A question of identity for Catholics of Anglican Tradition

Lately there has been a lot of discussion on Facebook platforms about our identity as Catholics of Anglican Tradition in the Catholic Church.

The most recent flurry was precipitated by Shane Schaetzel who changed the name of a private Facebook group entitled Ordinariate Catholics to Traditional English Catholics.

Shane accompanied the abrupt name change—which he admitted was meant to spark discussion–with this essay entitled  On the Use of the Word “Anglican” in reference to the the Ordinariates.

The debate itself is over the use of the word “Anglican” within the Catholic ordinariates set up for former Anglicans. In short, some Catholics have no problem with using the word “Anglican” as a prefix to describe the type of liturgy and customs associated with such ordinariates. These Catholics include not only some within the ordinariates themselves, but a growing number of Catholics outside the ordinariates who simply use the word for descriptive purposes. Thus, the terms “Anglican Catholic” and “Anglican ordinariate” have become commonplace. Those championing for the use of the word “Anglican” say it’s just easy shorthand, for simplicity’s sake, with a few arguing that it’s part of the Anglican Patrimony to use the word. Those contending against the use of the word “Anglican” say it’s confusing because in the minds of most Catholics, and most Protestants for that matter, the word “Anglican” is historically married to the concept of English Protestantism.

It is a long essay, with a number of interesting points with some perhaps those more scholarly than I can contest.  He concludes:

Former Anglicans: that is the key phrase, don’t you know? The operative word here is “former” not “Anglicans.” Members of the ordinariates are Catholics not Anglicans. A good number of them are former Anglicans, and a growing number of them are former Methodists (my own wife included). I suspect we may be seeing a few former African Methodists Episcopals too! Or at least, I hope so. We all have a common root, Sarum, which is very Catholic and profoundly English. It was Sarum, working through the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, combined with many other things, that led most of us back to Rome. What we have witnessed in our time is not the creation of a hybrid “Anglican Catholicism” but rather the rebirth of something very old, something bigger than Anglicanism, Methodism and other Protestant churches combined. It is the rebirth of ENGLISH CATHOLICISM, by way of the English ordinariates, in which I am pleased to call myself a Restored English Catholic who worships according to the Restored (or Traditional) English Mass!

I get it.

I am a Catholic.   I am not an Anglican in the sense of being an official member of the Anglican Communion of Canterbury.   There should be no confusion on that point among us and many of the arguments in this vein mix up categories in a way that drives me nuts.  Of course we set out to ensure clarity that we are no longer members of any Anglican jurisdiction.

But I think this idea that we represent the revival of some kind of English Catholicism or even Traditional English Catholicism ignores the elements of post-Reformation Anglicanism that have been welcomed into the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI in Anglicanorum coetibus.

III. Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.

Let me stress this:

…to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.”

The document does not say that we who came from the Anglican Communion  (or indirectly like I did through a Continuing Anglican group) must shed everything from our Anglican tradition that did not come from pre-Reformation English Catholicism.  While I think it can be instructive, edifying and wonderful to explore and revive aspects of English Catholic patrimony that cultivate our identity, deepen our conversion and help us evangelize, we do not have to do that by expunging the word “Anglican” from our vocabulary.

I remember reading a critical comment from a Catholic about the presence of the Comfortable Words in our liturgy because they represented a “Protestant” nod to the stress on Scripture by the Reformation crowd.   Sigh.

Another way of describing ourselves that is prevalent in social media is to refer to ourselves as “Ordinariate” this or that, our liturgy as the “Ordinariate Mass” and so on.

That is similar to someone saying I am a “Diocesan Catholic.”   It refers to a structure of the Church similar to a diocese and we Catholics of Anglican tradition are not the only ones to have one.   The Military also have Ordinariates.

Many of us worried before coming into the Catholic Church that the offer by Pope Benedict XVI was “Bait and Switch” advertising to bring us in, then once Catholic force us to assimilate so that in a generation or two we would have lost any vestiges of the patrimony we brought into the Church.

