It sounds grand now, but then it was a bit daunting. We had no church building; we had only a handful of people; what we were doing hadn’t been done by anybody before, as we were given the mission of establishing an Anglican Use – a specific identity – within the Catholic Church. Would it work? No one knew. In fact, very few really understood what it was all about. But Pope John Paul II had the idea that this was something worth doing – bringing in our small community of former Anglicans, and bringing in our particular liturgical and devotional life, and giving it a home in the Catholic Church. And there were others in Rome who saw the possibilities – people such as a Cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger, then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and subsequently the successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI. So, armed with the support of men like that, and strengthened by the grace of God, we set about the task of establishing the Anglican Use in the Catholic Church. And see where it’s led – Ordinariates have been established which allow Anglicans to return to the Catholic Church, bringing with them a liturgy, a spirituality, and a common identity which will serve to enrich the whole Church. And our little parish, thirty-five years ago today, served as the experiment – we have become the model – for one of the most historic developments in the Catholic Church in more than five hundred years.
Why did all of this happen? Because Christ wants it. He desires that His Church should be one. “May they be one, Father, as we are one,” He prayed on the night before He died. So, this is part of the fulfillment of the Will of God.
How did this happen? By the grace of God, and through prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of the Church. Like any good mother, Mary wants all her children to be unified, to be “at one” with one another. It’s no accident that our parish was established on the Solemnity of the Assumption. In fact, it wasn’t supposed to be on that day. Permission for my ordination and for the establishment of the parish had come from Rome in July, on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of the Atonement. The archbishop asked me to come to his office so we could discuss some possible dates for all this to take place, and he asked me if I had any particular date in mind. I told him that I’d like it to be a date associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that my first choice would be August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption. As he began to leaf through his calendar, he was telling me that it wouldn’t be possible to have it then, because he was always fully committed to other events in the archdiocese on an important Solemnity like that. As he was turning the pages, he stopped mid-sentence, and looked up at me with a puzzled look on his face. As he looked down again, he said to me, “I don’t understand this. There’s nothing written here at all! I’m completely free on the 15th. You have the date.”
So you see, by the Divine Will of God, the golden thread of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been woven throughout this whole thing. I should be speaking about the mystery of the Assumption itself today, but at this historic time when we remember what God did in this place, and then the subsequent promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus, which put into the general law of the Church a structure which extends what we are as a parish, throughout the whole world, I wanted to speak of the essential role of the Virgin Mary in all of this.
She, who was chosen from the beginning to be the New Eve, the one who would be instrumental in crushing the head of the serpent; she, who was foretold by the prophet as the Virgin who would conceive and bear a son; she, who was immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother St. Anne; she, who was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and given the knowledge that the Child would bring salvation to the world; she, who stood silently by the Cross, her heart pierced with sorrow; she, who when she breathed her last was taken body and soul into heaven where she now reigns as queen – it is she whose prayers have supported us, and who has watched over us as a mother for these past thirty-five years.
There should be no safer place for a child than when he’s in the arms of his mother. And what a beautiful image it is, when a mother lifts her child up, when she wants him to see something important over the heads of a crowd. Mary our Mother lifts us up, so that we can see something – or rather, Someone – who is most important; namely, Christ her Son. Mary our Mother lifts us up. She lifts us up, and she lifts our cares and our concerns, and our whole being, all up to her Divine Son. She lifts us up in her Immaculate Heart so that we can catch a glimpse of the glory that will be ours in heaven.
For some thirty-five years the people of this parish have been lifted up to God through the intercession of Mary, under the title of Our Lady of the Atonement. As we celebrate her Assumption, let’s rededicate ourselves to God, and to the Mother He chose for Himself and for all of us, so that in every way, and in all things, we may always be her loving and faithful children.