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Thursday, 30 August 2007

Hard work and glorious liturgy

I arrived at Oxford for the second half of Alcuin Reid's lecture on Tuesday, in which he expounded on the organic development of the Liturgy and the importance of Summorum Pontificum. I am sure he will publish the text in due course. He allowed himself one irresistible punchline by quoting the Tablet article which said that Pope Benedict was "not a trained liturgist". The ribald mirth generated by quoting this judgement confirmed that it has now firmly achieved legendary status.

From the lecture, we went to the College Chapel for solemn Vespers. Thanks to this conference and last year's CIEL conference I am a little more familiar with solemn vespers now and I would love to try to introduce it in the parish. It would provide an opportunity for people to experience the Roman liturgical tradition outside of the context of Mass.

After supper, I went to bed fairly smartly since my private Mass at the Oratory in the morning was scheduled for 6.15am. I was in the House Chapel. After making my thanksgiving the the Church, I took this photo of one of the several other Masses being said:

Wednesday was the main teaching day with four sessions going through the ceremonies of Low Mass with different groups of priests. My group was for "beginners". In his introduction, Fr Andrew Wadsworth answered the implied criticism of the Conference in the assertion of one Bishop, that a priest cannot learn to say Mass according to the usus antiquior in a two day conference. Nobody actually imagined that they could. But a two day conference is a good start and it gave priests the confidence and the resources to continue learning until they feel able to say the Mass privately with the assistance of an experienced server and perhaps also an Assistant Priest for their "first Mass" in the older form.

In all the groups, the practical teaching was mingled with some discussion of various pastoral points relating to the introduction of traditional liturgy in the "normal" parish, for example, the need for care, sensitivity and charity that was often lacking when the newer form of the rite was introduced in the 1970s.

After the two morning sessions, the clergy attended in Choir at the High Mass celebrated by Fr Anthony Conlon, the Chaplain to the Latin Mass Society, assisted by Dr Lawrence Hemming as Deacon and Fr John Emerson as Subdeacon:

(photo credit: Schola Sainte Cécile)

The magnificent vestments were loaned from France and (I think) were those used at the Chartres Pilgrimage Mass.

On the Wednesday evening, I was the second Assistant Priest for Pontifical Vespers at which Bishop Rifan presided. This was followed by a banquet provided at the expense of the Latin Mass Society which had heavily subsidised the Conference for priests. We were treated to an excellent meal, courtesy of the Merton College staff, rounded off by enjoyable speeches from Julian Chadwick, the Chairman of the LMS, and Fr Jerome Bertram of the Oxford Oratory.

Fr Bertram gave a witty and entertaining analysis of the phrase "Ite Missa Est". He pointed out that in many languages, the idea of "Go in peace" is introduced with no foundation in the original, obscure as it may be. He suggested that on the contrary, the Mass itself was the occasion of peace and that once finished, we went out to engage in the spiritual battle of the apostolate.

Although my Mass this morning was scheduled for the later time of 6.45am, the mitigated penance of rising not quite so early was spiced up a little by the fire alarm going off at about 1.30am. After my own Mass, I served Mass for another priest who welcomed a little discreet guidance here and there.

After breakfast, there was a discussion session followed by a public lecture by Dr Lawrence Hemming. He rightly chose to move away from the more particular rubrical matters that had formed an important part of the conference and gave a brilliant exposition of the nature of liturgy itself. The lecture was not a formal paper but Dr Hemming has a book out soon which will cover in detail many of the points that he discussed.

The conference ended with the celebration of Pontifical High Mass celebrated by Bishop Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was present with his chaplain for the whole conference. His engaging and gentle sermon compared the recent foundation of his diocese with the antiquity of Merton College, and compared that with the antiquity of the Roman Rite, speaking of the "tyranny of relative time."

(photo credit: Schola Sainte Cécile)

Have a look at the other photos at the Schola Sainte Cécile. The gold vestments and the magnificent mitre were loaned by Richard Luzar from his private collection. Just think: someone actually wanted to get rid of these things from their Church or Cathedral!

The Conference was a great success, especially in the confidence that it gave to the priests who came: not only in the particular matter of learning to celebrate Mass in the usus antiquior but also more generally for all of us, in our priestly identity. There was a genuine sense of "gaudium et spes" and a determination to continue with more events in the future.

(More tomorrow.)
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