The biggest push for this bleaching away of Anglican identity seems to be coming from our own members.  I have always been of the position that we “use it or lose it” when it comes to our traditions.  We will be bringing in, I hope, many people who do not have any link to Anglicanism of any kind, if our evangelization is effective.   What do we assimilate people into?   Do we assimilate them into a construct?  Or do we assimilate them into an ethos that we were welcomed to bring with us into the Catholic Church?

Are our Ordinariates an example of realized ecumenism or not?  Are they a recognition of Catholic faith and diversity of expression or not?  Yes, this is something new and possibly confusing for some people, but let’s use these as teaching moments and stop being ashamed of the word Anglican when it comes to describing our tradition, our ethos, our identity as former Anglicans in full communion with the Catholic Church.







15 thoughts on “A question of identity for Catholics of Anglican Tradition

  1. When we were Anglicans some of us used to think of ourselves as Catholic minded. Now as a Catholic, I feel Anglican hearted. Depending on the company and mood I am in, I sometimes describe myself as a Cradle Anglican – Coffin Catholic.

    Truthfully, I am uncomfortable with any adjectival description in front of the word Christian. I do realize, though, that our particular vocation to evangelize requires something more particular. Whatever that something more is – it ought to include the word “Anglican”. If other people are puzzled by the use of the word Anglican, is that not the Holy Spirit providing us with an opportunity for evangelism?

    About this:
    “The biggest push for this bleaching away of Anglican identity seems to be coming from our own members. I have always been of the position that we “use it or lose it” when it comes to our traditions. ”

    I have heard this before. If I am correct, there are clergy and communities who would like to get rid of all the distinctly beautiful BCP prayers in DW. Those very prayers which, ironically, pushed us closer and closer to the Chair of St. Peter are no longer valued? Can’t be deeply formative for future generations of Christians? Really?

    Thanks Deborah.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. At the core of this whole discussion is the Catholic response to sensibilities within the Anglican Communion regarding the use of the word “Anglican” in a Christian context. The Catholic Church raises strong objection to groups that are not part of the Catholic Church identifying themselves as Catholic, as such identity clearly creates confusion in the minds of people who don’t know what is really Catholic and what is not, so it’s no surprise that the leadership of the Anglican Communion and its provinces throughout the world would raise similar objections to appropriation of the word “Anglican” by bodies that are not formally part of the Anglican Communion.

    That said, the Divine Worship liturgy and the spirituality and pastoral practice of the ordinariates contain many elements that came into being within the churches of the Anglican Communion. I’m not aware of any adjective other than “Anglican” which adequately communicates that heritage.

    As to the formation of the ordinariates being a “bait and switch” tactic, that would completely undermine the ecumenical message that other Christian bodies can bring their own customs, ecclesial structures, and methods of pastoral practice into the Catholic Church, so long as they are compatible with the fullness of Christian doctrine and spirituality professed by the Catholic Church.

    Let’s also not forget that the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus clearly envisions the ordinariates as stable structures that will withstand the test of time, most notably by providing that those who receive the sacraments of initiation within the jurisdiction of an ordinariate can become members of an ordinariate. This provision applies, first and foremost, to children of ordinariate members, envisioning that they will grow up in the distinctly Anglican expression of our faith that the ordinariates embody and thus will develop the ordinariates’ expression of our faith and spirituality in their formative years.

    The term “ordinariate Catholic” makes no sense whatsoever. What happens to that term when the present ordinariates become personal dioceses?

    With respect to objections to the “Comfortable Words” in the Divine Worship liturgy, those who raise such objections on the basis that “they represented a “Protestant” nod to the stress on Scripture by the Reformation crowd” show their own ignorance of Catholic doctrine regarding sacred scripture and the place of scripture in the Church. To this, the Second Vatican Council spoke very clearly in both the sacred constitution Sacrosanctum concillium on divine worship and the dogmatic constitution Dei verbum on divine revelation.


