jesus Christ shifted the trajectory of my life by 180 degrees. What first came alive to me was the Bible. I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Bible, and that’s all I thought I needed. I had no idea how wrong I was.
It was only when I began attending a seeker-friendly Baptist Church when I reached my 40s that I began to shed the Gnosticism and other false ideas I had embraced and began moving towards an orthodox Christian faith. Kanata Baptist Church, in a suburb of Ottawa where I now lived, took Scripture as seriously as I did, and offered worship with a mixture of contemporary music and old Baptist hymns in a loving, welcoming community. For the first time, I was no longer a lonely pilgrim.
After ten years as a joyful evangelical, with some forays into charismatic renewal, I found myself drawn to the Book of Common Prayer liturgy through occasionally attending a local Anglican parish. I loved the kneeling and the poetic language of worship. Then, one day, a new friend told me about the little traditional Anglican parish of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa.
So, in 1999 or 2000, I visited and found myself hooked. A small, dollhouse of a church in a residential neighborhood with red indoor/outdoor carpeting over grey linoleum tiles, with creaking wooden pews and two ceiling fans whirring overhead, its beauty was humble and understated. But what holy silence and prayerfulness before Mass.
Then, the bell would ring, the bishop and/or priests and altar servers would process in and the Mass was prayed with such reverence and recollection I felt transported to heaven. The genuflecting and bowing before the Tabernacle communicated more about Real Presence intuitively than anything I had heard or read about it. These men prayed as if they believed every word of their prayers. The preaching was as powerful as anything I had ever heard in evangelical settings.
Our then bishop, Bishop Robert Mercer, a former Anglican Bishop of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe, would proclaim the Epistle or the Gospel and bring such Zoe to the words it was as if the evangelist was standing before you. On a Sunday, the sanctuary would be blue with incense. Fr. Carl Reid, our cantor, has a tenor voice like an angel. With such tremendously gifted clergy, I was wondering why there wasn’t a line around the corner to get into this church. What excellence they brought to the worship of God.
On Saturday mornings, after a said Eucharist according to the Book of Common Prayer, we would convene for breakfast in the basement parish hall and because the congregation was so small—there might be 20 of us—it was easy for a newcomer like me to ask the bishop or the priests questions on theology and history. Another feature of Anglican patrimony we brought into the Catholic Church is our fellowship. You should see our “break-fast” after Mass. Every Sunday! Being small, we are the Cheers of Churches, since “Everyone knows your name.”
I also found out Annunciation was part of the worldwide Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) that had been in informal talks with Rome since the 1990s. The TAC, formed in the early 1990s, gathered in so-called Continuing Anglican churches that had left the Canterbury Communion over the ordination of women in the late 1970s. This move dashed hopes for Christian unity because it undermined a God-ordained sacrament in a revealed religion, I was told. “What would they change next? Marriage?”
We were not the only Anglican group seeking unity. Bishops from the Episcopal Church in the United States had made quietly made overtures, as had many bishops from the Church of England. So, when I joined Annunciation, I caught its vision of unity with the Catholic Church and thus began a long period of catechesis to bring my faith and that of all our members in line with what the Catholic Church teaches.
In 2007, the bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium on the altar of St. Agatha’s church in Portsmouth, England. They sent the books with a letter to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith that explained the history of unity efforts between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church and said: “. . . we seek a communal and ecclesial way of being Anglican Catholics in communion with the Holy See, at once treasuring the full expression of catholic faith and treasuring our tradition within which we have come to this moment.”
Pope Benedict XVI with the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (AC) in 2009. It opens with these word: “In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately. The Apostolic See has responded favourably to such petitions.
It also recognized: “ …liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.”
This incredible generosity by the Holy Father led to the establishment of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England and Wales, our Ordinariate in North America, and the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia.
In 2012, The Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast received members of our little parish into the Catholic Church on Divine Mercy Sunday. In order to welcome us, the archbishop celebrated the then approved Anglican Use liturgy (the forerunner to our Divine Worship) ad orientem in St. Patrick’s Basilica. He wore his cathedral’s precious gold vestments. Hundreds of Catholics from the archdiocese came to witness this historic occasion, giving us several standing ovations of welcome.
Archbishop Prendergast’s homily closed with these words: “You are not just favoured guests. This is your home. We love you. I love you. May our public witness of unity draw many from the edges of faith into God’s Kingdom, no longer subject to judgement but to Divine Mercy.”
Our former clergy, after a period of formation, have been ordained Catholic priests, even though most are married men. This generosity acknowledged, on a case by case basis, the charism of a family at the heart of the parish in Anglicanism, similar to that of Eastern Catholic churches. Bishop Robert Mercer is now Msgr. Mercer, who is living in England and active in the Ordinariate parish at St. Agatha’s. Our former Bishop Peter Wilkinson, is now Msgr. Peter Wilkinson, who participated on the international commission that developed Divine Worship—the Missal is working with a team to develop a uniform Liturgy of the Hours based on the Book of Prayer tradition.
Traditional Anglicanism provided the lifeboat that brought me home to the Catholic Church that Christ founded. Our liturgy seems like a bridge or interpretive key between the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite—it has helped me appreciate and understand both forms. The Ordinariates are also bridges of new evangelization to reach out to Bible-believing Christians everywhere who are hungry for God, an historical faith and Holy-Spirit led unity.
What Pope Benedict XVI made possible was for us to bring the heirlooms of English Catholicism and the underpinning of the civilization of the English-speaking world into their pride of place in the Catholic Church, from which they developed.