Monday, June 26, 2006

Sunday Evening at the Toronto Oratory

The men of the Toronto Oratory are indeed men of the Church. Men of faith, men of joy, men of intellect, men of culture and civility.

I had the pleasure yesterday evening to make a visit to Fr. Jonathan Robinson, author of The Mass and Modernity, and generally to the Toronto Oratory and the Oratorian community there. It was not my first visit to the Oratory in Toronto, but it was my most memorable to date.

(A view of the Toronto Oratory in either the early spring or late autumn)

The Oratory is a special place within this region of the world, and in particular within Canada. Indeed, it was many years ago that I recall hearing the Toronto Oratory called the hidden jewel of Canadian Catholicism. It is indeed so, though without exaggeration I should say that it is not just as such with regards the Church within Canada, but within the very Universal Church itself.

It is indeed that sort of place which rivals in excellence the famed Oratories of England, should you ask my opinion on the matter, or any of the most excellent classical rite communities. If I might compare, the Toronto Oratory does for the Church in its wholistic sense of Catholicity, learning and culture, what the likes of the Institute of Christ the King do within the classical rite.

There is something old world about the Oratory in their graciousness. Perhaps the presence of a harpsichord in their parlour alone says enough about this sense of cultured life, but allow me to explicate the matter.

The Sacred Liturgy at the Oratory

The visit began with the celebration of the sacred liturgy. We arrived in time for the public celebration of Vespers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. As the bell rang and the pipe organ began, the solemn procession of the Oratorians from the sacristy proceeded out, led by thurifer, crucifer and acolytes. Two of the Oratorian priests where dressed in matching green copes and they led the chants of Vespers. Fr. Robinson, dressed in probably the most beautiful green cope I have yet seen (in either the celebration of the modern or the classical Roman rite) presided over Vespers. Each pair of Oratorians reverently geneflected in unison to the tabernacle and took their place in the sanctuary in antiphonal seating.

The chant rang out by Fr. Robinson: "Deus in adjutorium meum intende..." and so it began, a mixture of Latin ordinary and English propers -- some of which was, wonderfully, using that more sacred and venerable incarnation of the language, hieratic English, in beautiful poetic compositions.

The chants of the Psalms were sung antiphonally alternating between the parts sung by all the faithful and then by a male choir and a female choir -- both of professional calibre. When the time came for the Canticle, the faithful responded with a versicle, and the canticle was sung by the choir in polyphonic form. A beautiful mixture of two of the greatest styles of music to grace the sacred liturgy of the Latin rite. The Magnificat was sung in Latin by the faithful and the choir alteratively as the altar was incensed by Fr. Robinson.

After the completion of the Divine Office, the organ played as Benediction was prepared for. Benediction was what one would expect of it, and the traditional Eucharistic chants of the Church, composed by the Angelic Doctor, where sung with exuberance. Delightfully, this also included a meditative polyphonic motet. (For those particularly interested in sacred music and its particulars, please look at the bulletin of the parish, made available online.)

The liturgy concluded with thurifer, acolytes and other Oratorians processing to the statue of Our Lady, and the Salve Regina was sung and the statue of Our Lady incensed.

A Sunday Evening at the Oratory

The celebration of the sacred liturgy alone would be enough to highlight the evening at the Oratory. But, thankfully, the evening did not end there. A few of us were additionally blessed with the opportunity to visit and dine with the Oratorians that evening.

The evening began with a refreshing glass of Sherry in the midst of discussions with the Oratory community. Set in a beautiful parlour, the Oratorians attentively hosted their guests to ensure that they should never be left without. Their consummate sense of hostmanship and the reception of guests was indeed of the sort that inspires one to reclaim this sense in one's own life.

After this apertif followed dinner in the refectory, which followed a typically monastic pattern and arrangement, complete with spiritual readings being read aloud during dinner. After dinner we returned to the parlour for tea and coffee and more time for conversation.

The evening drew to a close with an opportunity to meet with Fr. Robinson privately as well as to peruse the wonderful house library that the Oratory has accumulated. Their collection was fabulous, particularly their collection of, of course, Cardinal Newman.

Some Concluding Thoughts

The beauty of the liturgy itself, the vestments, the sacred music, the sacred architecture and of the ceremonial was matched by the vigour of the participation in those rites on the part of the faithful. Further, that sense of beauty, dignity, culture and service is carried over into the communal life of the Oratory. Surrounded by beautiful architecture and art, treated to good food and good conversation one finds oneself lifted higher and beyond the mundane. This in turn is reflected in the evident focus upon scholarship and the pursuit not only of the interior life, but also of the intellectual life.

It is worth mentioning in addition that the Toronto Oratory is situated in a poorer neighbourhood, and they provide a valuable service to that community. It is this community who comes to their parish and who so devotedly participate in these traditional rites. Further, the Oratory operates a pantry to provide food for those in need, in service of the poor.

Indeed, at the Toronto Oratory one sees all the various aspects of Catholic life covered, as people from various walks of life and economic backgrounds come together as a community of faithful believers, served by the devoted priests of the Oratory.

Do yourself a favour and, if you are in the Toronto region, make the trip to the Toronto Oratory. Look for the numerous black cassocks and the distinctive Oratorian collars -- worn, it is also worth noting, by a community quite diverse in age, and which noticeably includes a number of young men.

You won't come away disappointed.

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