The Rise of English Catholicism

Our Lady of Walsingham
A Popular English Catholic Devotion Commemorating an Apparition of the Virgin Mary in England

In the April 12, 2017 edition of the National Catholic Register (EWTN's official newspaper), Peter Jesserer Smith published an outstanding article outlining the inside story on the creation of the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans. He writes...
Benedict XVI gave a tremendous gift to the English-speaking world in 2009, when he finally realized a dream centuries in the making, and established a permanent canonical home for groups from the Anglican tradition seeking to enter the Catholic Church with the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus
Today, the Catholic Church has three Personal Ordinariates — informally known as the “Anglican Ordinariates” — that preserve the Anglican patrimony in their Catholic parishes, communities, and religious orders. These Personal Ordinariates have the only English form of the Roman Missal, promulgated by Pope Francis, called Divine Worship — an actual English form, not an English translation of the Latin Mass — written in traditional, poetic “Prayer Book” English. Each Personal Ordinariate covers a region of the globe (Oceania, the United Kingdom, and North America) and is headed by a bishop or ordinary who falls directly under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 
Read the full article here.
Smith makes a very important observation. What we effectively have here is a whole new form of the Roman Rite, that really isn't that new at all. In fact, it's very old, and when I say old, I mean ancient. You see, much of Divine Worship is based on the old Sarum Use, used in England prior to the Reformation. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about a Use or Form of the Roman Rite which is actually older than the Tridentine mass. Now granted, the old Sarum Use was said in Latin not English, and Divine Worship is not an exact replica. It is different, but it has many common points of reference, just as it has common points of reference with the Trindentine mass. It is its own thing. Those looking for an exact English translation of the Latin Tridentine mass will be disappointed. Those looking for another modern vernacular of the Novus Ordo mass will be disappointed. It is none of these things. It is rather something entirely different, and it's based on many elements from the old Sarum Use as preserved through the centuries in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

What's it like? Well, let me tell you. It's very traditional by contemporary Catholic standards. Mass is commonly celebrated with the priest facing the altar together with the congregation (ad orientem). Communion is typically served on the tongue while kneeling. Sometimes the method of intinction is used, where the priest dips the host into the precious blood before placing it on the communicant's tongue. The gospel reading is done in the centre aisle amongst the congregation. The prayers are a little different. The responses are a little different. Most importantly, all of it (prayers and responses) are done in Sacred English (thee, thou, thy, etc.)

Divine Worship Mass - Celebrated by Bishop Lopes - Oct. 23rd, 2016

This is now an official form of the Roman Rite, on par with other forms, such as the Tridentine and Novus Ordo, commonly called the Extraordinary and Ordinary forms of the Roman Rite. Thus Divine Worship is a third form, which is distinctively English. Whereas the vernacular translation of the Novus Ordo mass is just that -- a translation of a Latin text -- in contrast Divine Worship is a Vatican approved English text in and of itself. Smith continues...
The CDF’s guarantee means the faithful of the Church, from now until Christ returns in glory, understand that the Anglican patrimony (and what in the Ordinariate is a truly restored English Catholic heritage that runs through the Anglican tradition all the way back to St. Augustine at Kent) is not just a treasure for the Personal Ordinariate, but is a treasure that belongs to “the whole Church.” 
Read the full article here.
As is pointed out here, what we have embodied in the Ordinariates and Divine Worship is the authentic Anglican Patrimony as restored English Catholicism, as it has developed from the time of St. Augustine of Canterbury until now. It is, in a very real sense, the heritage of every English-speaking Catholic in the world. This may sound strange to some, but its not so foreign when we consider how much the Anglican Patrimony already plays into Catholicism in the English-speaking world, even outside the Ordinariates. For example; when we pray the Lord's Prayer during the vernacular English Novus Ordo mass, this is how it's commonly said or chanted...

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. 

