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Will 'Anglicanorum' get the 'Traditionis' treatment?

At the center of Pope Francis’s 2021 motu proprio Traditionis custodes is a call for liturgical unity among Latin Catholics, a sense that worship according to common liturgical rubrics will foster more spiritual communion among members of the same sui iuris Church.

To that end, the papal text declares that “the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”

The motu proprio was the reversal of a 2007 decision from Pope Benedict XVI, who in Summorum ponficum extended wide-ranging permissions for priests to celebrate liturgies with the rubrics promulgated before the Second Vatican Council began a set of reforms. While the pre-conciliar rubrics remained popular among only a relatively small minority of practicing Catholics, their use grew significantly after Benedict’s liberalization policy.

In light of Pope Francis’ significant restrictions on that front, some Catholics have asked whether the pope might take aim at another Benedict XVI liturgical project — the popularization of the “Anglican Use” a liturgical variant first approved by Pope St. John Paul II, which expanded in use significantly during the papacy of John Paul’s successor.

In short, as Francis puts the kibosh on liturgical variability in the Latin Catholic Church, could the Anglican Use be next on the chopping block?


In 1980, Pope St. John Paul II approved a plan that would allow formerly Anglican or Episcopalian priests to be ordained - even if they were married - and to encourage the creation of personal parishes for converting Anglican or Episcopalian communities. 

The plan, called the Pastoral Provision, also allowed a liturgical text, the Book of Divine Worship, which contained rubrics for a variant of the Roman liturgy, and incorporated language the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, along with other elements of the Anglican liturgical and devotional tradition.

The use of that text was fairly limited until 2009, when Pope Benedict XVI promulgated Anglicanorum coetibus, an apostolic constitution that allowed for the creation of personal ordinariates — effectively non-territorial dioceses — for Anglicans and Episcopalians entering full communion with the Church.

Those ordinariates - there are now three - would be able to incardinate their own clerics, establish their own parishes, and generally operate as Catholic particular churches, with liturgy, culture, and devotion reflecting the spirituality and history of Anglican Christianity.

The liturgy used by the Anglican ordinariates developed in 2015, when a new text, called “Divine Worship: The Missal,” became the normative liturgical rubric for the Anglican personal ordinariates.

When that text was promulgated, one Anglican ordinariate officials said it was “the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that the liturgical texts of a separated Christian community have been brought back into the life of the Church of Rome. This missal is now recognized by the Church as standing side by side with the Roman Missal.”

While that accomplishment was once broadly celebrated in the Church, Pope Francis has had a different perspective on liturgy, urging unity among all Catholics in the use of the current ordinary iteration of the Roman Missal.

That’s why some commentators have asked if Anglicanorum coetibus, and with it the “Divine Worship” missal, might be suppressed during Francis’ pontificate.

Holy Mass offered according to the Anglican Use:

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For his part, the pontiff has something of a mixed record on the Anglican personal ordinariates — and some former Anglicans have long been concerned that the pope might be keen to end the ecclesiastical experiment Benedict began.

After Francis was elected pope in 2013, an Argentine Anglican bishop told friends that the pontiff was “an inspired choice” for the papacy.

Anglican Bishop Greg Venables related an anecdote that fell into broad circulation:

“He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the Church needs us as Anglicans,” Venables told friends.

The anecdote led to speculation, almost immediately, that Pope Francis would suppress the ordinariates and the Anglican Use. Of course, the pontiff didn’t. But for some, the 2021 promulgation of Traditionis custodes revived the fear.

On the other hand, the pope’s major policy decision on the Anglican ordinariates suggests he’s become more accepting of their place in the Church than he was once.

Pope Francis in 2019 published norms that made it easier for those evangelized by ordinariate Catholics to join the ordinariates themselves — even those who had been baptized as Catholics in infancy. The pope also clarified that any priest could offer the Anglican Use liturgies if there was a legitimate pastoral need for them. 

Further, diocesan implementation plans for Traditiones custodes, and the pope’s own comments, all indicate that the pope restricted the Extraordinary Form of the Mass because of Vatican concerns - however legitimate - that traditionalist communities had become particularly saturated with dissent from Catholic doctrine, most especially for rejection of the Second Vatican Council.

Anglican ordinariates do not generally carry that baggage — while their members and hierarchs skew Ratzingerian on theological matters, and their liturgy is infused with sacral language and music, they are not especially seen as combatants in the liturgical and theological conflicts that have plagued the Church in recent years.

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Regardless of what the pope actually thinks about the Anglican ordinariates, there are practical reasons why Francis is not likely to “pull a Traditionis” on the Anglican ordinariates, or their liturgy.

First, unlike the Extraordinary Form liturgies restricted by Traditionis custodes, the Anglican Use takes place almost entirely within the context of juridic structures - the ordinariates themselves - which exist basically to protect a liturgical patrimony.

To suppress the Anglican Use without suppressing the ordinariates would not make sense; they would become personal ordinariates with no distinguishing patrimony, and therefore nothing to actually distinguish them from territorial dioceses. And suppressing the ordinariates is no easy thing — they have property that would need to be dispersed, and Catholics who would need to find new homes. 

But most especially, they have clerics. 

Between the three ordinariates are nearly 200 diocesan priests, all of whom would need to find new places of incardination if Francis were to suppress their liturgy and juridic institutions. And those clerics are not easily incardinated in other dioceses — a hugely disproportionate number of them are married, with children, and, obviously, supporting them would be a much bigger undertaking than is accepting a celibate priest. Even dioceses with major vocations crises realize that the cost of incorporating married priests is not always sustainable. 

Married ordinariate clergy are, of course, not getting rich from parish ministry, and many of them are already in the position of finding other kinds of employment to make ends meet. But whatever the challenges they’re currently facing, the ordinariate is likely far better positioned to accommodate and support them than are most U.S. or U.K. dioceses.

Further, the Church has seen in recent years a number of high-profile converts, especially from the Church of England. Anglican bishops and priests are now regularly received into the Church, and incorporated into the ordinariate. It would be, of course, jarring for most of them to learn that the structure and arrangement they’d been promised by the Church — one which respected them enough to respect their liturgical customs and tradition — had been rescinded. 

Ordinariate clerics have told The Pillar they believe the narrative among prospective Anglican converts would quickly become that the Church is not trustworthy, and does not keep it promises.

But the consequences would not end there. The real risk of suppressing the ordinariate lies in the area of ecumenism - an area of importance to Pope Francis - where a narrative which says that the Church makes promises, and triumphalstistically rescinds them when she wishes, would likely undermine any number of ongoing ecumenical dialogues and joint initiatives.

By some estimates, suppressing the ordinariate would confirm the most difficult stereotypes for the Church’s ecumenical work — that Rome will say whatever she needs to build bonds, but intends ultimately to make of every believer a garden variety Latin Catholic.

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Of course, it’s not clear whether Pope Francis has made any connection between the Anglican Use and his thoughts on the existence of a singularly “unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”

And the pope’s most high-profile exception to the norms of Traditionis custodes is probably the most instructive indicator of what he might do. While at least one U.S. bishop has taken a different approach, Francis has opted to exempt one incardinating juridic structure founded to protect a liturgical patrimony - the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter - from the dictates of Traditionis custodes.

That exemption is probably the best indicator that the pope has no designs on the Anglican Use, or the ordinariates which offer it. And after a tempestuous meeting of the world’s Anglican bishops last week, the Church may soon that find more of those would-be ordinariate members are looking for a familiar home across the Tiber.

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