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London’s Church of the Most Precious Blood is a thriving and diverse ordinariate-run parish

The pews are filled with a mix of Londoners that includes West Indians, French-speaking Africans, Ethiopians, Poles, Filipinos—and Irish and English.

A view from the choir gallery in London's Church of the Most Precious Blood.

A packed church for Confirmation, people crowding in to stand at the back and up the side aisles. Children dressed in white kneel one by one before the mitered prelate to receive the anointing with oil. A choir sings, “Veni, sancte Spiritus…”

A typical Catholic parish scene. Yes, but there are subtle differences. The psalm during the first part of the Mass is the Miles Coverdale translation from the 16th century, sung to a traditional Anglican chant. The parish notices and newsletter echo with words and phrases found in the Church of England: “Sunday school,” “churchwardens.”

This is the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and the first big parish Confirmation in a church that is in ordinariate care. Some 30 children and adults are being confirmed here at the Church of the Most Precious Blood in London, by Msgr. Keith Newton, the ordinary.

At a time when Mass attendance is dropping across the West, the ordinariate can fill churches—and bring back people who have lapsed. Precious Blood Church is on the south bank of the Thames close by London Bridge, and attracts good numbers for weekday Mass as people cross the river from the City as well as come from the Borough Market and nearby shops and offices. Sunday Masses are now well-filled, with a children’s choir—singing English Mass settings such as Merbeck, as well as Latin chant—and a thriving Sunday school. On Thursdays there is Evensong, and Mass celebrated in the Ordinariate Form, with prayers that are familiar to Anglicans brought up on the Book of Common Prayer: “We do not presume to come to this thy table trusting in our own righteousness…”; “But Thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy…”

Most of the children being confirmed recently at Precious Blood are not from formerly Anglican families. They are just local Catholics—and, as this is London, that means a great mix of races and nationalities. What the ordinariate has done is to mobilize and refresh a parish that has been given into ordinariate care, and local people have responded with enthusiasm to this new missionary zeal.

A Marian shrine outside the Church of the Most Precious Blood.

When Pope Benedict XVI established the ordinariate by inviting Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic Church and bring with them their traditions and their patrimony, what he effectively did was to release into the Catholic Church a considerable amount of energy and talent. Anglicans who had been working hard to try to uphold doctrinal orthodoxy in the Church of England had been kept busy—meetings, conferences, parish and deanery councils, and the General Synod all meant a great deal of writing and lobbying and planning and gathering of groups and passing of resolutions. The decision to accept the Pope’s invitation naturally brought all that to an end. But these people were also often the most active and dedicated in the Anglican parish—churchwardens, Sunday school teachers, organists, choir directors. Their energy and commitment now became available to the Catholic Church.

At Precious Blood, there is a naturalness about the renewal that has taken place since the parish was given into ordinariate care with Father Christopher Pearson as parish priest. Funds were raised to put in new heating, the church was given a wholescale and enthusiastic clean, the bells were rehung and now peal out daily for Mass and the Angelus. A Sunday school was established and in due course a children’s choir; the latter is extremely popular and involves considerable commitment and two choir practices a week.

This is a strong and lively parish. Friendships have been forged, and parish events and socializing are fun, crowded, and enjoyable. After the recent Confirmations, everyone poured out across the street to a night club, which willingly offers a room on Sunday mornings for celebrations that are too large for the parish room. Coffee and cake, speeches and snacks, a roar of talk and children tumbling about: a mix of Londoners that includes West Indians, French-speaking Africans, Ethiopians, Poles, Filipinos—and Irish and English.

Any parish is always a work in progress. The long lists of names on the War Memorial indicate how large the parish was at the time of the 1914-18 war. In those days, this was a busy industrial neighborhood: brewing, printing, and the railway network meant large numbers of working-class families, a good many of them Irish. Today the scene is different, the social mix is different, the whole way of life is different. But the Faith is ever-new, and today the pews are filled anew.


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About Joanna Bogle 62 Articles
Joanna Bogle is a journalist in the United Kingdom. Her book Newman’s London is published by Gracewing Books.

11 Comments

  1. I’ve noticed that if it weren’t for foreign catholics, british catholic churches would be really, really empty. I’m portuguese and this is the trend I’ve been witnessing – loads of foregn people are keeping the church going and alive in the UK.

    • An ordinariate is a canonical structure set up by the Vatican which accommodates Anglicans to become Roman Catholics, yet preserving some of their liturgical and spiritual patrimony. They care equivalent to dioceses, except for individual parishes rather than a whole area of cities or states. There are different personal ordinariates.

  2. As a traditional Latin Right, English speaking Catholic, I’ve always been intrigued by the Ordinariate, both in concept & in practice. I wish it’s efforts much success. But, I suppose my only true concern is whether its members are truly embraced by, and are embracing of, the of local Latin right Catholics. It seems to me that among English speakers, you end up to two churches. The Ordinariate is not a Uniate church, or is it? To me, liturgy is all important, but in this instance, Unity of Voice is more important. We must all be Roman Catholics, and say so.

    • Dear Michael. WHERE to begin? 1)”We must all be Roman Catholics and say so.”
      FIFTY FOUR YEARS ago, the 2nd Vatican Council decree Lumen Gentium proclaimed that the universal Catholic Church is “a Communion of Churches”…articles 23. There are TWENTY ONE such autonomous Churches, of which the Latin or Roman Church is one, though by far the largest,each presided over by a Patriarch or Major Archbishop.2)Please do not use the derogatory term ‘uniate’,it is deeply offensive to Catholics of the eastern Churches.3)”It seems to me that you end up with two Churches” = see note 1) above. 4) Regarding your concern re the acceptance of members of the Ordinariate by ‘Roman’ Catholics;this doesn’t apply just to Ordinariate Catholics but to members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church,the Melkites,Maronites,the Chaldeans etc etc. Attending Mass at Precious Blood church in July and spending time with Fr.Christopher and with the group at York and at Warwick St,London were highlights of our time in England. Greetings Michael from Adelaide, South Australia where today it is 41 degrees C. Gordon Carter,a friend of the small but vibrant Ordinariate community in Adelaide.

  3. With the rapid self destruction of the Anglican Church, it seems that God had provided for those who want an authentic part of the universal Catholic Church. Let us hope the process is not distorted by friction between Latin and English rites. After all, in the most turbulent parts of the world, several rites of the One Church seem to coexist rather well.

  4. In our Parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace, in Victoria BC, Canada, we have Novus Ordo Masses in English and Hungarian languages; Traditional Latin Masses and Ordinariate Masses, all peacefully celebrating their sacred liturgies in assigned timeslots. Somr parishioners will attend more than a single rite.

    • Peter that’s the way it should be in every Catholic church on the planet. Vatican II never intended to obliterate Latin from the Liturgy. That the result of the nefarious “Spirit of Vat II”, a spirit that Vatican hierarchy intends to complete. A completion that changes the miracle from water into wine to wine into water.

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