Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our Lady of Walsingham: Visiting the Ordinariate

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!


  1. "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".

    Dear Shop Keeper of the best Liturgical Boutique this side of the Tiber: 250 x Copies of full-length English Cassocks, please.

    Send to The Vatican, enclosing Invoice.

    Deo Gratias.

  2. Sometimes, given the conceit shewn by many Roman Catholicks of my acquaintance (and that recently) towards Anglican liturgy, I wonder what Marcel Lefebvre would think of the Ordinariate service books; and whether he would think that the Prayer Book (even elements thereof) could really be reconciled with the Missal and Breviary.

  3. Sounds interesting. I've not yet had the chance no visit the Ordinariate here in Blighty: the nearest is quite a drive away.
    We had a Requiem Mass as well this Sunday. The first time I ever heard the Dies Irae at Mass, as well as the first time I ever heard a priest try to say as many of the verses in one breath as humanly possible...

  4. I, for one, find it ironic that a liturgy based off a protestant service book is far less protestant than many of the liturgical changes Catholics made to their liturgy in the 20th century (replacing the Mass of the Presanctified with a Communion Service, striking out the beautiful and worthwhile passages of Mary in the Assumption Mass, Guiseppe la Communista, and the entirety of the Pauline Mass).

    Actually, I had to attend a Pauline Mass for Dedication of the Lateran Cathedral that week (being on vacation and all). They celebrated it (Sacred Heart chapel in Brownsville Texas, if anyone is interested).

    It was also nice to see an altar that had never been wreckovated... Kitschy statues aside.

    1. Why does every little old parish in Texas look just like that?

    2. Probably due to the Hispanic communities. The churches built for Anglos look like this:

      You've been to Texas then?

    3. Yes, I've been to Texas many times, but only in the Houston and Dallas/Ft.Worth (and north of that) areas. And yes, all the older churches I've seen, including where my brother-in-law was married, looked identical, namely, big ol' plaster polychrome statue of the Sacred Heart hovering over the sanctuary. And yes, I did also see the "Anglo" churches that look just like the church in the above link.

  5. 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.

    That's my understanding as well.

    It is a great irony that the more traditional community was on our side of the Pond; but that has much to do with the more diverse milieu of American Anglicanism, even within the ECUSA itself. In England, Catholic-minded Anglicans were always minded to do what Rome did. And in the 60's, that meant celebrating the reformed liturgy, unfortunately. There's still a big adjustment underway over there, the occasional Fr. Hunwicke notwithstanding.

  6. Speaking as someone with some intimacy with the Ordinariate project, I would offer two more posts, the first about the Ordinariates in general, for those here curious:

    There are three Ordinariates now (in the UK, North America, and Australia), which all came into existence in 2011-12, and who were able to receive a wholly new liturgical use which came into use in Advent of 2013 after only a couple years of intense development by a interdicasterial commission - surely a light-speed development, all told, by Roman standards.

    The North American Ordinariate, the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, has about 36 communities, and somewhere in the neighborhood of about 50 or so priests, with all but about half a dozen of these communities in the U.S., the rest in a separate Canadian deanery. All but a handful use the Ordinariate missal (a few, like Christ the King in Towson, MD, use the Novus Ordo exclusively), and several use the most traditional options, such as St. Barnabas in Omaha, Mount Calvary in Baltimore, St. John's in Calgary, etc. There are no more than a few thousand laity all told, most of the communities being quite small; only a dozen have their own churches, while the rest share space with a local diocesan parish. A lot of that has to do with ferocious, expensive legal battles for property with the Episcopal Church, whose only sacraments today seem to be abortion, gay marriage, vestry fistfights and the inalienable right to all property with any vague connection to the Episcopal Church.

    Several of these communities were old Pastoral Provision parishes that came into the Church in the 1980's, with admittedly more than a little difficulty; the applicant communities were generally small, and most bishops had little interest (if not outright hostility) in taking on such parishes. Eventually seven such parishes were erected, disproportionately in Texas, the two most successful and largest being Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, and Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, where the Rad Trad just visited. Today, six of these seven have joined the Ordinariate, with the only holdout being Our Lady of the Atonement, for reasons I won't go into here. Walsingham being the largest community to join (and Texas being the center of gravity of so many of the communities), it ended up becoming the seat of the North American Ordinariate. A chancery building (you surely saw the construction, Rad Trad) is being built on grounds adjacent to the parish, due to be ready by early next year.

    Under the Pastoral Provision, of course, these handful of communities had resort to Rome's first stab at an Anglican Use liturgy, the 1983 Book of Divine Worship, a mixed bag fusion of the 1979 BCP, the Novus Ordo, with a dash or two of 1928. As Fr. Christopher Philips has conceded, however, it was likely the best the PP parishes were going to get in those dark liturgical days of the early 80's. There's a general consensus that the new Ordinariate Missal (due to be officially published by March of 2015) is a vast improvement on the BDW in pretty much every respect. Indeed, along with the MR3 English translation, it remains the only (and best) concrete fruits of the apparently now dead Reform-of-the-Reform movement that briefly flourished under Benedict XVI's pontificate.

    I would love to see a more in-depth discussion here of the Ordinariate Missal, if the Rad Trad is willing and interested; I have a copy in possession of it as it currently exists in embryo. Among the other questions we might contemplate is how a missal so distinct from the modern Roman Rite counts as a mere "Use."

    1. Could you (or anyone for that matter) give us a clue as to why Our Lady of the Atonement didn't join the Ordinariate?

    2. Hello DMW,

      Our Lady of the Atonement (OLA) actually applied to join in early 2012, and the, in the spring, withdrew the application. Fr. Phillips (the longtime pastor) has not gone into detail, publicly, and I am not sure I should, either. In his official statement in May, 2012, he said: became evident to me that for the sake of the continued stability and unity of our parish community, the best course of action at this time is to withdraw our request to enter the Ordinariate and to remain in our present status as a Personal Parish of the Anglican Common Identity.

      You can read the full statement, and a comment thread where he says a few more things, at the link.

      There was a lot of conspiracy mongering at the time, much of it badly offbase. Some likely reasons are easy to guess: The Archdiocese of San Antonio was a far more stable and financially secure structure to remain within (it's not just a parish, but a large school as well), at least at that time. There are other issues perhaps best not discussed. For what it's worth, I think OLA will eventually join, and I believe Rome would prefer that; but they will do so on their own timetable, once circumstances are right for it.

      OLA would be, by the way, the largest community in the Ordinariate if it did join.

      P.S. I hope that the Rad Trad can, in his Texas wanderings, pay a visit to OLA, and offer up his reflections.