A very special ‘gift’ of the Ordinariate to the life of the Catholic Church...

Following my reflection on The Walsingham Dimension, I was introduced to this piece by Edmund Adamus which was published last year by the Ordinariate. It affirms the important Christological insights that come from a devotion to Mary. Edmund explains how Marian devotion has a particular link to Christianity in this country which has shaped and fostered an attitude which is inherently Christian, and concerned with fairness and justice (it is reproduced here with his kind permission):

In his address at Oscott College just before the end of his state visit in September 2010, Pope Benedict XV spoke of the establishment of the Ordinariate as a ‘prophetic gesture’ and one which will enable a ‘mutual exchange of gifts’ from the spiritual patrimonies of both the worldwide Catholic Church and the unique English expression of a Catholic faith preserved over many generations by those former members of the Church of England, now fully at home sacramentally in the Roman Catholic Church. freely admit I am no expert either in terms of ecclesiastical history or ecclesiology but from my perspective of one who works to support and promote a culture of life and the civilisation of love founded on marriage and family, here are a few thoughts.      

In a recent letter to the Tablet weekly, a reader wrote: “Last Sunday, I was unable to attend the morning or evening Mass at my usual Catholic church… By chance, I found there was an afternoon Ordinariate service in a church nearby.. The Sunday, appropriately, was the day before the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. The sermon was of Mary’s “Yes” to becoming mother of God. The hymns were about Our Lady, and I already knew them. Now in my nineties, I feel for the first time that, yet a Catholic, I am truly English.” In one sense this gentleman’s experience sums up for me what I am beginning to see might be a very special ‘gift’ of the Ordinariate to the life of the Catholic Church generally in this country; that is to say, an added and fresh dimension to our Marian devotion and spirit.  St Augustine from the early 5th century, as quoted in para 506 of the Catechism, states: "Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ"

The prominence given within the liturgies and devotions of the Ordinariate to the Blessed Virgin reflects the profound Christocentric faith of its members. In the original Greek of the Gospel passage for the Annunciation, Mary uses the word  ‘doule.’ This is a very strong word: it does not mean handmaid or something so gentle. It literally means a slave or even more precisely a bondsman as opposed to a slave taken in war – i.e. one born so; subject to another. Mary is in all effects abasing herself before the Lord. She is completely his subject or slave or bondswoman. And there is something of that humble spirit about the generous way; with a sense of total self-abandonment, both individuals, families and whole communities of former Anglicans have sought full communion with the Church through their trusting embrace of the gift of the Ordinariate; as have many before them before its existence. They are I believe, truly Marian Catholics. It is the fact of Our Lady’s assent, that she conceived Christ in her heart before he became flesh in her womb which sheds light on the significance of the coming in to being of the Ordinariate when its outward, one might say, its material, tangible visible structure, particularly on the question of having a principal church, is still taking shape and not yet fully realised. There’s a sort of hiddenness about the presence of the Ordinariate as yet within the wider Catholic community and the nation, that reflects its faithful solidarity with the humble Virgin of Nazareth. For it is when we have a better grasp of the Marian aspect of the new evangelisation, that the potential for the Ordinariate to contribute to that evagelisation becomes more striking.

The phrase "new evangelization" originates from various translations of Paul VI's phrase in Evangelii Nuntiandi rendered in English as "a new period of evangelization." Other translations also use the word "new," for example, the Spanish tiempos nuevos de evangelizacion, and the Italian nuovi tempi d'evangelizzazione. The editio typica, however is: feliciora evangelizationis tempora. The Latin does not use the typical word for new, "nova." Instead, it uses feliciora, which translates more literally as "an abundant season of evangelization." Mgr. Brian Bransfield, an assistant General Secretary to the US Bishops Conference has written in his book; 'The Dignity of the Human Person According to John Paul II' that "feliciora comes from felix, or happy. Feliciora connotes abundance, something that is nobler, propitious, flourishing, more auspicious, fortunate, or bountiful in an agricultural sense. " The choice of the Latin word indicates how the new evangelization is new. The new is not opposite what was in the past, or opposite "old." The new is not synonymous with contemporary or current. Rather, [he states], "the new evangelization is new in the sense that evangelization is to be a noble, bountiful, flourishing and of abundance. While the word new is a suitable adjective for evangelization, the quality of the newness should be understood in the sense of feliciora.”  Bransfield goes on to explain that the Greek for 'favoured one;' kecharitomene [which is difficult to translate in to English] means overflowing with grace to such an extent that it is like a fountain within a fountain. Kecharitomene is like a superlative placed upon a superlative. Hence her title: "Star of the New Evangelisation." If we are not wholly Marian our evangelisation cannot be truly new..

