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.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Marking the end of a Pontificate

I marked the end of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI where it began for me, in the Oratory Church here in Oxford. Last night the 6pm Mass was followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament until 7pm when the Papal abdication became a reality. The church was full and there was a strong sense of a shared feeling of loss combined with real thanksgiving for the Pope's ministry.

Almost eight years ago, on April 19th  2005, and only three weeks since my reception into the Church, I arrived early for the 6pm Mass at the Oratory in order to pray for the outcome of the Conclave in Rome. As I arrived I was told that white smoke was reported as coming from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. As this must have been from only the third ballot I calculated, and hoped, that the only Cardinal likely to have amassed so many votes so quickly was Joseph Ratzinger. I waited prayerfully in church, and shortly before 6 the then Provost, Fr Robert Byrne, appeared and announce to us "The Cardinals have elected, and he has taken the name of Benedict XVI [ here I had a momentary worry, having convinced myself, for some unclear reason, that Cardinal Ratzinger would take the name Gregory XVII ]  - and it's Cardinal Ratzinger." The delight of those in church was evident, and thus I was at the first Mass offered in the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, which was also celebrated with the singing of the Te Deum - which I had already said privately before Mass commenced.

Last night the celebrant was once again Fr Robert, and he spoke in his homily of how, having heard that a Pope had been elected, he went into the Sacristy to prepare for Mass when one of the other Oratorians ran in to tell him that the new Pontiff was Cardinal Ratzinger who had taken the name of Benedict XVI.

Fr Robert drew attention to three points which he saw as central to the Pope's pontificate. The first was the  New Evangelisation, seeking to draw people back into a relationship with Jesus. The second was the Pope's concern with the Christian engagement with world, and that Christians should participate in the political and social conversation of our time. The third was a concern for the beauty of holiness in worship, music and art.

When Mass started we sang Cardinal Wiseman's "Full in the panting heart of Rome"to honour the still reigning Pontiff, but when we left church we were in the time of Sede vacante and entrusted our prayers for the Church and for the Pope Emeritus to God.

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