Take note of the Sacred English words "art" and "thy." It's exactly the same in Divine Worship. How very interesting that Rome saw fit to translate the Lord's Prayer into Sacred English, even in the 1970s vernacular translation that uses Common English (or "modern" English). I mean, think about it. The words "art" and "thy" appear nowhere else in the English vernacular Novus Ordo mass. They only appear in this prayer, and that's because it's an appeal to our linguistic history and heritage -- our Anglican Patrimony. English-speaking Catholics have been using Sacred English for this prayer, straight out of the Anglican prayerbooks, officially in the mass, ever since the vernacular English translation was commissioned in the 1970s.

However, it's been going on a lot longer than that -- unofficially. Pick up just about any copy of the Daily Roman Missal 1962 and what you'll find is the old Tridentine mass officially in Latin on one side of the page, translated unofficially into Sacred English (not Common English) on the other side of the page. For decades prior to the Novus Ordo mass, English-speaking (Anglophone) Catholics learnt the "Our Father," "Hail Mary," and "Glory Be," and scores of other prayers in Sacred English. The same is true of the first English translations of the Catholic Bible. I'm speaking specifically of the Douay-Rheims Bible, which is entirely in Sacred English, just like the Anglican King James Version. In fact all English Bibles, produced in previous centuries, used some variation of Sacred English, commonly found in Anglican prayer books, because that was THE standard for all English religious text. Every English-speaker knows this deep down inside. Sacred English is the language of poetry, music and theatre. It always has been. It is our most treasured vernacular, because it represents the highest and most precise diction the language has to offer. We offer God only our best, and that is why it's called Sacred English, or as the Anglicans sometimes say "Prayerbook English." (Read more about Sacred English Here.) We can see, however, by the abundance of Sacred English used in unofficial liturgical translations, Scripture and prayers, prior to 1970, that the Catholic Church has already been in the business of preserving some aspects of the Anglican Patrimony for a very long time. Perhaps there has always been a recognition by Rome that there is something there. There is something about Sacred English, as exemplified by the Anglican Patrimony, that is worth preserving, and so Anglophone Catholics have been preserving some aspect of it all along.

With the creation of the Novus Ordo liturgy in 1970, it was only natural for Rome to translate it into the most common and popular vernacular. That is, after all, the primary purpose of the Novus Ordo translations, to bring the liturgy of the mass into the common tongue. Thus it was translated into Common English (or what many mistakenly refer to as "modern English"). Yet even then, a nod to the Anglican Patrimony was given with the Sacred English translation of the "Our Father." Every single English-speaking Catholic gives that same nod when the "Our Father" is recited (or chanted) during mass. And this is where Smith's article hits a home run...
But rather importantly, as the bishop pointed out, the CDF stands as the guarantee that the liturgical traditions of the Personal Ordinariates are fully Catholic in every sense of the word. No one can say otherwise, or tell lifelong Catholics that the spiritual patrimony of the Personal Ordinariates is not for them, because the CDF stands behind it. Any Catholic who wishes to adopt this spiritual patrimony knows its Catholicity comes guaranteed by Rome. 
Read the full article here.
Did you catch that? "Any Catholic who wishes to adopt this spiritual patrimony knows its Catholicity comes guaranteed by Rome." Pause and let that sink in.

Any Catholic may adopt this spiritual patrimony -- ANY Catholic. Stop. Let that sink in.

"No one can say otherwise, or tell lifelong Catholics that the spiritual patrimony of the Personal Ordinariates is not for them."

ANY Catholic may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony as guaranteed by Rome. Presumably, it would be mostly English-speaking (Anglophone) Catholics who would be most drawn to it, but by no means is it just limited to them. ANY CATHOLIC may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony -- any Catholic.

Are you Catholic? If yes, you may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony as guaranteed by Rome. That's the only prerequisite. Are you Catholic? If the answer is yes, you qualify to adopt the Anglican Patrimony as your own personal spirituality.

