Mass Unity

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by Benjamin Starnes  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 29, 2021   

Catholic liturgy doesn't divide

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OMAHA, Neb. (ChurchMilitant.com) - While the Roman pontiff is restricting the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) statedly to unite Catholics, a former Anglican enjoys unity with Holy Mother Church and celebrates a third form of the Latin rite.

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Fr. Stephen Hilgendorf

(Photo: Joe Ruff/The Catholic Spirit)

Earlier this month, Fr. Stephen Hilgendorf told The Catholic Spirit how he found unity with the Catholic Church when he was uprooted in 2017 from the Anglican church in Minnesota and planted last month in Omaha, Nebraska as a Catholic priest in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

The Ordinariate celebrates a Vatican-approved Anglican adaptation of the Latin rite that is distinct from the Novus Ordo liturgy. Hilgendorf's story of priestly unity with the Church comes while Pope Francis is quashing, supposedly for the sake of unity, another approved form of the Latin rite — the TLM.

The former Anglican related his position in the Anglican church was difficult to leave behind but added theological and moral truth guided him into full communion with the Catholic Church.

He explained, "I came to realize I was more Catholic than I knew, particularly on moral questions."

Diverse Liturgical Expressions

Many Catholics are unaware there are various liturgical expressions of the Latin rite, which include not only the TLM and the Novus Ordo, but also the Anglican adaptation as well. There are also more than 20 Eastern rites. Both Eastern rites and Western rites are valid, diverse and treasured ways of celebrating Holy Mass. The Vatican-approved Catholic missal created for Anglicans is considered an "adaptation" of the Roman rite rather than a new rite.

The Anglican adaptation of the Latin rite was part of a larger effort to bring Anglicans into the unity of the Catholic Church initiated by Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. It sought to welcome Anglican converts to Catholicism by recognizing elements of Catholicism within traditional Anglican liturgy and prayers. As a result, a special juridical entity called "The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter" was created in 2012 to welcome Anglican converts to Catholicism.

The Vatican-approved Catholic missal created for Anglicans is considered an 'adaptation' of the Roman Rite rather than a new rite.

A special commission called Anglicanae Traditiones was responsible for identifying elements of authentic Catholic worship within traditional Anglican services. After these traditional Catholic elements were identified and compiled, the Vatican approved the new missal — Divine Worship: The Missal — at the end of 2015. One writer notes: "They claim that their liturgy is a faithful 16th-century translation of the Latin Mass."


One member of the commission, Dr. Clinton Brand, observed regarding the final product: "We have this traditional, distinctive divine worship — The Missal — that represents the language of the long prayer book tradition from 1549 through the 1960s and surviving yet today."

Before he was ordained, the first bishop for the Personal Ordinariate in 2016, Steven Lopes, served on the commission as a layman and in 2015 noted regarding the then newly approved Missal "the liturgical celebrations of the Ordinariate are an indispensable part of its mission."

Papal Perspectives

In 2016, Bp. Lopes discussed the new missal and his meeting with Pope Francis, exclaiming:

Pope Francis was enormously encouraging! It is clear to me that with his approval of a proper missal for the ordinariates and with my appointment as bishop, he is giving concrete expression to the vision of Pope Benedict XVI for the unity of Christians. That vision is essentially this: Unity in faith allows for a diversity of expression of that same faith.

Benedict XVI wrote in the opening sentences of Anglicanorm Coetibus, "Indeed, the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches, could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization."

Later in the document, Benedict continued:

Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments ... according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.

Fr. Hilgendorf's testimony — and the roots of the current Personal Ordinariate and Anglican-use Mass — serve as a reminder that perhaps Pope Benedict XVI's unifying and pastoral initiative represented in Anglicanorum Coetibus will soon be unraveled by another pontiff claiming to care about unity and pastoral sensitivity.

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