A Defense of the Ordinariate Liturgy’s Authenticity

I originally published this post in 2019 but have decided to revise it slightly and record it as a podcast episode. You can find it on my Spotify page or on Youtube.

(Note on terminology: old Roman rite=classical Roman rite=TLM; BCP=Book of Common Prayer; DWM=Divine Worship: the Missal; Pian missal=Tridentine missal=TLM; Novus Ordo=new Roman rite=Pauline Missal:

I am a member of a group on Facebook dedicated to the defense of the usus antiquor, and several people have posted items about the Ordinariate liturgy there, mostly of the questioning, if not negative, variety. Some have concerns about the nature of the Book of Divine Worship; one person posted a chart made by Peter Kwasniewski, which arranges the various liturgies East and West by four qualities, as in the chart seen below:

As you can see, the only one in which he finds the Ordinariate liturgy lacking is that of authenticity. I was a member of a community made up of former Anglicans for over a decade, before the creation of the Ordinariate 2009. I have acted as a server, lector, and cantor for that liturgy, and though I am no liturgical scholar, I want to share my thoughts on the subject of its authenticity for those traditionalists who might be wary of it.

(If you are unfamiliar with the Ordinariate liturgy, you can watch videos of it here or here.)

Does the Ordinariate have its own “rite”?

The Ordinariate liturgy as embodied in its missal, the Divine Worship: The Missal (DWM), is properly speaking a use of the Roman rite, and not a unique rite itself. The reasons for this will become apparent below. (A copy of the Order of the Mass for the DWM can be found here.)

Is the Ordinariate liturgy basically the Old Roman rite in archaic English?

This is a refrain I hear often from those who have attended an Ordinariate liturgy, even those who frequent the TLM. And while I can see why they might think this, it is not really accurate. As Bishop Steven Lopes, the bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (USA), pointed out in a speech in 2017, the norms (GIRM) for the DWM are those of the modern missal, and there are more elements from the new Roman missal present in it–the new lectionary, new calendar, responsorial psalm, offertory procession, the memorial acclamation after the elevation of the chalice, the doxology after the Our Father, the form of distribution of communion–than from the old missal. (Some of these, such as the offertory procession, are optional, but most are not.) The prefaces and collects are also rather different, I believe, but I am not sure of their number or provenance but presume many come from the Novus Ordo.

Another reason is that the Ordinariate liturgy has more optional prayers than the Pian Missal (TLM), though not so many as the Novus Ordo. This is partly due the peculiar history of Anglo-Catholic groups within the Church of England, the groups of Anglicans who were most eager to enter communion with Rome. In the first half of the twentieth century, many Anglo-Papalist parishes in England celebrated their liturgy according to the English Missal, an English translation of the Tridentine Missal made in 1912. But such was their desire for union with Rome that in the 1960s most Anglo-Catholic parishes in the Church of England switched to the Novus Ordo, out of a sense of loyalty to Rome. This is why there are two sets of offertory prayers in the Divine Worship Missal: Offertory I is essentially the prayers of the 1962 Roman missal turned into English, while Offertory II consists of prayers taken from the Novus Ordo.

Nevertheless, the propers are basically identical to the 1962 Roman missal, and the prayers at the foot of the altar, the offertory prayers and the Last Gospel are options in the DWM. But the most important similarity with the old mass is that the Roman Canon is the only eucharistic prayer authorized for use on Sundays and solemnities, recited aloud. As the inimitable Fr. John Hunwicke has pointed out, this gives the DWM greater claim to being a “use” of the Roman rite than the new missal, since it is almost never heard in the Novus Ordo.

Doesn’t the Ordinariate liturgy contain elements of the Book of Common Prayer?

Yes. Besides those mentioned above, most of the other prayers are taken from the (Anglican) Book of Common Prayer. This was partly the rationale for the Ordinariate in the first place: that the Anglicans who wanted to enter corporately into full communion with Rome could retain those elements of their tradition of worship that were compatible with Catholicism.

Does this mean the Ordinariate liturgy is “Protestant” in some sense?

If you mean theologically, no. This is probably what makes most traditionalists nervous about the DWM, since the Book of Common Prayer was the work of Thomas Cranmer, who oversaw the destruction of the mass in England. I admit, this gave me pause at first as well. But in fact, Cranmer did not so much compose the Book of Common Prayer de novo (the BCP was the worship book that replaced the Catholic mass in England in 1549) as recycle numerous prayers from earlier, perfectly Catholic sources. Many of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer are translations from the Sarum Use, the medieval variant of the Roman rite used at Salisbury Cathedral in England. For example, the order of mass in the DWM begins with the Collect for Purity, Cranmer’s beautiful translation of a prayer taken from the Sarum missal (amongst other sources):

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Other parts of the liturgy taken from the BCP include, in a few places, parts where the priest will recite passages from scripture to the congregation. The first of these is the “summary of the law,” just before the Kyrie, where the priest recites Christ’s summation of the two great commandments in Matthew 22:34-40. Another place where passages of Scripture are recited just before the Offertory, called “the comfortable words.” These are literally just comforting passages of scripture, such as John 3:16. Both of these are optional, and unless you think reading passages of Scripture in vernacular is somehow intrinsically “Protestant,” they are perfectly fine for a Catholic liturgy, theologically speaking.

