The Community of St Mary the Virgin was founded in 1848 by William John Butler, then Vicar of Wantage in Oxfordshire. It remains one of the oldest surviving Religious Communities in the Church of England. The main Convent is located at Wantage and there is a Community house at Smethwick in the West Midlands.
CSMV Sisters are called to respond to their vocation in the spirit of Mary, Mother of Jesus: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word". The common life is centred in the worship of God through the Eucharist, the Daily Office and in personal prayer. From these all else flows.
The Community also concentrates on engaging in spiritual direction and in leading retreats and day groups, who are welcome to visit and stay at Wantage and to have quiet days at Smethwick .
Through "Wantage Overseas" the Community maintains links with projects in Botswana, India and South Africa, these being periodically reported in the "Wantage Overseas Review".
There is an active network of CSMV Oblates and Associates in the UK and overseas, who adhere to a Rule of Life and who endeavour to live out the charism of the Community wherever they are in the world.
The Community Prayer:
Almighty God, by your angel Gabriel you chose Mary to be the Mother of your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, filling her with grace and calling her blessed. Give to us who are gathered into one Community under her name grace to walk in her footsteps, to be lowly, obedient, faithful and to say in all things and at all times "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word". Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
News from CSMV - update: August 2013
The Convent, Wantage:
The Sisters have settled into the rhythm of worship in St. Mary Magdalene’s Chapel and value its gifts of homeliness and holiness. It is a joy to have sisters from St. Raphael’s Wing and visitors sharing with us in the daily corporate prayer of the Divine Office and in the celebration of the Eucharist. On Sundays and Principal feast days, one of the Sisters from St. Raphael’s Wing plays a voluntary and accompanies hymns on the keyboard.
St. Mary’s Chapel, with the reserved Sacrament present, is always open for prayer and has been used for worship on big occasions with everyone sitting in the choir stalls: Sister.Francis Honor’s funeral, for Candlemas, for the Associates’ Day and later for the Oblates’ Gathering. Candles continue to be lit in front of the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir and by Mother Maribel’s sculpture of Mary holding her son Jesus on her lap.
Recently, a priest brought a parish group to experience something of the Convent’s life of “work-with-prayer”. They came to each of the five daily Offices, swiftly grasped the liturgy and rhythm and were pleased to be taking part. Some also weeded the garden for a while each day. The Community also hosted a large ecumenical group of the Anglo-Catholic Historical Society who came to see our two chapels. The converting power of Mother Maribel’s carvings of the Stations of the Cross moved some of them to tears. Afterwards, our caterers provided a wonderful tea which was thoroughly enjoyed. Please consider visiting our chapels and spending some time with the Stations of the Cross.
On Ascension Day it was a delight to have our Visitor, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, Lord Bishop of Oxford, to preside and preach. In September, the Community will be saying thank you to the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, for his time alongside CSMV as his tenure as Warden expires. The Ven Caroline Baston, has been elected as the Community's new Warden. She is Priest-in-Charge of St Andrew, North Swindon, a Benefice which includes an estate much in need of community resources and a caring ministry. The Sisters would value prayers for Bishop Stephen as they say goodbye to him and for Caroline as she and the Community get to know the other.
Community House, Smethwick:
The three Sisters in Smethwick continue to be a vital presence in this multi-cultural, multi-faith area spanning three Anglican parishes and make informal contacts with their many Sikh and Muslim neighbours and local shop assistants. On 15 September, the Sisters will be part of 175th anniversary celebrations at Holy Trinity church.
One Sister has been helping in her priestly and teaching capacity at the church of St. Matthew, Smethwick where three adults with very limited Christian backgrounds were recently confirmed. They are continuing to learn about the faith and one of them is bringing friends with her to the Sunday Eucharist. Another Sister is helping in the ecumenically run Food bank started at Holy Trinity and is a Visitors’ Chaplain at Birmingham Cathedral. The third Sister is involved in giving spiritual direction and is active in two of the local parishes.
