Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Brethren in Unity" -- History in Houston As Ordinariate Launches

Clad in the pontificalia of a bishop yet still the married father of three, this Sunday made for a unique moment in the life of the Stateside church as Jeffrey Steenson -- once head of the Episcopal church's most sprawling diocese -- was liturgically installed as founding shepherd of the nationwide Ordinariate for Anglicans entering the Catholic communion, dedicated to the Chair of St Peter.

While the Anglican Use Mass in the Cathedral of the new jurisdiction's see-city of Houston had initially been slated for next Sunday to coincide with the venture's patronal feast, the liturgy was moved up in light of next weekend's consistory to accommodate the presence of two of the top Vatican project's key American movers: Cardinals Donald Wuerl of Washington (Rome's delegate for the US' implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus) and Galveston-Houston's Daniel DiNardo, who's released his archdiocese's Our Lady of Walsingham parish to serve as the Ordinariate's de facto cathedral, technically termed its "principal church."

According to a pre-Mass briefing, Steenson -- a onetime sportswriter and Oxford-trained patristic scholar ordained a Catholic priest in 2009 -- was elevated to the honorary prelature during the rite.

Though precluded from becoming a Catholic bishop due to his marriage, the new monsignor -- who, unlike his English counterpart, Msgr Keith Newton, has taken to donning the violet zucchetto normally reserved for bishops -- enjoys full membership and voting rights in the USCCB. Within his charge itself, Steenson essentially has all the responsibilities and privileges of a diocesan bishop or eparch, save two: the ability to perform ordinations and consecrate oils.

With the Ordinariate's erection by CDF decree on New Year's Day, the number of American Catholic jurisdictions now stands at 198. Some hundred priests and as many as two thousand laity are expected to enter the structure just in its first wave; the first community to directly join the Ordinariate, Baltimore's Mount Calvary parish, was received by Steenson in late January. Given earlier indications from north of the border, the reach of the quasi-diocese is likewise to include Canadian groups seeking to take up Pope Benedict's 2009 offer of joint entry to Anglican communities wishing to full communion en masse.

Following sign-offs from the Vatican and their local Latin-rite bishop, the Ordinariate's approved candidates for priesthood will soon begin an expedited online program of formation, with the first of the crop likely to be ordained before year's end.

Per Rome's stipulation, it bears recalling that the new entity isn't limited to freshly-arriving groups, but any former Anglicans who had previously "swam the Tiber." Along those lines, as previously noted, the Stateside Ordinariate arguably has a leg up on its counterparts elsewhere thanks to the unique network of Anglican Use parishes that dot the country, their predominant concentration long centered in Texas.

Whether intentional or not, the new Ordinary's inaugural homily just so happened to pay homage to B16's lead hand on the Anglicanorum project, taking its springboard from the episcopal motto of the CDF prefect, Cardinal William Levada.

With that in mind, here below, Steenson's Installation Preach:

And finally, at the close of a day which John Henry Newman likely dreamed of in his time, we'd be remiss to forget the words the now-Blessed cardinal once "placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven"....

PHOTOS: Melissa Philip/Houston Chronicle