Walsingham: An Open Door?
Preparing for Monday’s National pilgrimage to Walsingham I read the latest (Candlemas) edition of the Walsingham review. There is a fine introduction by Fr Philip Barnes, the interim administrator, which can also be found on the shrine website here. Like the front cover “an Open Door” is the phrase that dominates, focussing on the door of mercy which is such a theme of this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
A double page spread further into The Walsingham Review explains the position of the Guardians and the practice of the shrine now that the Church of England has ordained women to the episcopate.
In the new situation only priests who are Associates of the Holy House or who are granted ‘guest’ status temporarily will be able to preside or concelebrate Mass at the shrine; these are, and will be, male priests ordained by male bishops or within a ‘line’ (not a phrase of the article) of male bishops. This is a perfectly logical position stemming from the stated need for ‘sacramental assurance’ of those who cannot accept the ordination of women. It is also, it seems to me, in line with the Five Guiding Principles of the House of Bishops’ Declaration.
I suppose the only new element for me in the article is the passage:
“As the Bishop of Norwich has said, we believe that Walsingham is a place where it should feel ‘normal’ to be a traditional catholic. As such, it should be normal to share the pilgrimage experience with those who do not necessarily share our sacramental discipline.”
I think this is a strong statement. I, with many others, have hoped that Walsingham would be a place where all Catholic Anglicans – those who welcome the ordination of women and those who don’t, might find a home – and I still think there are alternative ways of doing this within the logic, the ‘sacramental discipline’ of those who don’t receive the ministry of women as priests. This statement goes further than that and make it clear that those of us who receive the ministry of women as priests are ‘welcomed’ to the shrine, and the pilgrim experience is ‘shared’ with us, but it is not ours. For many of us who have regarded and do regard Walsingham as a spiritual ‘home’ this is a hard thing to hear and we must make our own decisions about our engagement with the shrine.
The question for me is how much engagement with the shrine and with those who don’t receive the ministry of women as priests and bishops is a betrayal of my sister priests, and that remains an open question. At the moment many of my much loved sisters in the Sodality will attend the National on Monday and, unlike me, be unable to concelebrate the pilgrimage Mass (as incidentally is my diocesan bishop). I offered to organise a concelebrated Mass somewhere nearby early in the day but it was decided not to do that. So, I shall concelebrate the Mass while (for example) the Assistant Superior of the Sodality is not able to. That is a reality we live with and one in which the Church of England lives and hopefully in which we can find and receive grace.
For me I would like to consider the possibilities for developing a Marian shrine elsewhere where all priests, men and women, are not just welcomed as guests but can genuinely find a home, not as an alternative, but in addition to Walsingham. That remains to be seen.
However, I do think the door is open at Walsingham. If the catholic movement within our church is to be revived I have no doubt that it will be because all Catholic Anglicans work together. Just this week, as I write, the Sodality has received such great gifts of wisdom and insight from Canon Robin Ward. Many of us will be at the national on Monday. If the door is open – and I have no doubt that it is – we should graciously accept the welcome given and work together “beyond the limits of the present” as the Guardians put it, for the evangelisation of England.
I am delighted to hear that a number of diocesan bishops will be at the pilgrimage on Monday. The Guiding Principles offer us an opportunity to serve the Lord together and together receive his blessing.
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.
Thank you to Simon Sarmiento for finding the whole magazine online here, scroll down to the article.
I offer an alternative solution here.