On 4 August, the Sisters held a Thanksgiving Service at Smethwick Old Church as part of Evening Prayer for Sister Anna CSMV, who died on 19 June. Sister Anna was a founder member of the Smethwick House and lived there for nearly seven years in the 1990s and then again for just over four years until 2012, when she moved to St. Raphael’s Wing in Wantage. She was greatly valued for her Spiritual Direction and her individual Retreat giving. Latterly, as she aged, she was much appreciated for her quiet, gracious friendliness. Several members of the congregation offered suggestions for hymns and readings and expressed much delight in the way the service unfolded through remembering and giving thanks for Sister's life. The intercessions for her Requiem held at Wantage can be found here.
"This, then is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side. If we cannot face it, we will never find him."
THURSDAY, 20 DECEMBER 2012
The Community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage
For the Church of England, indeed for the Anglican Communion, at what point does crisis become catastrophe? And for those intent on peddling the myth of 'business as usual,' at what point does the present become unrecognisable from the perspective of the past?
At what point does it become clear , in C.S. Lewis' words, that we have "embarked on a different religion?"
Eleven sisters from the historic Anglican community will join the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the structure established by Pope Benedict XVI to enable groups of Anglicans to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church whilst retaining elements of their liturgical, spiritual, and pastoral heritage. The group includes the Superior of the community, Mother Winsome CSMV
This is the letter on the Community's website from the Reverend Mother, CSMV
"Saturday 8 December 2012
Dear Associates and Friends,
I am writing to share with you some developments within the Community. Since 2009, when Pope Benedict issued an invitation for groups of Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, sisters have come to speak to me privately and in strictest confidence as Mother, about their individual sense of call to take this route into full communion; to become Catholics as part of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (‘the Ordinariate') whilst also remaining members of the Community. I allowed each sister time to explore her growing and deepening sense of calling. When it became clear that there was a critical mass of sisters across the board, in more than one house, who were experiencing the same call, I sought the permission of each to share this with the whole Community.
CSMV was born in the Oxford Movement and has always been an Anglican community within that tradition. Some sisters were experiencing a call to remain Anglicans within this tradition, whilst others were experiencing a call to come into full communion with the Catholic Church whilst also continuing this tradition.
What is important is that sisters were experiencing this call as part of a Community - a family - sisters were not simply responding as individuals. There is inherent within this sense of call to full communion, the call to remain together. This is the reason that a number of us, me included, are being drawn into the Catholic Church by this particular route. The Ordinariate has opened the possibility for groups of Anglicans to remain together, and the structures have been specifically created to welcome Religious, Priests, and laity in groups. As a group, we believe that this is the way we are being called to live out our vocation to the Religious Life, that is within the Anglican tradition and united to the Catholic Church.
Naturally, this is broader than the Church of England's decision to ordain women either to the priesthood or the episcopate, and indeed one sister who has received ordination in the Church of England is part of this group. It will be possible to retain much of our Anglican heritage and traditions within the Ordinariate and the Sisters' Anglican roots have been welcomed in this provision. In fact some of what CSMV traditionally do best, our Divine Office and our English Plainchant, is precisely what is being welcomed by Pope Benedict as - in his words - ‘a treasure to be shared' with the whole of the Catholic Church.
The Community as a whole discerned a movement of the Holy Spirit and so decided that it wanted each sister to respond to her calling, but for sisters to stay together as a Christian family sharing a common heritage and, in effect, living together as one Community, helping to set all ‘our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion' (cf. Pope Benedict, Oscott College, 19 September 2010). At this point the Community involved the ecclesiastical authorities of both the Church of England and the Personal Ordinariate to explore how this might be made possible. This has involved a combination of canon and civil law, and necessitated the intervention of specialist ecclesiastical lawyers.
The whole Community had hoped that the two communities - Church of England and Catholic - would be able to worship together in the Divine Office as at present but that there might be appropriate Eucharistic provision for both communities: for all sisters, and all guests. In all other respects, that all sisters would live and serve together as a truly ecumenical community here at Wantage. But after considerable discussion with the authorities of the Church of England and the Ordinariate, it has become clear that this would not be possible. Certainly, those who wish to become part of the Ordinariate always wanted to remain at Wantage, chiefly in order to be able to care for our elderly and frail sisters.
However, it has become clear that two self-governing communities will be required and it has been agreed the Ordinariate Community will eventually relocate from Wantage; a painful decision for the whole of CSMV.
