The Bishop of Ebbsfleet wants more nuanced expression of collegiality at ordination services

Though I find myself in substantial agreement with Fr Hunwicke’s article, Brothers together (May 2006), I should want to develop one or two of the points further.

In these ecumenical days, when clergy of different communions attend priestly ordinations, it would be impossible and restrictive to insist that all priests present at an ordination lay on hands and it would be an impoverishment – and an innovation – to restrict those laying on hands to priests of a particular diocese. This latter point suggests that when a bishop, surrounded by the presbyterium, is ordaining, he is not the Bishop of X with the presbyters of the diocese of X – though that will sometimes be the case – but a Catholic bishop, surrounding himself with priests of the Church of God, ordaining a new priest for the Catholic Church. Ordination is not incardination and it is not purely local.

Eucharistic celebrations

The most helpful model for all this, in my view, is the notion that the bishop, whenever he celebrates the Eucharist, creates a fresh eucharistic community. This is the essential creativity of the one ‘who has a vision from on high, who sees with the heart’ – as the Pope translated the Italian word for ‘bishop’ (vescovo) in his address on Apostolic Succession on 10 May. Sometimes that eucharistic community is for that time only, as when priests gather together with the bishops to concelebrate the pilgrimage mass at Walsingham. Sometimes that eucharistic community is a reflection of a eucharistic community that continues and has its own ontology, as when a diocesan bishop celebrates with the priests and deacons and holy faithful.

What has become sadly disrupted in the Church of England – not because of the ordination of women to the priesthood in itself but because of the decision of the Church of England to try to live out the reality of a fractured presbyterium and, who knows?, later a fractured episcopate – is the ontology of these on-going eucharistic communities.

For some, this is so serious a problem that the Church of England is becoming no longer a church and the Anglican Communion no longer a communion. For others, there is no essential difference between the complexities of the present and the complexities of the past, as described, for instance in Fr Aidan Nichols’ The Panther and the Hind.

Meanwhile bishops continue to create fresh eucharistic communities and diocesan bishops continue to try to maintain the ontology of dioceses with fractured communions. Provincial Episcopal Visitors (amongst others) are neither just creating fresh eucharistic communities nor trying to maintain fractured communions but trying to create and maintain a different kind of ontology, which has its own ecumenical and eschatological energy, but which is often mistaken for sectarianism (sometimes mischievously so). Creating this ontology, and building it up in relationship with diocesans and dioceses, is a distinct and essential pontifical task.

Ecumenical support

With regard to priests and ministers with whom the bishop is not in full eucharistic communion, one would hope that, at any ordination, there would be a welcome for such – not just ‘froth and decoration’. To invite them to share in the laying on of hands would be uncatholic and unreal, and a confusing and distracting symbol. Such is scarcely affected by whether the laying on of hands is simultaneous or consecutive. Moreover the notion of ‘just a blessing’ is a modern invention: in the Bible there is nothing to be received which is greater or less than God’s blessing, other than the gift of God’s very self (which justifies the blessing of those unable to receive Holy Communion).

However, there should be an opportunity within the ordination service for ministers of other communions and those with whom one is not in full eucharistic communion to attend, pray and welcome the newly ordained. Such are the basic courtesies necessary amidst godly pluralism.