As we celebrate this Fifth Anniversary of our Ordinariate, we naturally celebrate also our Founder ... with very much love and loyalty and with thanksgiving to God. I don't know if you remember where you were when you heard of Benedict's election: I certainly do (a little village near Land's End), and I recall that sudden surge of exultation: Our friend has become Pope! Now anything can happen!
Three things which did happen, three linked things, stand out about the last Pontificate: its teaching with regard to the Hermeneutic of Reform in Continuity within the Church; Summorum Pontificum; and Anglicanorum coetibus. I will return to these in a moment.
I wish I could have added, as a fourth, the Year of Faith. In that Year, the Holy Father hoped that there would at last be a real appropriation of what the Council actually said. Sadly, his attempt was not a great success. 'Traddies' simply hope that the Council will soon be forgotten. 'Trendies' have a terrible gnawing fear which plagues their sleeping hours ... the hideous nightmare that, even now, ordinary Catholics might actually read the Conciliar documents and thus recognise the deceits practised upon them after the end of the Council by well-meaning men who were prepared to tell lies because they were in a hurry.
It was in the interests of neither agenda to blow the dust off those old yellowing ('Abbott') paperbacks!
What Pope Benedict realised was that the post-Conciliar corruptions had become too deeply rooted for them to be eliminated overnight by mere executive fiat ... although he did provide back-up in Magisterial documents to which reference could be made. He selected instead, for his weapon, the interesting and fashionable idea called subsidiarity. When bishops clamorously invoke this notion, what, of course, they have in mind is a power-grab for bishops and their Conferences. Elegantly, even craftily, Benedict undercut this by conferring upon every presbyter of the Latin Church the right to use the 'Extraordinary Form' without needing permission from anyone! The sheer outrageous cheek of it! Subsidiarity, not as an extra weapon for bully-boy liberal bishops, but as an inalienable right for each and every individual presbyter however junior; indeed, for any coetus of laics! Naturally, the 'trendier' areas within bishopland exploded in fury and attempted to contrive ingenious ways of circumventing the legislation. Sed frustra.
By the way: it is worth recalling the doctrinal element in that initiative: Benedict's clear and explicit teaching that a rite, sanctified by a millennium and a half of use, cannot [not just should not: cannot] simply be abolished. In other words, in liturgical matters Tradition counts for more, has far more auctoritas, than mere legislative enactments. This is distinctly revolutionary stuff for Catholics. It is only within Anglican Catholic and Orthodox circles that I had heard it before ... most insistently when I used to talk with the erudite Prebendary Michael Moreton of Exeter (see my post of two or three days ago). Seventy years ago Dom Gregory Dix wrote about "the sanction in Liturgy" being "not 'law' but 'custom'".
Benedict's mistrust of 'liberal' episcopates lies also at the heart of his wise provisions for Catholic Anglicans. He had experienced the debacle of the 1990s (well described in Dr Oddie's The Roman Option), and was determined to learn from the mistakes made in that sad period. Accordingly, he carefully avoided consulting local hierarchies (and, happily, no leaker broke his confidences); very sensibly, he brought his plans to fruition in private and then sprang them on a waiting world. At their joint damage-limitation News Conference, Vincent Nichols looked even more shock-stricken than Rowan Williams! It was an odd moment for us: we were consumed with joy while the Archbishop we were deserting, and the Archbishop we were joining, both seemed equally horrified!
And, when we looked at the small print, we discovered that the Pope had done his best to build in protections against local episcopates who might attempt to take the game over. When a new Ordinary is to be appointed, the Terna is not composed by a Nuncio who might, in some cases, possibly have 'gone native' and adopted the midset of some of the local bishops. No; the Council of the Ordinariate composes the Terna. This detail also showed his great confidence in both the orthodoxy and the prudence of future Ordinariate clergy who at that point had not even yet entered into Full Communion. The contacts we had made had done their job. He knew us. He trusted us.
Benedict attempted to leave in place a carefully developed Magisterium; but the essence of his plan was to give to good men and true, whether Latin Mass Catholics or Arriving Anglicans or whoever, the freedoms and protections to follow the guidance, the gentle breath, of the Holy Spirit, with as little risk as might be of local ecclesiastical oppression.
I do not see what more this good old man could have done, or how he could have done better what he did do. It is now for us to burnish the tarnished sanctities, to drive the smoke of Satan out of the Temple, and to draw the People of God back to the Faith which sanctified and saved their ancestors ... pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova ... the Faith of our Fathers which in many places is now almost forgotten, or is viewed with that same ideological hatred which the regime of Elizabeth Tudor stirred up against it centuries ago in the Age of the Martyrs. "Give us the tools and we'll finish the job", we said to Joseph Ratzinger. He obliged. God calls us, not to whinge, but to do.
My goodness me, what an exhilarating pontificate that was in which to be alive! Quis inter doctores Benedicto sapientior? Quis inter mystagogas sagacior? Vivat, Vivat Benedictus! Ad multos annos, plurimosque annos! Vivat! VIVAT!! VIVAT!!!