Of the twenty two sisters who currently live at the Convent at Wantage, eleven of us believe that we are being called into the full communion of the Catholic Church as part of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. This discernment has been reached after constant prayer and in discussion with spiritual advisers. These eleven sisters are in the main, but not exclusively, the able bodied members who provide the work and management to keep the Community going, so, since the Ordinariate Community do have to relocate, considerable time has been spent and will continue to be devoted to ensure that the remaining members of CSMV will be well cared for: spiritually, physically, emotionally as well as financially.
The sisters who are seeking to enter the Catholic Church, including myself, will be received into full communion on 1 January 2013 by Monsignor Keith Newton, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and will form a new Religious Community under the auspices of the Ordinariate. This new Community will be known as the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Following reception into the Catholic Church, we will temporarily leave Wantage to stay for six weeks with a Catholic Convent for the opportunity for formation together as this newly formed Community. It is planned that after this we would return to Wantage, temporarily and as guests, whilst we seek out a new permanent home. Even whilst away we will continue to provide support of every kind for those sisters who remain.
Those of us who will now enter into the Ordinariate have always had the care of our elderly and frail sisters uppermost in our minds. It has never been our desire or intention that our fellow sisters who choose to remain in the Church of England should be neglected in any way; quite the contrary. We have been working ceaselessly to ensure that in our absence there will be continuing care for those sisters who remain and who need it and that suitable trustees of the CSMV's charity will be appointed in place of myself and my co-trustees. This has now been put in place. When we return temporarily, we will be able to help provide support and assistance for the remaining CSMV sisters as they make decisions about their longer term future.
Until all the legal complexities were complete in this matter, CSMV did not know exactly how the Community would move forward and what implications there might be which is why we have not been able to say anything to you before now.
I was concerned for our Associates and Friends to hear what is happening direct from the Community which is why I am writing to you now. There simply is no other information at this point but I wanted to share with you where things have reached. None of us know quite where God is leading us all but as St Paul puts it, "we walk by faith, not by sight". (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the help which the Bishop of Oxford and Visitor to the Community, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, and the Diocesan Registrar, Canon John Rees have given us in reaching a settlement which will allow the new Ordinariate community, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to continue the founding work of the Community of St Mary the Virgin within the Catholic Church, whilst continuing to support those sisters who remain within the Church of England.
Please continue to pray for all of us as we pray for you, as together we all seek to love and serve the Lord.
Yours in Christ,
Reverend Mother CSMV "
At the 10 o'clock Mass in the Oxford Oratory church on 1st January 2013 a group of Anglican nuns from the Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) in Wantage, Oxfordshire were received into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
AFTER THEIR RECEPTION INTO FULL COMMUNION
the two communities: SVBM and Ryde
On the 1st January eleven sisters were received into the Catholic Church and with one of the Walsingham sisters formed the new community of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They immediately went off to Ryde on the Isle of Wight as guests of the Benedictine sisters there, to get to know the Benedictine way of life and find their feet in the Catholic Church, until such time as they could move to a new home and begin their life as an independent Benedictine community.
Today, in May, they are still in Ryde, a new home has not yet been found. Since we have not heard from the sisters since the beginning of the year, unless we visit their website regularly to read the daily reflections posted there, I have decided to publish here some excerpts from those regular reflections, all taken from the recollections written down in this month of May:
“The ferry docked and the coach rolled down. The drive along the coastal road to Ryde was a gentle approach to our refuge. We passed Quarr Abbey with its ruin, and began to sense the historical ambience of Solesmes on the Island. We turned into Appley Rise and looked for the gate to the Abbey, but one glance told us that we were going to struggle to get through it. A beaming sister came out onto the sidewalk to direct us, and the first word we heard was “Welcome home!” For the next fifteen minutes the driver wrestled with the dimensions of the coach and the confined spaces of the entrance. It seemed symbolic. It was just such a wrestling in spiritual terms which we had endured in order to move forward with spiritual freedom in obedience to our conscience. It is one thing for an individual to make such a spiritual transition. It is quite another for a community to do so. Therefore we had had to wrestle with legislation, with hard losses, with tight negotiations in relation to the context from which we had to depart. But the far sighted and open Pope Benedict had made provision for such corporate transition. Once the confines of institutional establishment had been wrestled with, the path forward was unimpeded as far as the ancient Latin Church of the West was concerned. The losses, of course, were integral to the sad prejudices integral to English history. There is so much we simply cannot place in the public domain about this side of the pilgrimage. But let us return to the Abbey entrance. ‘Yesterday’ the Community was erected in the Holy Roman Church, ‘today’ we were being admitted to our monastic sanctuary.”