Now, to be clear, that does not mean any Catholic qualifies to become a member of the Ordinariates. Membership in the ordinariates is a different matter of episcopal jurisdiction, governed by specific rules set down in Anglicanorum Coetibus, decrees from the pope, and the oversight of the Vatican CDF. So membership in the Ordinariate is a different matter. One must qualify, and to learn what those qualifications are, one must take a look at the rules here.

Still, one does not need to be a member of a certain episcopal jurisdiction (the Ordinariate) in order to personally adopt the authentic Catholic spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony. ANY Catholic may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony, and do the following, regardless of Ordinariate membership...
  1. Pray using Sacred English (thee, thou, thy, etc.)
  2. Use prayer books and devotionals derived from the Anglican Patrimony.
  3. Pray the Daily Office (see here).
  4. Fellowship with Ordinariate Catholics.
  5. Join the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society.
  6. Join an Ordinariate parish (find one here, here or here)
Yes, Ordinariate parish membership is open even to non-Ordinariate members. In other words, it is possible (even fairly common in some places) for Roman Catholics, who do not qualify for Ordinariate membership, to nevertheless adopt the total spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony, even to the point of joining an Ordinariate parish. It happens all the time.

Regardless of whatever continent you're on, membership in the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS) is open to EVERYONE, and this makes a very suitable alternative for Roman Catholics who love the Anglican Patrimony, but for whatever reason, do not qualify to be part of an Ordinariate jurisdiction. It connects Catholics to the life of the Anglican Patrimony on all three continents by way of a public blog, an ongoing journal, as well as access to occasional events and special materials. The ACS has more exciting things on the way. So whether you're a member of one of the three ordinariates, or even if you don't qualify to be a member, consider membership in the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS),

You see, up until now, the type of Catholicism we have seen in North America is heavily influenced by Irish, Italian and Latino immigrants. There is a small French influence as well, but that's mostly limited to Canada. In the U.K., Catholicism has been heavily influence by the Irish. All this is well and good, and I would never dream to knock any of these fine traditions. They are lovely in themselves. In fact, I have a particular fondness toward Latino Catholicism, having been surrounded by it as a child in Southern California. However, there has been something big missing in the English-speaking (Anglophone) world for a long time. It's sort of like a great big hole in the Anglophone world. It's something that once was, but has been gone for a very long time.

What we have now in the restored Anglican Patrimony, guaranteed by Rome, is the rebirth of something very old -- English Catholicism. It seems new because we haven't seen it in a very long time. In fact, it hasn't existed in a unified state since the 16th century. It has, up until now, existed only in a fractured state, between High Church Anglicanism and Recusant English Roman Catholicism. So there is nobody alive today who remembers it in a singular unified state, as exists now in the restored Anglican Patrimony embodied in Divine Worship. Nevertheless, Rome has guaranteed it, and former Anglicans (now Catholics) attest to it as well. What we have here is a form of Catholic spirituality that is specifically geared toward English-speaking (Anglophone) people, which should be especially appealing to those living in North America, the U.K., and Oceania. Obviously, this form of spirituality is not for everyone, but if you're an English-speaking Catholic, at least take some time to learn your spiritual history and heritage. Rediscover English Catholicism!

*** Edits in grey, made for clarity. Hat tip to Mark C. in comment below.


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of '' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Paiton said…
I see the ordinariate as a boon to devout Catholicism in America for all English speakers. A dire need indeed. As a born and raised Catholic English speaker the only question I have is what kept the American Episcopalians from embracing Catholicism prior to the gift from B16? I personally know several who joined my Catholic parish several years ago. Why should the gift change the conflicting beliefs held by the others?
Shane Schaetzel said…
Anglicans have never converted en mass. Conversion from Anglicanism has always been a steady trickle, rather than a torrential river. Very little changes with the Ordinariates other than to keep the trickle flowing. What we're finding is that the Ordinariates are attracting more Protestants of all different types, even Baptists, as well as Catholics with Anglican and Methodist background. This in addition to craddle Catholics fond of the Anglican Patrimony.
Shane Schaetzel said…
The following comment was made by Mark C. on the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog in response to my above essay. It's just too good not to attach here...


