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.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Pentecost Vigil at Oxford Blackfriars


On Saturday evening, following my return to central Oxford, I went to the Pentecost Vigil at Blackfriars, which I advertised in a recent post. Last year I was unable to attend, but I had been on two previous occasions. This was, as I mentioned, a celebration of their patronal feast, so the candles were in place and burning before the consecration crosses around the church, adding to the sense of occasion.

The rite was a Dominican adaptation of the Novus ordo provision for the Vigil, consisting of First Vespers, Vigil readings  - four in number, from Genesis, Exodus, Ezekiel and Joel, with responsorial psalms or other sung pieces and prayers  - and Solemn Mass. The liturgy, staging of the ceremonial and the overall appearance of the church, all could be described as fulfilling the idea of "noble simplicity." Thus, although one might be drawn instinctively to a more ceremonious style, this was an elegant and dignified way of marking one of the great feasts of the Church by more than just Sunday observance - one felt that something significant was indeed happening in the life of the Body of Christ.

Thus in a simple context the use of handsome red vestments, the presence of six tall candles in simple holders on the forward altar  as well as those burning in the candlesticks on the high altar, the plentiful amount of smoke produced by the thurifer -  he is, incidentally, a young Dominican I had the privilege of teaching medieval church history in the autumn - and the extensive use of latin produced a fine blend of old and new, and with asense of the distinctively Dominican heritage.

The principal celebrant and preacher was Fr Richard Ounsworth OP. His sermon drew out the inherent meaning of the Spirit's action in "sighs too deep for words" - these are not mearly sighs, they are the groans of childbearing, and that through that pain comes the joy of new birth. Maybe having been to baptism that very afternoon made this all the more apposite, but it was a forceful elucidation of the spiritual quest of us all, and the action of the Holy Spirit in shaping our lives.

As in previous years this was a good liturgical occasion to participate in, and an indication of what other churches could perhaps offer to mark the Vigil .

If I can find some photographs of the liturgy online - I noticed  they were being taken - I will post them when I can.


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