“We rose on that first morning in the Abbey. It was deep winter, January 3rd. It was dark. It was warm also, for the Cellarer had put the heating up for us. Looking at our cells, it was clear that they had been prepared for the twelve of us with the utmost care. The floors had been polished, the beds made up. A vase of flowers and a card graced each table. They were simple, monastic cells, clean and eloquent. Their eloquence told of a tradition of monasticism for which Solesmes is well known. It was a return to source. It was both ancient and always new. But more, our cells, and specific things around us in the Abbey spoke of a ‘welcome’ which had attention to every detail at its heart. I was deeply moved by what I knew had been especially put in place for us. One such detail was the ‘line’ which had been installed alongside the monastery computer so that we might work on our Office during these weeks. I was even more aware that there were things I might never know which had been done for us and which we found ready and waiting. I thought thankfully of the key which had turned in the enclosure door, and the stretch of water which separated us from the mainland. Here we could put down roots, could feel the gravity of our Ecclesial belonging, and take our first steps as a new community… behind locked doors, out of the public eye, but under the gaze of God and those to whom He had entrusted us.
Mother Ninian, Ryde, and Mother Winsome, SBVM
Mother Ninian, Ryde, and Mother Winsome, SBVM
In those early, first days, we all found it difficult to recognize each other in the sea of black habits. Both communities wore the same Benedictine habit. But we had the habit rosary to mark our Marian Patron, and the sound of it, as we walked, became a mark of difference. That, and the inevitable sight of familiar ankles from behind… until, of course, we came to know our Ryde sisters from behind also, and everything was becoming more simple.”
“I walked up and down the cell corridor. It was 4 am on our first night. Something was wrong. I paused again by a certain door, then went back to bed. Then I arose again and went to the door and knocked. No answer. I entered. An elderly sister had fallen out of bed and as she was deaf, had not heard my knock. She had pulled a blanket down to cover herself on the floor and decided to wait till morning. “Hello!” she said as she saw me enter. “Stay there…” I said, and went to wake the Infirmarian. As I entered her cell, she woke with a start, and the first thing she said was “I fell out of bed!” We went to lift our sister off the floor and put her back into bed, and there she remained for the following day, recovering. On our first night in our sanctuary two sisters had fallen out of bed. Surely this was going to be one of many signs of the stress we had weathered and which we needed to gradually leave behind. We were meant to be in this sanctuary for six weeks. On the very day on which the six weeks expired we received a message that no progress had been made in securing us a new home… We cannot give details about this situation, but you can imagine the effect. Once more, the remarkable love and generosity of the Benedictines of Ryde rose to the occasion. We were assured that we could simply remain until something emerged for our own home. This was, though, also, a great and deep joy to us, for we simply loved being in the Abbey with our Ryde sisters. We are still here! And we receive each moment as a gift from God.”
“This is like a baptism of immersion! We emerged from the Sarum Use of the Divine Office in the vernacular. We were instantly steeped in the Solesmes Latin Office. To be in this experience was something akin to two great oceanic currents coming alongside each other. I remember standing on Cape Point, looking down the steep mountain which dropped into the sea. At the base two such oceanic currents, the Benguela and the Aghulas current approach each other. The colours are pure and deep, the flow and temperature different. Here Solesmes flowed around our Sarum consciousness of Plainchant in the first days like something wondrous, something which flew and touched where we were used to settle or push. Instead of English it was Latin. It felt like being in a soft snowstorm, the Liturgical language of the Latin Church of the West coming to greet us insistently, demanding recognition and respect. Both Sarum and Solesme rise in the same liturgical source. Both were once Latin. But Sarum embraced the vernacular and that is what we knew. Our tired minds creaked open to receive this enormous and frequent newness. Our thirsty souls opened more readily and drank from the sister stream of Plainchant eagerly. Soon we began to orientate ourselves, to expect the differences and to understand them. With this came a deeper appreciation of what it means to ‘come home’. In the weeks which followed we would have opportunities to discuss these things with our new sisters.”
