Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Solemn High Mass for the Oxford University Newman Society

Today I can report a great breakthrough for liturgical renewal in Oxford: a Catholic student society has not only held its Termly Mass in the usus antiquior, but had an extremely splendid Traditional Solemn High Mass. It took place in the presence of the University Chaplain, Fr John Moffat SJ, in the chapel of Brasenose College, on Monday 19th November, at 6pm.

The student society in question is Oxford Newman Society, (and here) founded in 1878, the oldest Catholic student group in Oxford, which must be one of the oldest Catholic student societies in the world, and one of a very small number, I should imagine, to own its own altar cards. These highly decorated altar cards have been screwed to a wall for a very long time, but now they are back in use, and with them, the Church's liturgical patrimony.

The venue, Brasenose College Chapel, available by kind permission of the College authorities, is a curious mixture of styles. Most obvious from the pictures is the classical marble surround of the altar; the chapel also boasts brightly coloured fan vaulting.

The sacred ministers were Fr Dominic Jacob of the Oxford Oratory, celebrant, Fr Anton Webb, also of the Oratory, deacon, and the NLM's own Br Lawrence Lew OP as subdeacon. Mr Richard Pickett was MC; he was assisted by a team of Newman Society servers.

The Mass was a Votive Mass of Our Lady, Salve sancta parens, offered for the repose of the soul of one of the Newman Society's founders, Papal Chamberlain Hartwell de la Gard Grissell, whose centenary it was. Grissell was a great collector of relics, which established the relic chapel at St Aloyesius, now the Oratory church but in his day a Jesuit church. Unfortunately most of the relics he bequeathed to the church were destroyed by the Jesuit fathers in a moment of iconoclastic madness in 1971. It is a remarkable act of providence that one of the few that remained to await the arrival of the Oratorians was one of St Philip Neri, housed in a splendid metal bust of the saint.

This was the Oxford Gregorian Chant Society's third Mass since its formalisation this term, and the first at which they collaborated with a polyphonic choir. In my view this is the ideal, Rolls Royce option for a Mass on a special occasion: two separate groups of singers, a Gregorian schola doing the propers and a polyphonic group doing the ordinaries and motets. I am glad to say that we, the schola side of it, didn't let the side down: with the assistance of our professional coach, Mr Adrian Taylor, our usual director Mr Julian Griffiths and another experienced local singer, Dr Brian Sudlow, the eight student singers put in an extremely polished performance.

The polyphonists were organised by Mr Andrew Knowles, who did the same thing for the Masses at the LMS Priests Training Conference. Four professional singers, two violinists and an organist (with Mr Knowles conducting) performed the Missa in G by Antonio Caldara, Christian Geist's Quam pulchra es Maria as an Offertory motet, and Alba Trissina's Vulnerasti cor meum and Luca Marenzioat's O Sacrum Convivium at Communion.

The two groups of singers balanced each other extremely well, and I don't think anyone could have left that Mass without understanding at least a little about what former generations of Catholics meant by the beauty of the liturgy.

Despite torrential rain Mass was attended by about 90 people. It was followed by a the Newman Society's splendid termly black tie dinner, which was addressed by Mr Julian Chadwick, Chairman of the Latin Mass Society, who had attended the Mass.