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, 14 October 2012

The Forty Hours at the Oxford Oratory

I attended quite a lot of the Forty Hours at the Oxford Oratory over this weekend. We began with a Solemn Mass of Exposition in the Extraordinary Form at 6pm on Friday evening, which drew a good congregation. The sermon as well as the post-Communion litany and prayers all helped to focus our thoughts and prayers as a congregation.


Our Lord enthroned on His altar
Image: Oxford Oratory website

After going off for supper with friends I returned with them for Compline with the Dominicans at Midnight, followed by Benediction.


The Dominicans from Blackfriars sing Compline before the Blessed Sacrament
Image: Oxford Oratory website


Preparing for Benediction after Compline

Image: Oxford Oratory website

I then settled down, as in previous years, to helping maintain the Vigil through the night. We said the successive Mysteries of the Rosary at each hour, and apart from time for silent prayer and adoration there were times when it was possible to have some of refreshments that had been provided to give us bodily sustinence.

At 5am we had Mattins and Lauds sung by the Oratorians and the Sisters of the Work from Littlemore, and this seemed particularly beautiful and meditative - much more so than, as too often, rushing to say the Morning Office from the Divine Office before going out into the city on an ordinary day.

At 6am there was Mass, again in the Extrordinary Form, for the feast of St Edward the Confessor. After that in the still and quiet of early light I found my prayers moved on from set forms and intentions to a greater openess - I clearly needed a time of spiritual purgation in the presence of Our Lord to help me pray.

Later on I went off to London and the Rosary Crusade, and was not back in the Oratory until Sunday.

The 11am Mass was that of the Sacred Heart, a very splendid liturgy with some of the finest vestments in the Ortaory collection in use, and a packed congregation. I was back in good time for Solemn Vespers at 5pm.

This proved, as always, a magnificent conclusion to the devotion, with the Choir singing the psalmody, a procession of the Blessed Sacrament with the singing of hymns around the church and then Benediction.

As I was leaving a lady from the congregation, who had participaed in the all night vigil on Friday-Saturday commented to me how lucky we are to have the Forty Hours at the Oratory and what those who do not have it miss. She spoke with evident warmth of how on this occasion she felt she was walking on air when she left the church, and I am sure that she and I are not alone in having such reactions to this annual event.

I know from what I have seen behind the scenes, and helping a little in the preparations, how much effort goes into organising the Forty Hours and the Oratory Fathers and also in particular, the Sacristan, are to be congratulated on all their hard work on our behalf .

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