“Old wineskins… When one thinks of making a new foundation, perhaps what comes to mind is a fired up young group. Perhaps… But I can think of several such attempts in history which have been a bright and brief ‘fizzle out’, if you would excuse the light touch. Also, Our Lord Himself did not choose such a group on which to build His Church. Matthew was elderly, and so was Peter. They were mature men who had lived their lives with responsibilities and families. What they brought to the foundation was of inestimable value. So it is with us. We are old wineskins into which some new wine is being poured, but it is not all new wine, for we are within a living tradition of ancient received praxis. Much of the wine being poured into us is ancient vintage! In fact the Benedictine expression on the Isle of Wight is remarkably close to what Benedict laid down in the Sixth Century. Therefore why should one not rejoice that the wineskins are mature. If they were not mature surely they would burst… We have both energy and wisdom among us but we have immense challenges. I woke one morning in the first weeks with the voice of Benedict ringing in my ears. He felt so close. The centuries had simply rolled away because the Abbey is faithful to many details of the Rule in their practical applications, and something also about the ‘presence’ of the sea, so close, just a few meters from the door, gives a sense of timelessness. This is not the sea as a play ground, with beach and bucket. This is the sea as symbol, as an element which connects shores… connects moments of history, which aids contemplation. It was in this kind of environment that the Gospel had first travelled around the Levant. In fact, Our Blessed Mother, who herself was in the mature phase of her life, lived those years close to the sea, not in Nazareth, or Jerusalem, but in Ephesus. In her beauty and her grief, she brought the Infant Church from being a babe in arms, to a child on its feet, taking its first steps. She is doing the same with us.”
The Ascension of the Lord, Thursday 9th May 2013. “It was still dark. Although we had such profound joy and peace in our souls, because of being within the Catholic Church, we were having nightmares. Sisters came to tell each other of the disturbing dreams which emerged from the unconscious. This is not at all surprising given that the primitive need of all human beings is to have shelter and provision. As a community we had had to leave the Convent in which we had lived since 1848. We still have no home and no settlement. Therefore the nightmares of our human anxieties emerged through the layers of joy and peace which our Ecclesial choice and home had given us. In this understandable condition of mixture, we remained within the spiritual embrace of our Ryde sisters. Without them, what would have happened to us? It was still dark. We were at Vigils. Echoing round the silent Church was the strong voice of the Hebdom. It was like warm metal. She was intoning the Pericope of the Gospel. Her voice rode on the acoustics, rinsed round the walls, dipped into the receptive silence. The strength and beauty of her intonation was prophetic. It ordered our consciousness with faith. It contradicted our nightmares. It spoke of the faithfulness of God, who calls and will not fail. Further it was an invitation to our souls to trust the beauty of God, for truth and beauty are sisters, they belong in the same family. The sun was just rising as we came to the end of the Pericope.”
The Precentrix of Saint Cecilia’s Abbey was intoning the Respond for Vespers. This was, and is, Solesmes. Her voice rose in absolute purity towards the vault of the Church. As the cadence descended the tone remained pure and the final note pulsed into silence. Since being here, we have discovered how plainchant has been developed by Solesmes from the study of the ancient manuscripts. Sometimes it has felt as if we have come out of the frozen past and are still singing what the palaeontologists of Solesmes had long left behind. When we had worked with Solesmes some decades back on our English Plainchant Graduals, things had been different and we were in step with development. But as the Anglican Church took its direction in the late Twentieth Century, it was left behind by the Solesmes work on the tradition. So, now, for us, we have to talk, to work with the Precentrix of Ryde to understand what has changed and why. These discussions range from precise detail to our shared study of trends, where intuition is important. I mean by this … the kind of discussion we had on the development of Liturgy in terms of its Jewish sources. This, and the use of Latin, the kinds of Latin, the choice of particular words above others, has taken its place alongside our work on the Office and the understanding of the changes Solesmes has made. The question for us, coming out of Sarum Use, is: how far do we remain with the interpretation associated with Sarum, and how much do we adapt to the change. This might sound too technical for you, but we have to use our time here with conscious choice… our discussions are vital for how we proceed in our singing of Sarum. Here you will see the two communities mixed together. The image is of a recreation in which we sang together to celebrate the Abbatial blessing of Mother Ninian. For that, we used a five line piece
Wonderful news! The Ordinariate Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary have a new home!!Posted on August 23, 2013 by Ordinariate Support Group for Expats in Europe
(from a press release of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham:)
my source: Ordinariate Expats
THE PERSONAL ORDINARIATE OF OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM
The new religious community of the Personal Ordinariate, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, have a permanent home for the first time since they were received into the full communion of the Catholic Church on New Year’s Day. They are to move on Tuesday (August 27) into a convent at 99 Old Oscott Hill in Birmingham, which is the former home of the Little Sisters of the Assumption. It is only a stone’s throw from Maryvale Institute.
