Monday, June 18, 2012

SFC on the road: Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston

It was recently announced that the Catholic Church is erecting the third "Personal Ordinariate" for former Anglicans - this one in Australia. This new "ordinariate" will serve the people in Australia and is named in honor of "Our Lady of the Southern Cross." It is the third ordinariate to be created by Pope Benedict for Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church while preserving some of the riches of their own Anglican patrimony.

Along similar lines, it just so happens that I was in Houston, Texas a couple of weeks ago on business. On Pentecost Sunday, we attended Mass at Houston's Our Lady of Walsingham Church. You might remember that this is the "principal church" for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Since we have talked a bit about the Anglican Ordinariate on this site before (here and here), I thought some of our readers might enjoy a bit of a report about our experience at Our Lady of Walsingham.

About the Parish

The parish of Our Lady of Walsingham was established in 1984, as one of the first parishes formed to take advantage of Pope John Paul II's 1980 "pastoral provision." This pastoral provision allowed for the creation, in dioceses of the United States, of new parishes comprised of former Anglicans (i.e. Episcopalians here in the U.S.). These parishes were received into full communion with the Catholic Church and their members were/are considered fully Roman Catholic.  However, these "Anglican Use" parishes were able (and even encouraged) to retain some elements of their "Anglican patrimony," elements which include: the use of a particular form of the Mass drawn largely from the Book of Common Prayer, Anglican hymnody, traditions such as Evensong and even married clergy.

As I mentioned earlier, when the Personal Ordinariate for the United States was established on January 1st of this year, Our Lady of Walsingham was designated to be "principal church" for the U.S. Ordinariate. Since an ordinariate functions in the Church in a way that is similar to a diocese, the church of Our Lady of Walsingham is similar, in function, to a diocesan cathedral.

The Name

Statue of OL of Walsingham in Houston
The name of the parish of Our Lady of Walsingham (OLW) is drawn from an ancient and particularly English title for Mary. The title's origins date back to the year 1061, to the actions of a devout, widowed noblewoman named Richeldis de Faverches. Lady Richeldis lived in the English village of Walsingham in Norfolk, England, and she expressed a desire to honor Mary in a unique and lasting way.

The Blessed Virgin, as tradition relates, then appeared to her and instructed her to build a replica of the "Holy House" of Nazareth where the Annunciation took place and the Archangel Gabriel had visited Mary. This "Holy House" was to become, Mary explained to Lady Richeldis, a place where the faithful could gather to celebrate the Annunciation, "the root of mankind's gracious redemption." This shrine soon became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in England and one of the most important Marian shrines in all of Europe. For hundreds of years, until the English Reformation of the 16th century, the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham attracted countless pilgrims, including kings and queens of England, Scotland and France, who all came to perform acts of penance, to commemorate the Annunciation and to pray for Our Lady's intercession.

The name also, however, refers to a specific image of Our Lady which was housed in the chapel at Walsingham for centuries. The original wood-carved statue was forcibly removed from its place of honor in 1538, during the English Reformation, transported to London and publicly burned by Reformers. This statue of Our Lady traditionally depicted Mary enthroned, dressed in the trappings of Anglo-Saxon royalty, holding the Christ Child in her lap, in a gesture of blessing. OLW parish in Houston has a reproduction of this statue (pictured).

The Parish Church

OLW has a beautiful parish church building which was completed and dedicated in 2003. It's beauty is largely due to the fact that there is absolutely no ambiguity that this is a Catholic Church and a place of worship. This single element is really important these days yet largely overlooked in many new parish construction projects.

It is also evident that the parish took pains to hire an architectural firm that was well-versed in the history of church architecture and who went to great lengths to design and build a suitable church that, while modern, has a strong and unmistakenly-organic connection to tradition. The style of the church's architecture is Neo Gothic, which immediately conveys a connection to the 13th and 14th century churches in the area of Walsingham in England. There is even a prominent bell tower: a facet of church architecture that is often completely overlooked in modern church design, for no apparent reason. The ringing of a church bell, however, is not only traditional and specifically Christian, but, in marking the hours of the day, and the consecration the elements during holy Mass, a church bell is an important way that a parish can remind all within earshot of God's presence.

The Liturgy

Sanctuary of the church with altar and altar rail. 
First of all, OLW is a fully Roman Catholic parish church. But, the parish uses the little-known "Anglican Use" liturgy that is slightly different, in some ways, than the liturgy of "regular" Catholic parishes. This form of the liturgy is found in the Book of Divine Worship, which received Vatican approval in 1983 and is used, in "Anglican Use" Catholic parishes, in place of the Roman Missal. The Book of Divine Worship is itself based largely on the 1928 and 1979 editions of the Episcopal Church version of the Book of Common Prayer. To make matters a little more confusing, "Anglican Use" Catholic parishes may use either the Book of Divine Worship or may use the Roman Missal for their Masses - both are acceptable and the choice is left to the pastor.

In the case of OLW parish, the Book of Divine Worship is used. As for the celebration of Mass, this means that the liturgy very similar (and almost identical) to the "Rite One" from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. All in all, the order of worship is largely the same as the Mass in the modern Roman Missal, but there are a few noticeable differences:

1) Every Mass is celebrated ad orientem, with the priest and people facing the same direction during many parts of the Mass. There is really something to be said for ad orientem worship because it is patently obvious that this way of praying the Mass is ancient, Christ-centered, and part of our Catholic heritage. What more could you need? Not to mention the fact that ad orientem worship is something our Pope has both done and specifically encouraged. Those who care keep tabs on these sorts of things recognize a strong movement in the wider Church in this direction (no pun intended), so this is something that might even be coming to a parish near you in future.

2) Holy Communion is given to communicants at the altar rail. This still happens at some Catholic parishes, but it was only the second time that I've received Communion kneeling and at the rail. I found the posture obviously appropriate (kneeling to receive our Lord is sort of a no-brainer for me) and I found that it was very helpful in helping me to realize what, exactly, I was doing and - more importantly - who, exactly I was receiving.

3) The language is sacral. In other words, the service uses "hieratic" English - the form of English that most of us associate with traditional worship; i.e., a lot of "thees" d "thous." For example, the greeting exchanged between the priest and the faithful is rendered in the current Roman Missal as:
Priest: "The Lord be with you." People: "And with your spirit."
But in the Anglican Use form of the Mass, this exchange is rendered as:
Priest: "The Lord be with you." People: "And with thy spirit."

4) The order of the Mass and some of the prayers are a little different. Again, this is because this form of the Mass is derived not directly from the Roman Missal, but from Anglican traditions/forms of worship.

5) Almost everything is sung. Readings, Gospel, prayers - almost everything but the homily. This is actually the "norm," or expectation of for all Catholic Masses (yep - a lot of our parishes have lots of work to do in this area because the Roman Missal makes it clear that the Mass is meant to be sung - at least on solemnities), so this is not a particularly "Anglican thing." But it was soul-stirringly beautiful.

All in all, it was great to worship at OLW. It was enlightening and worshipful but, above all, it was truly invigorating to see such a full and lively parish so devoted to overcoming the obstacles of Christian unity in response to Christ's prayer "that they may be one" (John 17:21). As a convert myself, I am keen in my realization that the men and women of this parish have not had an easy time in following our Lord and seeking union with his Church. Please pray that God will continue to draw all believers to himself in corporate unity, that we, his Church, may shine brightly for all as a beacon of the Gospel for all.