The ordinariate is really happening. It really is. After a year and a half since the publication of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus which made establishing an ordinariate possible, and many earlier years of gestation, it is finally becoming real. Sure, it was established in January but until last night, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham numbered fewer than 20 people.
Today its numbers have already more than doubled and by Easter morning its numbers will have swelled to close to a thousand members. These will not only include more than 60 members of clergy, but also very importantly, the committed lay people who have followed their pastors into full Communion with the Catholic Church.
I found it very moving to be at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark last night to watch Mgr Keith Newton, the ordinariate’s head, receive one of the first, first wave groups into the personal ordinariate. It was clearly a emotional experience for the people who were there with their families, some of whom were already Catholics, others who would not follow them and even others who were being received with their families.
Christopher Pearson, the former parish priest of St Agnes Kennington, led the group, which was mainly from the parish. The Catholic priest of the parish where the group had been receiving instruction took part in the ceremony as did Fr Mark Woodruff, the acting director of the Catholic League and Canon James Cronin. Another nice touch was the presence of Catholic lay people from the parish in the congregation who had come out in support.
The whole process of reception and confirmation, when Mgr Newton welcomed each new Catholic into the Church by name, called the Holy Spirit down on them and then anointed their foreheads with chrism, was incredible. It always is, but there was also the sense, last night, of a whole community coming into the Catholic Church together.
Mgr Newton also seemed moved by the celebration at St George’s, which in effect marks the realisation of what he represents as ordinary. After the Mass he told the congregation and the new members of the ordinariate how delighted he was that they had come. He said that he had thought of himself as a leader of a flock when he had been an Anglican bishop. He said he had hoped people would follow his lead into the ordinariate but had been worried that he might turn around and find no one there and he thanked them for being there. (NB: This is a rough paraphrase as I had packed up pen and paper at this point).
The newly confirmed became members of the Ordinariate with their reception into the Catholic Church. Once the ordinariate has its mother church—Mgr Newton said that at the moment he is more concerned with finding housing for all his clergy than looking for the principal church—they will be registered there.