There are, however, three unique prayers in the DWM which you will not find in any other Catholic missal, which were composed for the BCP by Cranmer–his General Confession, which takes the place of the confiteor in the Roman rite; the “Prayer of Humble Access” just before distribution of communion; and a Prayer of Thanksgiving after communion. Now, when I say Cranmer “composed” these prayers, even these were not totally new creations. From what I have discovered, he basically cribbed them from earlier sources, from breviaries and the like. In any event, these prayers are compatible with Catholic theology, and are some of the most beautiful in English you will ever hear. This, for example, is the “Prayer of Humble Access,” recited by priest and congregation before receiving communion:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

I suppose one could nitpick about the word “table” here, rather than altar, but it conveys the sense of the Real Presence, being said just before the people communicate, almost perfectly. (It is also biblical, of course.) There is no reason to be suspicious of these prayers, in my opinion.

If that’s the case, then why isn’t the DWM just the old English version of the Tridentine mass?

There is one sense in which the DWM is more “Protestant” (in a ritual, non-theological sense) than the old rite, and is closer to the Novus Ordo. Compared to the old Roman rite, there are many more “dialogue” or “responsorial” elements in which the priest is facing the people and talking at them, and fewer genuflections, gestures and the like. This is probably my least favorite characteristic of the DWM, as it doesn’t leave a lot of natural space for silence, de-emphasizing the non-verbal aspects of worship. All of this gives the liturgy in the Ordinariate a slightly more “congregational” feel than the old Roman rite. This is partly an Anglican inheritance, but also something that is present in the Novus Ordo. Joseph Shaw once complained of the Novus Ordo that it often seems like an endless stream of verbiage directed at the congregation, as if someone were giving a lecture, and something similar could be said of the Ordinariate liturgy. But the DWM compensates for this because the “verbiage” of the missal comes in a register of English completely removed from daily life, and so marks it out as sacred rather than profane. This is why people often come away from the Ordinariate liturgy thinking it is the Tridentine rite in English: its archaic language plays a role analogous to that of Latin in the classical Roman rite.

Of course, for some, the use of the Latin tongue for worship is the defining feature of the Roman Rite classically speaking. I suppose for such there could be no question of the DWM’s authenticity. However, several people I know who attend the old liturgy have said they would do so if it were translated into a decent English, since it was the content of the prayers they cared about most. But then the DWM would not satisfy them on this point either, since it represents in some respects–dare I say it?–a via media between the old and new Roman rites.

Wasn’t the DWM made up by a committee? How then could it be authentic?

This is perhaps the most cogent objection to the “authenticity” of the Ordinariate’s liturgy. There is no denying that it is in some sense what Joseph Ratzinger accused the Novus Ordo of being, “a fabricated liturgy.” Because of the Reformation, and the subsequent history of Anglicanism, the DWM of necessity lacks the organic development the classical Roman rite possesses and is in that sense less authentic. I do think it is fair to say that, while a real and authentic expression of the Catholic faith, it is less so than those liturgies, East and West, that never suffered the violence of the English Reformation.

Even so, despite this fact, its creation differs from that of the Novus Ordo for one simple reason: love.

The Consilium which composed the new missal not only did a poor job creating the new liturgy in technical, scholarly terms, but as Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli, a member of that commission, later remarked, “many of those who have influenced the reform…have no love, and no veneration of that which has been handed down to us. They begin by despising everything that is actually there… with this mentality they have only been able to demolish and not to restore.”

By contrast, the people who created the DWM had behind them a hundred and seventy-five years or more of excellent Anglican scholarship on the liturgy going back to the Oxford Movement, from Newman to Dom Gregory Dix to Msgr. Andrew Burnham, who served on the commission that created the DWM (and whose book on the liturgy, Heaven and Earth in Little Space, is wonderful). But more than academic learning, those scholars and all the former Anglicans who swam the Tiber (many of whom made great sacrifices to do so), truly love both their own Anglican traditions AND those of Rome, and it is this love which, in the final analysis, makes the Ordinariate liturgy a genuine liturgical restoration, and not a destructive archeologizing experiment. I admit that my preference is for those rites that possess organic continuity, West or East, but this is no way diminishes my love for this wonderful liturgy, which is both an ornament to the worship of the Catholic Church and a testament to desire for unity with the successor of Peter, and the fullness of the faith.

Thus, the Ordinariate missal is a truly authentic Catholic liturgy. And so, may God preserve both the classical Roman rite, and the Ordinariate Use, both now and in the future.

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