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  4. We are fortunate to have an Ordinariate housed in our diocesan church. And yet, while the liturgy is very beautiful, I nevertheless feel a strange degree of separation between our rites, and by extension, our congregants. Because they cherish and relate so deeply to an Anglican heritage, I do not belong with the parishioners of this Ordinariate.
    It is a different parish, with a different Bishop, and a language, a history, and liturgical practices that are foreign to me.
    So, despite the fact that we are Catholics, they are different Catholics
    To have a Mass that feels so distinctly Anglican seems to keep these members separate from the rest of us Catholics, meaning they never fully crossed over to be with us. .ah, sadly, a sanctioned lack of unity, no matter what the official documents say.


    • Marge would seem to manifest the same sort of attitude that caused so many problems for Catholics of the various Eastern Catholic jurisdictions and rites a century ago: they are “separate” and so not “real Catholics.” It was sad (and erroneous) then, and sad (and erroneous) now.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Marge, you are correct that we cherish and relate deeply to our Anglican heritage and identity, and are thus different from you in some way. How does this mean we “never fully crossed over to be with you”? We are not at all “separate”, for we are fully Catholic – is more required of us than that? Is the criteria for getting into Heaven that we be not just Catholic but Roman or Latin Catholic specifically? We did not convert to the Catholic faith so as to join you in your culture, but to join you in Jesus’s one holy Catholic Church, a universal Church, even if with a different ritual heritage. We are not at all “separate” from you, as we are just as Catholic as you are. We are in fact delighted to be totally united with you in those things that are essential (sacraments, faith, doctrine, ecclesial unity, etc) and to have our differences in those things that are not essential (translations, songs, culture, customs, etc). Should this not be a source of great joy for you and us both?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marge,

      Would you feel the same way about a parish or mission of a sui juris ritual church of one of the non-Roman rites, if it happened to meet at your parish’s church?

      Many of the sui juris ritual churches returned to the full communion of the Catholic Church centuries ago, and thus have been fully part of the Catholic Church for many generations. Unfortunately, many of us remain completely ignorant of them and oblivious to their existence because our catechetical formation never even mentioned their existence, let alone discussed how they differ from us (their liturgical rites) and what they share in common with us (the doctrine of our faith) — and if you think that the Divine Worship liturgy of the ordinariates seems foreign, I can assure you that the Armenian, Assyrian, Byzantine, Coptic, Syriac, and other rites of the sui juris ritual churches would be considerably more so. I have to regard the failure to present this as a major defect in our programs of catechetical formation.

      But what is different is that the presence of an ordinariate community at your parish has brought the diversity of the Catholic Church, or at least a piece of it, into your awareness.

      In this context, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in the decree Orientalium ecclesiarium on the Catholic Churches of Eastern Rite is particularly instructive. The whole decree is a worthwhile read, but the following paragraphs seem particularly cogent in this situation (boldface in original; citations removed).


      2. The Holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government and who, combining together into various groups which are held together by a hierarchy, form separate Churches or Rites. Between these there exists an admirable bond of union, such that the variety within the Church in no way harms its unity; rather it manifests it, for it is the mind of the Catholic Church that each individual Church or Rite should retain its traditions whole and entire and likewise that it should adapt its way of life to the different needs of time and place.

      3. These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves in rite (to use the current phrase), that is, in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are, nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in primacy over the universal Church. They are consequently of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16, 15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff.

      4. Means should be taken therefore in every part of the world for the protection and advancement of all the individual Churches and, to this end, there should be established parishes and a special hierarchy where the spiritual good of the faithful demands it. The hierarchs of the different individual Churches with jurisdiction in one and the same territory should, by taking common counsel in regular meetings, strive to promote unity of action and with common endeavor to sustain common tasks, so as better to further the good of religion and to safeguard more effectively the ordered way of life of the clergy.