First, Shane is right about Sacred English being an important element of English Catholicism. But it is far from the only one. Yes, the liturgy (if it is not to be said in Latin) should be said in a sacral, hieratic form of language – either a separate liturgical language, or a distinct, higher liturgical dialect of the usual vernacular. For reasons why, see this document from the Benedict XVI-era Vatican. Indeed, almost all liturgical traditions, within Christianity and beyond, accept this principle. Orthodox worship does not use (or did not until very recently) modern Greek or Russian, but Koine / Attic Greek and Old Slavonic. Orthodox Jewish worship doesn’t use modern Israeli Hebrew (and kept using classical Hebrew even when the vernacular language of the Jewish community was Aramaic or Yiddish or Ladino). Hindu worship uses Sanskrit, not Hindi. In English, the language of the BCP and the KJV is our sacred vernacular, and this is recognized well beyond the bounds of the Anglican communion (as evidenced by the common translation of the Our Father Shane discusses), even if it was better preserved in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition than in most other corners of the English-speaking Church. Therefore, one of the gifts the Ordinariate brings to the Catholic Church in the English speaking world is the opportunity to experience worship in the sacred vernacular, just as Summorum Pontificum and the Ecclesia Dei communities give Catholics the opportunity to experience worship in the Catholic Church’s universal sacred language of Latin.

But English Catholicism is about much, much more than the use of Sacred English. It is about the prayer book form of the daily office, both for private devotion and public celebration of Mattins and Evensong. It is about sacred music, including both the English choral and chant traditions of Byrd, Tallis, and Merbecke, and the later flourishing of English hymnody under the likes of J.M. Neale, Dearmer, and Vaughan Williams. It is about a patristic approach to theology and scholarship flowing out of Oxford and Cambridge. It is about the English medieval mystical tradition of Julian of Norwich, the Cloud of Unknowing, etc., later appropriated by Anglicans and Catholics alike.

It is also wrong to say, as Shane does, that English Catholicism “hasn’t existed since the 16th century.” If English Catholicism was simply about reviving something that had died out 500 years ago, there would be little point to it. It would be like trying to revive the North African Catholicism of St. Augustine’s day. The point is English Catholicism continued to exist, but in a broken, fragmented, often hidden state, within both High Church Anglicanism and recusant English Roman Catholicism, and that Anglicans and Catholics have continued to find much good in the English Catholic tradition that has nurtured their faith. The Ordinariate should be an effort to revive English Catholicism in its fullness, bringing together all of its strands and applying them to the mission of the Church today. That may begin with the Divine Worship form of liturgy and the use of Sacred English, but it would be a real shame if it stops there.
Jason W. said…
Agreed wholeheartedly with the overwhelming majority of sentiments expressed, both in the original article, as well as in long comment shared by Shane. I particularly agree with the need to recapture a Patristic movement in the Church, and the English tradition can certainly help with that.

One thing I would add is that if we truly want to recapture the spirit of English Catholicism then we should be praying the Benedictine Office, but I recognize that the later Anglican version of the Office is what is going to show up. It's lovely and all, but I'll go Patristic all the way and stick with the Monastic Office.
Not to take anything from the Ordinariates but it seems appropriate to note that this success also has as a component, the Anglican church actively shedding its core and driving away its members. It was well pointed out that there will probably be no mass journey to Rome but I daresay the trickle will probably grow into quite a visible stream.
Jason W. said…
I certainly hope it does turn into a stream, and sooner rather than later.

The Church of England is doing it's best to kill itself, and the Catholic Church needs what the Ordinariates, if we do things properly, has to offer, namely beautiful and dignified worship, a return to Patristic focus, and a reduction of the influence of overly-romantic and feminized medieval French, etc. spirituality.

Historical English Catholicism, being formed as it was by the Benedictines, is inherently more masculine in its approach, and that is something that is BADLY needed in the Catholic Church today.