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.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Gregorian celebrations

This weekend I have attended two liturgical celebrations to mark the feast of St Gregory the Great.

On Saturday, his modern feast day, and the day of his election as Pope in 590, the Oxford Ordinariate Group evening Mass was for the feast, and accompanied by Gregorian chant from the schola Chorus Anglorum. The Mass itself was celebrated in the novus ordo in Latin by Mgr Andrew Burnham - so it was a different, if not new, translation. Given the crucial part played by St Gregory in the conversion of the English this was a way of claiming, and indeed reclaiming, patrimony, though perhps not in the way everyone might expect. Patrimony, however, to my mind is something that stretches deep into an undivided, pre-reformation Church. This sense was clear to me with traditional chant reverberating in the 1960s church of Holy Rood, and incense rising up above the altar through the striking corona over the sanctuary. Here were the English coming home to their spiritual father in Rome - be it Gregory I or Benedict XVI, and blending the accumulated treasures and gifts of centuries.

I commented afterwards to Mgr Burnham that, much as I appreciate the new Mass translation, which is so much better than the one that has been used I really have come to prefer Mass in Latin - which is again, I suppose, a fruit of St Gregory's mission to us Angles and Saxons

A thirteenth-century manuscript showing Pope Saint Gregory the Great with the Dove of the Holy Spirit perched on his shoulder, and Gregory dictating to two scribes.

Image: testamonianzaprefetica.org

I was asked to serve at today's principal Mass at St Gregory and St Augustine in north Oxford, as they were observing it as an external Solemnity to mark their patronal feast, and they were short of servers this weekend. I was pleased to do so, and the Mass was a joyful and reverent celebration. The church was handsomely decorated with flowers following a wedding yesterday which complemented its Arts and Crafts design and the recently redecorated and rededicated reredos.

In his sermon Fr Saward allued to the frequent medieval depiction of the Mass of St Gregory, of which I give an example below. I cannot claim that Mass today at St Gregory and Augustine's actually looked like that, but the central truth of the Mass is no different. The legend of Christ appearing to St Gregory to indicate the truth of His presence in the Sacrament is a reminder to us all of what is happening when a priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice - true in the time of St Gregory and true now.

The Mass of St Gregory

Image: traditionalcatholicism.org

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