As the anniversary comes round today of the Holy Father's initiative, Summorum pontificum, one recalls that bishops have the option, after three years, to make comments about 'problems' which have arisen. It will be interesting to see what attempts are made to bully the Pope. These occasions remind us that the Roman Catholic hierarchy worldwide is a very varied body. Its range stretches all the way from those bishops who have themselves made enthusiastic use of the newly clarified legal status of the preconciliar rite; and those whose entire pastoral energies appear to have been spent dreaming up ingenious hoops through which to force any priest courageous enough to wish to do something which the Church's supreme legislator has stated he is free to do without hindrance.
Similar questions may arise with regard to that other example of Benedictine courage: Anglicanorum coetibus. Here again, those trained in the traditional art of hoop-making may have been enabled to deploy their ancient skills. Will Ordinariates be given, as their Ordinaries, men who have suffered alongside their fellow Anglicans for the last fifteen years; who know them and know their anxieties and their hopes; who already have the experience of pastoring them; or will somebody be parachuted in who left our faith-community fifteen years ago and has been 'clubbed' by a native Roman Catholic hierarchy and its ethos? If the latter, this will give a fair indication of who has 'won' in the competition to bend the ear of Cardinal Levada. And if the local hierarchies prove indeed to have won this personal game, that victory will almost certainly be matched by an institutional triumph: the issuing of Norms for particular Ordinariates which provide very adequately for the provision of hoops. Back in the early nineties, the English RC hierarchy was deeply practised in discouraging ('discerning', as it is technically known) Anglican clerical enquirers. ("What are the English Bishops so frightened of?" as somebody once put it.) It will be illuminating to see how its attitudes have changed, this time round.
But, even looking at it from the most pessimistic stance, something will most surely have been gained. Hostile hierarchies, unsympathetic towards the Holy Father's vision of a renewed Church, may indeed demonstrate their capacity to ensure that the Ordinariates, or some of them, have small, slow, and halting starts. But what will count will be what future generations make of them. The Gospels give us the Parable of the Mustard Seed; perhaps Divine Grace will supply a pendant narrative, the Parable of the Fireworks: about how the dampest of unwanted squibs became the most coruscating pyrotechnic ever discerned in the sky.