Ordinariate: the word itself

It is not exact­ly a new word in the Catholic Church, but since Angli­cano­rum coetibus was pro­mul­gat­ed near­ly two years ago, ordi­nar­i­ate has been slung around in speech in print at an expo­nen­tial­ly high­er rate than at any point pre­vi­ous. But what, when you stop and look at it, does it real­ly mean?

It’s kind of a tricky word, actu­al­ly. Like many oth­er eccle­si­as­ti­cal neol­o­gisms for posi­tions or offices, words whose Eng­lish trans­la­tions end in -ate (e.g. epis­co­pate, met­ro­pol­i­tanate, patri­ar­chate), the Latin term being trans­lat­ed here is con­struct­ed to fol­low the Fourth Declen­sion fam­i­ly of nouns, as shown here:

sin­gu­lar plur­al
nom­i­na­tive ordi­nar­ia­tus ordi­nar­ia­tus
gen­i­tive ordi­nar­ia­tus ordi­nar­iatu­um
dative ordi­nar­ia­tui ordi­nar­i­at­i­bus
accusative ordi­nar­ia­tum ordi­nar­ia­tus
abla­tive ordi­nar­iatu ordi­nar­i­at­i­bus

So the trans­la­tion is fair­ly trans­par­ent, if a tad ungain­ly to the Eng­lish-speak­ing tongue. But what does it mean? What, if any­thing, is ordi­nary about an ordi­nar­i­ate?

Well, noth­ing, real­ly, at least not in the sense the word has in every­day Eng­lish. In canon law the term indi­cates that which is the juris­dic­tion of an ordi­nar­ius (typ­i­cal­ly ren­dered in canon­i­cal Eng­lish as ordi­nary): a per­son who has rule or author­i­ty (ordo) over a par­tic­u­lar juris­dic­tion. A dioce­san bish­op is an ordi­nary in this sense: he enjoys juris­dic­tion (potes­tas) over a set ter­ri­to­ry. But he may not be the only ordi­nary in that ter­ri­to­ry. Canon 134 §1 defines the term ordi­nar­ius to include “in the law dioce­san bish­ops and oth­ers who, even if only tem­porar­i­ly, are placed over some par­tic­u­lar church or a com­mu­ni­ty equiv­a­lent to it accord­ing to the norm of can. 368 as well as those who pos­sess gen­er­al ordi­nary exec­u­tive pow­er in them, name­ly, vic­ars gen­er­al and epis­co­pal vic­ars; like­wise, for their own mem­bers, major supe­ri­ors of cler­i­cal reli­gious insti­tutes of pon­tif­i­cal right and of cler­i­cal soci­eties of apos­tolic life of pon­tif­i­cal right who at least pos­sess ordi­nary exec­u­tive pow­er.” So an ordi­nar­ius is the hold­er of an office that has some degree of juris­dic­tion, exer­cis­ing by virtue of an eccle­si­as­ti­cal office at least “gen­er­al ordi­nary exec­u­tive pow­er” with­in the cir­cum­scrip­tion of that juris­dic­tion.

A dioce­san bish­op, in his par­tic­u­lar church (i.e. his dio­cese), pos­sess­es a potes­tas that is ordi­nary, prop­er, and imme­di­ate. This means, put very briefly, that his author­i­ty is due to the office he holds (ordi­nary), exer­cised in his own name, not in the name of a supe­ri­or author­i­ty (prop­er), and applied direct­ly to his sub­jects with­out inter­me­di­aries (imme­di­ate). By con­trast, in the pro­vi­sions of AC there is a very sig­nif­i­cant vari­ance of this phrase that made all the canon­ists in the world perk up their ears and sit up straight in their chairs. The ordi­nar­ius of a per­son­al ordi­nar­i­ate for for­mer Angli­cans is to have potes­tas that is ordi­nary, vic­ar­i­ous, and per­son­al. His pow­er is due to his office, just like a dioce­san bish­op, (ordi­nary), but it is “exer­cised over all who belong to the Ordi­nar­i­ate” (per­son­al, and most inter­est­ing, it is “exer­cised in the name of the Roman Pon­tiff” (vic­ar­i­ous). This is a very dif­fer­ent (dare I say less­er?) author­i­ty than that giv­en to dioce­san bish­ops. Of course this could change over time as the exper­i­ment goes for­ward, but in the mean­time… well, make of that what you will.

Anoth­er thing to note before we go: ordi­nar­i­ate is real­ly only half the term in ques­tion. The apos­tolic con­sti­tu­tion Angli­cano­rum coetibus pro­vides for per­son­al ordi­nar­i­ates (per­son­ales ordi­nar­ia­tus). The phrase appears only five times in the text of AC, but it is enough to sketch out clear­ly what is meant. These are not ter­ri­to­r­i­al juris­dic­tions, like a dio­cese is, but juris­dic­tions over a spec­i­fied group of peo­ple, in this case for­mer Angli­cans who have joined the Catholic Church in groups (coe­tus). The ordi­nary has a flock of per­sons which, while nec­es­sar­i­ly giv­en some sort of bounds as well, is not ulti­mate­ly defined by ter­ri­to­r­i­al bound­aries. This struc­ture was already in exis­tence for hier­ar­chi­cal orga­ni­za­tion of pas­toral care of mil­i­tary per­son­nel, scat­tered as they are through­out the world. The appli­ca­tion of the idea for these new arrange­ments for for­mer­ly Angli­can con­gre­ga­tions is fas­ci­nat­ing on many lev­els, and will con­tin­ue to be watched with close inter­est by canon­ists.

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