Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.
I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.
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I am a Catholic and a historian based in Oxford, where I am a member of Oriel College. My research, for a long delayed D.Phil., is a study of Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln in the second decade of the fifteenth century. I also work as a freelance tutor in History and as an independent tour guide.
I was received into the Church in 2005 and am a Brother of the External Oratory of St Philip Neri at the Oxford Oratory.
I was charmed as usual last Sunday by the recessional hymn we sang following the Solemn Mass at the Oxford Oratory. It is by Fr F.W.Faber (1814-63) and I thought I would share it with readers.
It is Faber at his best - presenting theological truth with warmth and emotion, and using vivid images, but it is restrained at the same time - not as 'over the top' as he could be when it came to devotion to Our Lady. I am grateful to my friend Irim Sarwar who hunted out the text on the internet for me. The hymn's charm is enhanced by its lilting, slightly bouncy tune, which is from an Oratorian compilation of 1870, and can be founfd in the Oratory sponsored Catholic Hymnal. It seems a very appropriate piece to share on Christmas Eve.
Like the dawning of the morning On the mountains’ golden heights, Like the breaking of the moon-beams On the gloom of cloudy nights; Like a secret told by Angels, Getting known upon the earth, Is the Mother’s Expectation Of Messiah’s speedy birth.
Thou wert happy, Blessed Mother, With the very bliss of Heaven, Since the Angel’s salutation In thy raptured ear was given; Since the Ave of that midnight, When thou wert anointed Queen, Like a river over-flowing Hath the grace within thee been.
On the mountains of Judea, Like the chariot of the Lord, Thou wert lifted in thy spirit By the uncreated Word; Gifts and graces flowed upon thee In a sweet celestial strife And the growing of thy Burden Was the lightening of thy life.
And what wonders have been in thee All the day and all the night, While the angels fell before thee, To adore the Light of Light. While the glory of the Father Hath been in thee as a home, And the sceptre of creation Hath been wielded in thy womb.
And the sweet strains of the Psalmist Were a joy beyond control, And the visions of the prophets Burnt like transports in thy soul; But the Burden that was growing, And was felt so tenderly, It was Heaven, it was Heaven, Come before its time to thee.
Oh the feeling of thy Burden, It was touch and taste and sight; It was newer still and newer, All those nine months, day and night. Like a treasure unexhausted, Like a vision uconfess’d, Like a rapture unforgotten, It lay ever at they breast.
Every moment did that Burden Press upon thee with new grace; Happy Mother! Thou art longing To behold the Saviour’s Face! Oh his Human face and features Must be passing sweet to see Thou hast seen them, happy Mother! Ah then, show them now to me.
Thou hast waited, Child of David, And thy waiting now is o’er; Thou hast seen Him, Blessed Mother, And wilt see Him evermore! O His Human Face and Features, They were passing sweet to see; Thou beholdest them this moment, Mother, show them now to me.