      All clerics and those aspiring to sacred Orders should be instructed in the rites and especially in the practical norms that must be applied in interritual questions. The laity, too, should be taught as part of its catechetical education about rites and their rules.

      Finally, each and every Catholic, as also the baptized of every non-Catholic church or denomination who enters into the fullness of the Catholic communion, must retain his own rite wherever he is, must cherish it and observe it to the best of his ability, without prejudice to the right in special cases of persons, communities or areas, to have recourse to the Apostolic See, which, as the supreme judge of interchurch relations, will, acting itself or through other authorities, meet the needs of the occasion in an ecumenical spirit, by the issuance of opportune directives, decrees or rescripts.


      5. History, tradition and abundant ecclesiastical institutions bear outstanding witness to the great merit owing to the Eastern Churches by the universal Church. The Sacred Council, therefore, not only accords to this ecclesiastical and spiritual heritage the high regard which is its due and rightful praise, but also unhesitatingly looks on it as the heritage of the universal Church. For this reason it solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, as much as those of the West, have a full right and are in duty bound to rule themselves, each in accordance with its own established disciplines, since all these are praiseworthy by reason of their venerable antiquity, more harmonious with the character of their faithful and more suited to the promotion of the good of souls.

      6. All members of the Eastern Rite should know and be convinced that they can and should always preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life, and that these may not be altered except to obtain for themselves an organic improvement. All these, then, must be observed by the members of the Eastern rites themselves. Besides, they should attain to an ever greater knowledge and a more exact use of them, and, if in their regard they have fallen short owing to contingencies of times and persons, they should take steps to return to their ancestral traditions.

      Those who, by reason of their office or apostolic ministries, are in frequent communication with the Eastern Churches or their faithful should be instructed according as their office demands in the knowledge and veneration of the rites, discipline, doctrine, history and character of the members of the Eastern rites. To enhance the efficacy of their apostolate, Religious and associations of the Latin Rite working in Eastern countries or among Eastern faithful are earnestly counseled to found houses or even provinces of the Eastern rite, as far as this can be done.

      The apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus seems to envision the same set of principles to extend to all ordinariates erected thereunder.


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  5. Hey folks — don’t take Marge’s views as representing most Catholics. The Church has always had diverse rites and usages; most Catholics simply didn’t (and still don’t) live in an area where they necessarily existed side-by-side–so their view of Catholicism would be understandably restricted. In the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area of NE Pennsylvania, Catholics were used to different “flavors” of Catholicism: Ruthenian, Ukranian, Melkite, Maronite, and many ethnic Latin Rite parishes. Now, wonderful St. Thomas More Ordinariate Parish in Scranton joins that mix (and a flourishing TLM/FSSP parish exists there as well!) As a member of a fast-growing TLM parish staffed by the FSSP, I can confidently say that most of our parishioners are quite comfortable in the local Ordinariate parish (and attend Masses and devotions there frequently). We feel quite alien when attending a nearby “diocesan church”. Very foreign indeed. As more people discover the TLM and Ordinariate Liturgy….I wonder who is going to end up with a “minority view”???

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  6. I am not part of your Ordinariate. Wish I was, but am ineligible because my grandfather swam the Tiber from Methodism before my father was even born. Had he not done so then perhaps I could have done so now and joined the Ordinariate. And yet who knows how I would have turned out had he not swam the Tiber just over a hundred years ago.

    None of that prevents me from an occasional visit and an interest in your success. I’ve been to St. Bede, St. Barnabas, and St. Timothy and found each to have been a blessing.

    In trying to explain what it is that you are having your own trouble naming, I find that there is no pithy and concise way for me to tell either other Catholics or Protestants or Episcopalians what it is that you are. I go to one of your masses/liturgies/services and how do I explain where I was? The word ‘Anglican’ sort of fits, but not without multiple qualifiers. The word ‘Ordinariate’ draws initial blank stares. Would ‘Traditional English Catholic’ be any better? I haven’t tried that one.