SBVM 99 Old Oscott Hill Birmingham
Mother Winsome, the Superior of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said: “We are absolutely overjoyed to have been given the opportunity to live in tMother Winsomehis convent. We have prayed long and hard and the Lord has opened up this way for us. It is a gift from God.”
The community, established as part of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and adopting the Benedictine Rule, includes eleven sisters who had been part of the Anglican Community of St. Mary the Virgin in Wantage, Oxfordshire, and one, Sister Carolyne Joseph, who had been the mother superior of the Anglican Society of St. Margaret in Walsingham.
With no endowments to keep them afloat financially, the sisters have been living for the last eight months as guests of the Benedictine sisters at St. Cecilia’s Abbey in Ryde, Isle of Wight. “The abbess and the community there shared their Benedictine life with us and welcomed us into their hearts in the most wonderfully generous way”, Mother Winsome said. “It has been a life of complete harmony and joy ant it will be a wrench to leave. But we are pleased beyond measure that our journey of faith has taken this new direction”.
SBVM 99 Old Oscott Hill Birmingham from air
The provision of Benedictine hospitality through retreats is central to the community’s charism. Their intention is to earn a living at their new home (seen here from the air) by offering retreats and the ministry of spiritual direction.
In the day-to-day journal on their website, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary have written for yesterday and today the following:
The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Thursday 22 August 2013. As has been announced, we are soon to move to our new home, our new monastery. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all that has been given to us in this wonderful Community of Pax Cordis Jesu and for the bond of love that has derose - kleinveloped over the months. We will be discontinuing these postings until we have settled in and ask you to pray for us. On Monday, Mother Abbess Ninian Eaglesham celebrates her feast day and we greet her, with huge respect and love. She has given us a real home in these months and words cannot express our gratitude to her. The photo of one of the Abbey roses is for her. Please pray for this monastery, for us, and we will hold you in our prayer wherever you are. God bless you.
STOP PRESS. The Community is now ready to move. We will be moving in two stages from Friday morning till Tuesday evening. Therefore this page will not be updated until we have our broadband connection in place and we can find time to resume the postings. As you will expect, moving a whole community off an island is a challenge, so please be patient with us as we sort ourselves out. It is with great sadness that we are leaving our beloved Saint Cecilia’s Sisters behind. We have shared with you how close our two communities have been drawn by Our Lord in these eight months. These Sisters have been the most loving and generous one could ever imagine. The bonds will remain forever. In particular we wish to thank Mother Abbess Ninian for her extraordinary generosity and the love with which she has surrounded each of us in SBVM. Nothing has been too much trouble for her. Each Sister from the Abbey has given us of herself in the most amazing way. We will be united in prayer. But please would you also pray for us and for the Sisters of Saint Cecilia’s Abbey at this moment.
I am very happy that we now have another Benedictine family within the Catholic Church in England, especially one that is part of the Ordinariate. Anglicanism at its most wholesome has many affinities with Benedictine spirituality because the Benedictine spirit is deep down in its spiritual genes. It is early days yet and, with only a thousand faithful, we will have to practise patience; but the Ordinariate will not be a complete entity until it has monks as well. It needs centres of spirituality as well as outreach; otherwise it will simply be absorbed into a general mediocrity. With a strong monastic base, its parish life may become an example to the rest of the Catholic Church of the kind of Catholicism that was dear to the heart of John Henry Newman, the faith of the Fathers of the Church that is not afraid to address modern.
