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, 17 October 2011

Splendour and Vigil at the Forty Hours

Last weekend the Oxford Oratory had its annual celebration of the Forty Hours Devotion.


The scene in church

We began on Friday evening with a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, followed by the recitation of the appropriate litanies. These helped focus my mind - I felt I had listed all those people and things I wished to pray for at the start rather than having the anxiety of specifically remembering them, or forgetting them, during the following hours. At this point I counted 68 candles around the Blessed Sacrament

I temporarily broke my vigil at this point, but left the church with a very real sense of the love of God in Christ Jesus and of how our response should be that of love responding to Love, rather than fear, and that we seek forgiveness for our sins and to avoid committing them so as not to offend and so as not to besmirch the Body of Christ which is the Church, in total union with His Body in the Sacrament. I do not claim anything original in writing that, more the sense of something I knew being restated to me.

I returned to spend time in Vigil, and to attend Compline sung by the Dominicans, and which concluded with the distinctive Dominican tone for the Salve.


Compline with the Dominicans

Through the night we had reciations of the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries with time for silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, as well as the chance to have refreshments to sustain us through the night. There was aconsistent supply of people keeping vigil as and when they could.

At 5am there was Matins and Lauds of the Blessed Sacrament with the Oratorians and the Sisters of the Work in their distinctive habits. This was medidative and reflective, and superior to the tendency I have to find myself rushing through the Divine Office in private recitation.

At 6am we had an Extraordinary Form Mass for the feast of St Teresa of Avila, and light began to filter in through the clerestory. In that early morning light there was the continuing beauty of this Heaven on Earth that had been set up on the altar, and a profound sense of peace and tranquiity.

On Sunday the 11am Mass was, by established usage, one of the Sacred Heart, and Fr Joseph Welch's sermon in the series being delivered by the Oratorians on the Mass, was on the Offertory, and chimed in well with the mood of the Forty Hours. His sermon can be read here.

In the evening, by which time I counted twenty more candles around the altar, there was the singing of Solemn Vespers, followed by a Procession - and I always enjoy religious processions with their symbolism and actuation of the Body of Christ and the Church moving through time and space - and in conclusion Benediction.

A beautiful and splendid as well as a prayerful weekend which is always an occasion to look forward to and to draw benefit from.

Images : Oxford Oratory website

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