    I await your resolving this. I hope it is short and concise but I suspect no such thing will convey what you really are and what your history has been.


    • What’s wrong with “the Ordinariate established for former Anglicans”? Yes, it may draw blank stares; so, I imagine does “the North American Eparchy of the Syro-Malankar Church” and it has twice as many members and has been around a lot longer. Of course the “separate” culture of the Eastern rites reflects the ethnicity of most of the members, TLM congregations are made up of those who have rejected their local parish on the basis of its music and liturgy, and a significant number of regular attendees of Ordinariate masses are also lifetime Catholics who find aspects of the DW liturgy and/or the Ordinariate culture more congenial than the typical Catholic parish. I think it’s mostly about social class, frankly.


  7. Why keep up the word Anglican? It describes a terrible period of disunity. Why cannot Ordinariate people just call themselves English Catholics? This seems like the appropriate term. It asserts that they maintain Catholicism within it’s distinctly English flavor which was maintained under a schismatic group for many centuries. It would be the same as saying Polish Catholic or Irish Catholic. all Ethnic groups have their own flavor of Catholicism. In my view all the ordinariate is is a temporary holding ground for all these English Catholics as they return to the church and reconsolidate their patrimony. In all honesty I do not really think the Ordinariates will last. I think they will end up taking over diocese in Britian when enough of the Anglicans come over to Rome that English Catholicism can be the majority once more within the English Church. (This may take a century, I don’t know)

    Anyway I am getting off point. What I am trying to say it that maintaining a connection to institutional Anglicanism through a name is silly. The ordinariate is made up of Catholics of the English patrimony aka English Catholics. It is really too bad that there has been so much homogenization since V2. Back in the day the ordinariate would have fit in perfectly when there were different ethnic parishes all over living out Catholicism differently. Now with how watered down and merged it all has became the Ordinariate sticks out like a sore thumb. I have hope for the future though, I know we can get back to the good old days if we put in the effort.


    • A priest from the UK told me referring to the Ordinariate as “English Catholic” is offensive to English-speaking Roman Catholics.
      We are not trying to maintain a connection to institutional Anglicanism. We are glad to have left it behind and to be Catholic. But the beauty of our liturgy, our Book of Common Prayer, our hymns from the Anglican tradition we have the privilege of keeping.


      • I agree with Deborah, and would add, that “English Catholic” applied to the Ordinariate(s), particularly in Engiand, would be offensive to those English Catholics of recusant family background or ancestry, who would (rightfully, I might add) claim that they were the “true English Catholics” in the period from 1559 to “Catholic Emancipation” in 1829 (or even later). I believe that some English Catholics of rescusant background are well-disposed to the Ordinariate scheme, so one would not wish gratuitously to alienate their affections.

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    • Regarding this, “Catholics of the English patrimony aka English Catholics”, I have to agree with Deborah that “English Catholics” with no other identifiers is a problematic descriptor to adopt because it already applies to diocesan Catholics in England. “Offensive” seems a bit excessive and overly-sensitive to me, but confusing it certainly could be. That is why “Catholics of Anglican Patrimony” – already the title of a popular book about the Ordinariates and surrounding historical context by Fr Aidan Nichols, whose scholarly work anticipated the Ordinariates of *Anglicanorum coetibus* – is the ideal solution if “Ordinariate Catholic” makes them say “Beg pardon?”


  8. While the liturgy and music of Ordinariate congregations may have “Anglican Patrimony” the same is not necessarily true for Ordinariate members, who may be new Catholics, formerly Baptists, who entered the Church through the Ordinariate, or people married to former Anglicans, or people who had a parent who was a member of the United Church of Canada. Parishioners not Ordinariate members need not have any previous connection to Anglicanism.
    Further confusion is added by the apparent inclusion of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church in the British Isles and the recusant martyrs in the definition of Anglican Patrimony, as though everything English is also Anglican in some way. Why not just be a Catholic? If someone asks about the church you attend, you can then elaborate on its distinctive features.


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