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, 28 May 2012

Something of a liturgical extravaganza

Regular readers may have worked out that the Clever Boy rather likes going to church, and this last weekend has provided him with several splendid opportunities to do so.

On Friday evening at the Oxford Oratory there was, following the 6 pm Mass for St Bede, Solemn First Vespers for the Solemnity of St Philip, with the psalmody sung by the choir,and three coped sacred minsters, followed incensation of the relic and altar of St Philip, followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and by the Veneration of another of the relics of the saint.

Lummis portrait St Philip 5.JPG

St Philip Neri - and his cat
A painting by Anthony Lummis,
one of the Brothers of the External Oratory at Oxford.

Image: Anthony Lummis/Oxford Oratory

On Saturday morning there was the Solemn Mass for the feast, with the sermon being preached by Msgr Marcus Stock, Secretary of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. At the heart of his homily was the concept of St Philip being like the Apostles with his immediate experience of the Pentecostal fire in 1544.

The Monseigneur set this within his own reminiscences of times spent at the church. One was of his praying there, as an undergraduate of an Anglican Evangelical background, in 1978 for guidance as to being received into the Catholic Church. Another was from 1990 when as a priest he was very temporarily in charge of the church and parish before the first Oratorians arrived from Birmingham. At that time the relic cupboards were empty - their contents had been cremated some years previously, but, intrigued by a locked cupboard underneath the others, he had picked the lock and found inside, covered in dust, two pieces of the orginal collection given at the beginning of the last century. There, in glass cases, were a copy of the death-mask of St Philip and a copy of the sixteenth century printing of the hymns of the late thirteenth century Franciscan ecstatic Jacapone da Todi, complete with on the title page, the former owner's signature - Philip Neri. He had placed the two relics on the altar and sung a Te Deum in thanksgiving, assured that St Philip had arrived well before his sons and, one might add, as in Newman's hymn to St Philip, that he had journeyed on after his death and sought the very heart of England.

He concluded the sermon with a reading of one of Jacapone's hymns, full of the spiritual joy which inflamed St Philip.

Afterwards there was the opportunity to see both death-mask and hymn book in the relic chapel - itself now happily restocked with relics and objects of devotion collected by the Fathers of the Oxford Oratory.

In best Oratorian tradition there was an enjoyable reception afterwards and the opportunity to talk to friends and visitors who had come to the feast day.

Not having yet acquired the charism of quadlocation I had to miss out on attending the Westminster Ordinariate Diaconal Ordinations, the London Oratory's celebration of St Philip's day with Cardinal Burke and the chance to join a patronal pilgrimage to Pugin's St Augustine's Ramsgate with the parish of SS Gregory and Augustine. One cannot, alas, do everything.

In the evening I went to the Mass of the Oxford Ordinariate group at Holy Rood, where to celebrate Pentecost we had music by Haydn and a sermon from Fr Richard Duffield of the Oxford Oratory, and the congregation was afforced by a number of German and US visitors.

Unfortunately I did not make it later on to Blackfriars for their First Vespers, Vigil and First Mass of Pentecost, about which I posted the other day - but perhaps on a warm day that might have been a bit much, and might even suggest religious mania on my part...

On Sunday, due to a committment in the late morning, I went to the well attended 8am EF Mass at the Oratory rather than my usual attendance at the 11am celebration, and in the evening I was back again for Solemn Vespers.

Once again it was a three cope occasion, and all the more striking with the clergy vested in Whitsun red. The Office was all sung by the Oratorians and the church choir, and, as usual, followed by Benediction. This was the second year in succession that Vespers for Pentecost has been a fully musical service, as is the established custom on Easter Day, and a very fine celebration it proved to be. I shall be writing more about how I think Pentecost should be marked liturgically.

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