However, my joy is tempered by the knowledge that, if eleven members of the Wantage Community became Catholics, eleven chose to remain behind. This ensures the continuing existence of the Wantage Community; and, for all we know, God may well have something special in reserve for that community. We are all subject to God's Providence without knowing in detail all that God has in store for us; and we can only follow his will as he reveals it to us. Nevertheless, to lose half their members, including the Mother Superior, to the Catholic Church must have been a terrible blow for those who have remained. For those who became Catholics, they were at least leaving for a positive reason and were gaining something. However, those who were left behind gained nothing and lost half their community. This must have caused great pain, a pain that could not have been avoided; and the circumstances challenged them to put their trust in God. However, we monks and nuns are only weak human beings and need all the support we can get. Those of us who are Catholics have great reason to rejoice; but charity urges us to make a special effort to support those who were left behind with our prayers, because they too are our brethren.
We Catholics claim to belong in a special way to the one, true Church; but this must be matched by the quality of our love, because it is this quality that makes visible the truth of that claim to others; but it must be a true, self-forgetful love, not one that is trying to prove something. It is not true love if it is really polemic in disguise. On the contrary, in this case we must recognise that God is asking of the Wantage sisters a heroic act of trust, one that, if it were asked of us, we could very well fail. Let mutual prayer jump over the barriers and, at least in part, contribute to the healing of wounds.
Finally, we see in the next section on the Ordinariate how a an Ordinariate parish is working. We are all subject to God's Providence without knowing how things are going to turn out, trust in God replacing clear knowledge. We do not yet know what role the Ordinariate will play in post-Vatican II Catholicism; however, I hope that more such parishes will be formed to give the Ordinariate a chance to do whatever God wants it to do.
THE ORDINARIATE OF OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM
The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, has today announced that the church of Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Gregory, Warwick Street, is being dedicated to the life of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
In London, the Ordinariate Begins to Bear FruitOctober 30, 2013
As former Anglicans accept the invitation of Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham grows with permanent facilities and thriving communities.
The children from the Sunday School fill up the first couple of benches, and when the rector leads the singing of the Angelus, their young voices pipe up eagerly in the response: “The angel of the Lord brought tidings to Mary/And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.” As things finish, there is the usual crowded gathering in the big Parish Room for coffee and tea. There is lots of talk. The Harvest Thanksgiving produced a groaning table of gifts, with bulging bags stacked under and around it, too – all will go to the local project for the homeless. Somebody is asking about the confirmation class. And is the parish ladies’ group meeting as usual this Monday?
If all this has a faintly Anglican sound to it, that’s fine. Anglican patrimony: that’s what Pope Benedict XVI said could be brought along when he made the offer to clergy and laity within the Church of England in 2011: come into full Communion—come and be made welcome in the Catholic Church, and bring with you all that you can of your traditions, your heritage, your patrimony.
So far, some 80 clergy and about 1,000 laity in Britain have responded to the invitation made by Pope Benedict in Anglicanorum Coetibus. The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham came into being in 2011 with three former Anglican bishops forming its leadership. The following year two other ordinariates were established—the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in the United States and Canada, and the Ordinariate of the Southern Cross in Australia.
The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has groups in various parts of Britain. In London, two churches have been given over to the ordinariate by the Catholic bishops: one in Warwick Street—a building with an extraordinary history going back to the days when Catholics could only worship in chapels linked to foreign embassies—and one on the south bank of the river Thames, near London Bridge.
It is this Church of the Most Precious Blood, a late 19th-century building next to the railway viaduct, not far from Borough Market, that is now the spiritual home of a thriving ordinariate parish community. Father Christopher Pearson was formerly the vicar of the Anglican church of St Agnes, at Kennington. He and a number of parishioners responded to the Holy Father’s call, and after due process—a time of reflection, decision, and instruction—were formally received into full communion with the Catholic Church and confirmed. A while later, Father Christopher was ordained deacon and then priest in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark. They all worshipped for a while at St. Wilfrid’s Catholic Church in Kennington, not far from their old home at St. Agnes. And then the Church of the Most Precious Blood becoming vacant with the planned departure of the Salvatorean Order, which had been running the parish, and it was given into ordinariate care.
But that does not tell the whole story. There have been so many adventures along the way. Media coverage of the ordinariate has been, to put it mildly, mixed. The Times ran a headline announcing that the Pope had “parked his tanks” on the Anglican lawn. There had been hopes that Anglican clergy seeking full communion with large groups of parishioners might be able to continue using their churches—perhaps under a sharing arrangement. No such possibilities were allowed. Nor did the Catholic bishops of England and Wales seem enthusiastic: while there was official goodwill, and ordinations were celebrated at Westminster Cathedral and elsewhere with glorious music and a packed congregations, there was an apparent reluctance to help get things moving. Ordinariate groups found that they were, at best, offered a time-slot for Mass in a local Catholic parish. Ordinariate clergy were generally absorbed into the mainstream of Catholic life, working as chaplains in hospitals and parishes, and caring for their ordinariate groups, but without buildings of their own.