Joseph Ratzinger in ' Co Workers for the Truth' under the entry for 9th December states; "Mary is figure image and model for the Church. By gazing on her the Church is prevented from conveying a one-sided male image that reduces her to an instrument of socio-political action programmes"

The unique way of gazing upon the Virgin Mary is a strong element of the patrimony of the Ordinariate which is supremely English and Christian. Why? Well because of our long historical roots being the “Dowry of Mary” as a nation coupled with the place that Walsingham once enjoyed as one of the greatest European shrines after Rome and Compostela. I hope that slowly but surely and in communio with other equally fervent Marian movements in the country, the witness of the Ordinariate to the influence of Mary upon our Christian faith will help us all reclaim something of the tremendous significance of our nation’s identity in God as the ‘dowry of Mary.’   We are all familiar with the phrase, “an Englishman’s home is his castle” which aspires to sum up that profound sense of hearth and home being a place where we are sovereign. For the home or community conscious of its identity in Christ under the mantle of Mary who was the maker of the home of the Holy Family, an even deeper sense of liberty and dignity abides.  And Walsingham, as the "Nazareth" of England, the Holy House being a replica of Mary's House of the Annunciation, is the wellspring and lodestar of the idea of the Dowry of Mary which can and should have direct links to the charism of the Ordinariate.

We British like to pride ourselves on being exemplars of fairness, supporting the underdog and coming to the unashamed defence of those who are treated with brutal injustice whether at home or abroad. I beleive along with others that one of the sources of that sense of liberty is and has been our cultural and spiritual connectivity with the Blessed Virgin’s witness to truth and freedom in being the one who physically brought the embodiment of truth and freedom in to the world; Christ Himself.  So I hope and pray that in God’s own time and according to the manner in which He wishes it to be manifest, that the Ordinariate will help realign our national Catholic identity to its more ancient roots. The poet Tom Paulin in reviewing Clare Asquith’s book on Shakespeare speaks of the ‘concealed heart of the English identity,’ and I believe that it is pursuit of this line of enquiry of which the Ordinariate is emblematic, which leads us to an unveiling of this identity which is truly English because it is truly and authentically Catholic. I do not know what future plans the Ordinariate might have in terms of its response to what will be the post synodal apostolic exhortation on the Transmission of the Faith and the New Evangelisation, but I hope that some thought and attention amongst its highly educated clergy and laity can be given to the fact that 2015 will mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta; the Great Charter of the Liberties of England once described as,"the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot."

Magna Carta was framed with the help of the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, and our ancient British liberties are Christian liberties applied to the secular realm. All of this is present in the Fiat of Mary, which when properly understood, as it is within the context of the Marian devotions celebrated by the Ordinariate is the genesis through her of the one who is to "to set the captives free”.  In 1982 on the occasion of his pastoral visit to our shores, Blessed Pope John Paul II said;

"God bless Great Britain and enable her to fulfil her exalted destiny in justice and in peace"

I also hope and pray that the Ordinariate might bring some fresh attention and focus upon the pastoral truths inherent in the Sacrament of Matrimony through its appreciation and use of the Sarum Rite of Marriage. I believe its pastoral significance for today especially in the light of a growing appreciation for an adequate Christian anthropology, is among other things one of the unique contributions an authentic English Catholicism can gift again to the wider Church. I have always felt that those beautiful words  “With my body I thee worship" exchanged between the bride and groom following their vows is a sort of primordial theology of the body emanating from deep within a very English Catholic Christian sense of modesty and dignity between the sexes. Since the mid-1990s there has been various stages of work within the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales upon a proposed Order of Christian Marriage which seeks to include many and varied accompanying rituals, prayers and blessings aimed at affirming and celebrating the astonishing power of spousal love. Though this work has never really got beyond the draft stage not least in part due to the advent of the new translation of the Roman Missal, nevertheless, perhaps there’s a case for some insights shedding further light on such work based on the Sarum Rite?    

The witness to Catholic faith and morality would be massively incomplete without the strong and uniquely British presence of the Ordinariate.  As Shakespeare so eloquently put it in Act2 of Richard II; “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,” as a nation is the unique gift or 'dos' (dowry) to Mary and She in turn gifts all that is best about us to the world, when and only when we consent to Her holy will individually and as a nation. Let us pray we are fervently inspired to do just that with the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.   


  1. Thank you Mark for all the fantastic support that you give to the Ordinariate!
    I for one, am extremely privileged to be working as an Ordinariate priest serving in a Brentwood Diocesan Parish and happiest I've ever been. Thank God for the Catholic Church!

  2. Jeff, so glad to read of your happiness in the Ordinariate. I, too, started off Anglican. I wonder if England will eventually lead the return of Europe to the Faith? She was the first country to adopt the Reformation and I think there is a case for saying that had she not, that movement would not have succeeded. How I wish we could be the leaders in the rediscovery of our Christian roots, from which our liberty stems.

    I fear I won't see it in my lifetime .....


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