A Priest from the Northern Province reflects on the Bishop of London’s Ad Clerum

Some readers of New Directions may be feeling a little disappointed – if not infuriated – to read the Bishop’s Pastoral Letter on the Eucharistic Life of the Church in London in which, as a response to the new translation of the Roman Missal which the majority of Roman Rite parishes in the Church of England are using with great success, he writes that ‘for those who remain [as opposed to joining the Ordinariate] there can be no logic in the claim to be offering the Eucharist in communion with the Roman Church which the adoption of the new rites would imply. In these rites there is not only a prayer for the Pope but the expression of a communion with him; a communion Pope Benedict XVI would certainly repudiate.’

There can be little doubt that Anglo-Catholicism has at times attracted a small minority of fantasists and Roman Catholic-manques. There can equally be little doubt that few of them are left. Those of us that do remain use the Roman Rite not out of a desire to perpetuate a fantasy but as an expression of our desire for the Unity for which Jesus Christ longed. The Bishop urges our parishes not to ‘create further disunity by adopting the new rites.’ Readers may be forgiven for thinking that on the list of things currently threatening disunity in the Church of England, the adoption of Eucharistic services used by the majority of Western Catholic Christians would be a long way down the list.

The Bishop writes that those parishes which adopt the new rites ‘are making a clear statement of their disassociation not only from the Church of England but from the Roman Communion as well. This is a pastoral unkindness to the laity and a serious canonical matter.’ Readers may be forgiven for finding the Bishop’s logic a little hard to follow, and his concern for the laity a little patronizing. I have yet to encounter a pastoral visit or Home Communion which has been hampered by the new requirement to respond ‘And with your Spirit.’

Readers may also be forgiven for wondering what precisely is the point of all this, given the Bishop’s statement that ‘there will be no persecution and no creation of ritual martyrs.’ Why bother, then, except to give succour to those who have long opposed Roman Rite parishes and everything they stand for? Readers may finally be forgiven for recalling the sketch from Beyond the Fringe, in which an upper-class officer approaches a soldier and tells him: ‘We need a pointless sacrifice, and I think you’re just the man.’