The offer of two churches in London brought a new chapter. Precious Blood Church is effectively modeling what an ordinariate parish can be. And it is working. This corner of South London is rich in history: the Saxons fought a crucial battle on London Bridge, Catherine of Aragon stayed in a house nearby when she first arrived in England (a plaque marks the fact, and also that Sir Christopher Wren later stayed in the same house while supervising the building of the new St. Paul’s), and Catholics and Protestants both endured ghastly conditions in the nearby Clink Prison at various stages during the Reformation. The parish of Precious Blood was created at the end of the 19th century for the growing Catholic population, many of whom worked on the nearby railway (London Bridge station is a major terminus for Kent and the southern London suburbs). Two great war memorials in the church list the names of large numbers of young men of the parish killed in the First World War.
Today, the area is changing: housing here can command exorbitant prices, and the nearby Shard is London’s tallest-ever building, owned by a Gulf state and exuding an air of opulent supremacy. The old working-class way of life of corners of South London such as this has changed. Television, fast food, immigration, computers, family break-up have all combined so that this is not the community that existed when Precious Blood Church was first built, not when it withstood bombing in World War II, nor in the London of the 1960s and 70s.
But there is still a community here, and enough of a community feeling to offer a sense of faint wariness when the ordinariate arrival was announced. Not for long, though. Within a very short while the whole thing had morphed together into something greater; today, whether it’s coffee-after-Mass or the new heating system being installed along the church floor, or the big Corpus Christi Procession that wound its way through the local streets, or the recently-restored sacristy with its splendid Victorian ceiling (rediscovered during renovations, with a fine lantern window), it is working, and working well.
Americans might be interested to know that among parish events this year was a talk by Raymond Arroyo of EWTN—far too many people for the Parish Room, so it was held in the church, and it was a great success. A regular Sunday School now attracts good numbers of children. A new organ has been installed. A new shrine honoring Bl. John Henry Newman—patron of the ordinariate—was blessed by the archbishop recently. An illustrated lecture on Newman by Dr. Andrew Nash packed the church out again.
The most recent celebration was another ordination, of two more former Anglicans, which was followed by a reception in a nearby art gallery, the Parish Room being again inadequate. As I write this, Precious Blood will be hosting a gathering of young people who are doing a Pilgrimage Walk through London, a reunion of walkers who took part in a summer Walk to Walsingham.
What of the future? The success of Precious Blood Parish ought to encourage other bishops in other dioceses to offer churches to the ordinariate as the opportunity arises. It is tragic to hear of churches being closed; this happened recently in another part of England, where an ordinariate priest and group were ready and willing to take on a building, but it was sold instead to local Muslims. Bishops perhaps need courage to recognize the huge new possibilities following Pope Benedict’s courageous invitation: somehow the idea that things can’t be that good, that decline must be inevitable, that God wouldn’t usher in new ideas and new hopes, seems to die hard.
Two small stories on which to end, although they both indicate not an end, but a beginning. When Father Christopher Pearson was exploring the choir-loft at Precious Blood Church, among the clutter of years inevitably stacked there, he found a statue, faced turned to the wall in a dusty corner. It was a statue of a woman, and, assuming it to be Our Lady, he swilled it round. But it wasn’t Our Lady; it was St. Agnes—a much less usual figure to find in a corner of a church, and patroness of his former, Anglican parish. It seemed symbolic. And then some weeks later, when the basement of the rectory was finally being tackled, and stacks of old books and magazines and papers were being sorted, a set of beautifully-bound works of John Henry Newman was revealed on a shelf. On the flyleaf of the first book was a hand-written dedication: “To the Revd C. Pearson, from JHN.” And a Reverend C. Pearson, at the start of the 21st century, is now again a pastor at the church, with JHN as patron.
I think Pope Benedict would be happy to know about all this: I hope he is aware that the ordinariate is working, and that the future looks bright.