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.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Forty Hours at the Oxford Oratory

I have adapted this post from one on the Oxford Oratory website about the Forty Hours Devotion, adding some personal reflections and some additional photographs provided by a friend. This year, we are praying especially for Peace, in union with persecuted Christians throughout the world.

I spent part of yesterday afternoon helping the Fathers and Brothers and Sacristan to set up - so time used profitably, I hope, dusting the throne canopy for the monstrance, squeezing candles into sconces that were too large with the help of paper collars, covering benches with tinfoil to catch wax, and then deciding that the whole process was unnecessary, and helping position candelabra. A satisfying afternoon, becuase one could see at the end what one had helped achieve.

This year we have a new machina to support the monstranc enad its throne as well as the candles and flowers. Painted to resemble marble or alabaster with lapis lazuli inset panels, it is very effective and provides more surface area than the previous arrangement. It was made by the father of Br Oliver.


The altar and machina before adding the gold frontal and the candles

Image: Irim Sarwar


The conclusion of Mass

Image: Irim Sarwar

Our Forty Hours' Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament began with the Solemn Mass of Exposition at 6 pm. Unfortunately this beautiful Mass did not draw as many people as I would have hoped or expected, but it was a fine opening to the Devotion.


The Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance

Image: Irim Sarwar


A view across the Sanctuary

Image: Irim Sarwar 


The altar from the nave 

Image: Irim Sarwar

I counted 93 candles on the altar plus another 18 in the two free-standing candelabra.


A distant view along the nave

Image: Oxford Oratory

The effect of the candles around the enthroned monstrance made me think of the congregation as suitors to the Court of Heaven, which we are of course, and, as is the intention of the Forty Hours, to give us a glimpse of Heaven on Earth. Not light inaccessible hid from our eyes, but rather Light made visible.

Our own Holy Father St Philip used to attend Compline with the Dominicans of the Minerva so often that the Dominican friars gave him his own key to their church. We are very glad to continue this long-standing friendship by welcoming once the more the Dominicans of Blackfriars in Oxford to sing Compline before the Blessed Sacrament at 11pm. This drew a large congregation.


The Dominicans in choir
Image: Oxford Oratory


The prayers at Benediction
Image: Oxford Oratory

Benediction followed Compline, and so the all-night vigil began. As in previous years I stayed right through - with breaks for refreshments in the parish centre next door - on the basis that it is easier for me to help sustain the vigil than for those with families, and also because one can find deeper silence in the small hours.

The keen eyed amongst my readers can see  the back of my head and my light jacket in this photograph:


The congregation keeps vigil

Image: Oxford Oratory

We prayed the Rosary and at 5am had sung Matins and Lauds of the Blessed Sacrament in the presence of the Exposed Body of Our Lord. Singing - well, saying in my case - the psalmody in the Divine Presence brought home to me afresh Whom it is we are addressing when we say the Divine Office.

At 6 am we had a Mass in the Extrordinary Form for the feast of St Luke.

At breakfasttime I left to freshen up and indeed have breakfast with afriend at a nearby restaurant

The Blessed Sacrament will continue to be exposed until midnight today. There will be a Mass for Peace with hymns at 6:30pm.

Masses on Sunday are at the usual times. The Solemn Mass will be a votive Mass of the Sacred Heart, at the end of which exposition will resume until Solemn Vespers, Procession and Benediction at 5pm.

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