One year after Anglicanorum Coetibus was published, but before any Anglican ordinariates had actually been stood up, Claudio Salvucci wrote about them over at New Liturgical Movement, and his remarks are worth recalling seven years later.
He was responding to those seeking to sow doubt on what Pope Benedict had done by suggesting they’d be and forever remain “a tiny, negligible enclave of Anglo-Catholics” that would be lost in the sea of “the giant megalith that is Roman Catholicism” and that it wouldn’t expand much beyong “the handful of parishes that now comprise the Anglican Use in the United States”. Yet Salvucci clearly saw the potential of the ordinariates and correctly understood that size wasn’t the real indicator of their success.
“Size matters not… Judge me by my size do you?”
Salvucci then reviewed some of the different ritual traditions in the Catholic Church and pointed out how tiny so many of them are. We minority communities in the Church can’t all be the UGCC! He mentioned the Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church (3845 members, 9 parishes, 1 bishop), the Greek Byzantine Catholic Church (2525 members, 4 parishes, and 1 bishop), the Bulgarian Catholic Church (10,000 members, 21 parishes, 1 bishop), and the Georgian Byzantine-Rite Catholics who “number perhaps only 500”. There is also the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, also known as the Russian Orthodox in communion with Rome, but they too are one of the smallest of the Catholic Churches and have been without an exarch for decades now. Yet their existence is a great sign of hope for Catholics of the Russian tradition.
Similarly, the continued existence of such tiny communities as those of the Mozarabic or Iroquois traditions is a great sign of the universality of the Catholic Church. (He even mentions the Hebrew vicariate in Israel, which brings to mind the idea of a Jewish ordinariate that some have called for.) The loss of any of these legitimate and dignified rites or traditions, including our own, would be a major loss for the Church.
The Church’s dignity is such, that for her to be monolithically of one rite only would contradict her nature. The plurality of rites beautifes and glorifies the Church and shows forth her inner nature as truly universal. The Church is not contingent on any one particular culture, not even the Roman. (Peter himself was Jewish, after all.)
This is a reminder that we have to be diligent and work hard to preserve our Anglican way of being Catholic. Salvucci continues:
“These little ritual enclaves have struggled, in many cases, against great odds and sometimes the hostility of priests, bishops, and even popes, to survive. Some others, unfortunately, weren’t so lucky.
“The church in my mother’s Albanian-speaking town in Italy originally had an iconostasis and was bi-ritual (Latin and Byzantine). It ceased to be so, however, in the mid-1700s, apparently due to mounting hostility from Latin bishops…
“Whatever their numbers, these little enclaves are, in their own way, evidence of the Church’s universal nature. Catholicity is defined not only, as we sometimes tend to think, by the mere quantity of membership but also by the way it crowns each and every culture with which it has come into contact. That the Church can speak not only in Latin but also in Iroquois, Hebrew and Malayalam is a different kind of universality than mere numbers–and it is no less important.”
At the end of the day, “The Church is a family of unique individuals all tied together by love. And in every family worth the name, it is always the case that the littlest members are the most precious and dearest of all.”
We in the Anglican family who are now full members of the Catholic Church are witnesses to the rest of our Anglican brothers and sisters of the vitality of our Anglican tradition in the fullness of Catholicism.
So yes, we have work to do to evangelize, to expand and promote the ordinariates, and to ensure the preservation of our Anglican way of worshipping and being Christian, but we should also keep in mind that our small size and slow, organic growth in no way means we are failing. Rather, our continued existence as a Catholic Church of the Anglican tradition is a sign for all whom we come across of the truth and universality of the Catholic faith.