The Rad Trad attended Mass the last two Sundays at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, the principle church of the American Ordinariate for those of Episcopalian or Anglican backgrounds who wish to enter the Catholic Church while retaining elements of their English liturgical heritage. I witnessed the birth of the British Ordinariate and awaited what the American counterpart had in store.
Our Lady of Walsingham is English gothic in its design, without a trace of the baroque, save the absence of the rood screen. While there is no rood screen, there is a hint of one, with a crossbeam bearing the Crucifix and Our Lady with St. John the Beloved towering above the altar railing. The reredos behind the altar remind me of the reredos behind the altar at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, which follow a similar design and color pattern as many other medieval English reredos. This particular one is an elongated replica of the one above the altar in the Slipper Chapel in Walsingham.
The servers pleased the shop keeper of the best liturgical boutique this side of the Tiber, wearing full length English cassocks, almost like loose albs. The clergy too wore gothic vesture and the priest, Fr Charles Hough IV—son of resident priest Fr Charles Hough III—donned the maniple. Given that it was Remembrance Sunday and All Souls, the color was black and the propers of the Requiem Mass were integrated into the full Sunday liturgy. The concept of a Mass for the Dead on a Sunday made me uneasy. Something about reciting the Creed while wearing black vestments just does not work, but otherwise the Mass was wonderful as was the follow Sunday's Mass, the Dedication of the Lateran Cathedral—a feast neglected in the Pauline liturgy on Sundays.
From this pulpit Fr Peter Walters, visiting from Casa Walsingham mission in Columbia—dedicated to feeding street children, preached the sermon and made an appeal to the good hearts of the faithful to support Casa Walsingham. The dead are not yet truly beyond our help, he said, nor are those who still live and whose lives can be continued with Christian dignity.
Hearing the pipe organ brought back memories of the great organs the churches of Connecticut boasted in their choir lofts, something I have missed in the Eastern Churches and in the various FSSP offerings here in Texas. The choir itself was composed of no less than a dozen singers, male and female voices ranging in age from pre-pubescence to around age forty, giving the choir a soaring range. The Mass began and ended with hymns, but the proper antiphons and responses of the Mass were all chanted. The ordinary of the Mass was chanted in Latin while the propers were chanted in English. I for one found their English chant a relief. In settings of the Pauline liturgy, those chanting the English texts of the Mass and Hours tend to sing with a stilted, effeminate voice similar to that of a high school production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This English chant was Gregorian, masculine, and robust. I would suggest eliminating the organ backing on the chant though, unless it is absolutely necessary to keep the vocalists on key.
In a separate room was this "Holy House" chapel, built to the exact dimensions of the shrine to Our Lady in Walsingham, England. Weekdays Masses are celebrated here, as is Morning Prayer and occasionally Evensong. While in this chapel a kind couple asked my friend and I if we would like to pray Evensong with them and we obliged them. Although celebrating the Dedication of the Lateran, the liturgical texts given are clearly based on the Book of Divine Worship and the Anglican tradition: psalms, lessons, the Magnificat, Intercessions, and the Canticle of Simeon. I read the lessons and received a disapproving stare when I forgot to say "Thus endeth the lesson", but I remembered the second time around and all was forgiven. Aside from the readings, all liturgical texts are rendered in Tudor English.
The Ordo Missae combines elements of the Roman rite with various editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Anyone who has attended an Anglican service—and I last attended one when I was ten—will recognize the prayers given above. The Gloria was sung after the Kyrie of course. After the Creed and before the Offertory, a litany clearly based on the Byzantine Great Litany was sung. The Comfortable Words were spoken. The Eucharistic Prayer was the Roman Canon. There was no silly Offertory procession. Several traditional English prayers were used before and after Communion, including the lengthy and beautiful "Almighty and ever-living God...." The priests and deacon administered Communion by intinction to kneeling faithful at the rail.
I was of two minds about some of these things. The prayers are beautiful and, at least among the ones integrated into the liturgy, bear no heterodoxy whatsoever. On the other hand, I can understand the concern that the Ordinariate is using the prayers of those who martyred believers. I prefer to think of our use of these prayers in the Ordinariate as an act of Baptism, washing them clean and accepting them with good faith.
Apparently, so two parishioners told me, these greatly distinctive English elements (Evensong, the Anglican prayers etc) nearly did not make it into the liturgy. When the time came to finalize a general usage for the Ordinariates around the world the American Ordinariate wanted to assimilate Anglican and Roman prayers while the English Ordinariate wanted to do the Pauline Roman rite with a few English flourishes. The Americans held firm and won out.
Our Lady of Walsingham may seem plain compared to other churches, but the building is little more than a decade old with high growth potential.
This imposing edifice stands adjacent to the church. The altar is a proper one and consecrated for use during outdoor Masses. The structure is a replica of the remaining ruin of Walsingham Abbey, destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538.
Parishioners tended to be mix of former Anglicans and Episcopalians with cradle Catholics looking for a lively, vibrant, reverent place to pray and live out their faith. The schedule has a Mass and some other sort of function (Rosary, Morning Prayer, Evensong, guest lectures, marriage counselling) every day of the week.
One can almost hear:
- Weep Weep O Walsingam,
- Whose dayes are nights,
- Blessings turned to blasphemies,
- Holy deeds to despites
- Sinne is where our Ladye sate,
- Heaven turned is to helle;
- Satan sitthe where our Lord did swaye,
- Walsingham O farewell!