Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Cistercian Visits the Toronto Oratory on the Feast of St. Philip

For the Oratorians, today is a very special day for it is the feast day of their founder and spiritual father, St. Philip Neri. The NLM is hoping to be able to provide some further liturgical coverage of this day coming from some of the English oratories -- who have, in particular, been leaders in liturgical regards these past decades.

Until then, I am pleased to report that Br. Stephen of the Cistercians of Sparta, Wisconsin happens to be in Toronto for the next few weeks, and he took the opportunity to visit the Toronto Oratory where he partook in the First Vespers of St. Philip yesterday evening.

Br. Stephen captured both a video excerpt from Vespers as well as his impressions of the Toronto Oratory. I am delighted to share both.

Having visited the Toronto Oratory many times myself, I cannot but recommend it, both for men who may be considering a vocation, and generally as a place of liturgical and spiritual excellence.

Here are Br. Stephen's impressions of the Toronto Oratory:
Forty-eight hours after my visit to the apogee of Prayer Book Anglicanism at St. Thomas, I found myself deep in the ethos of the Counter-Reformation for First Vespers of the Feast of St. Philip at the Toronto Oratory. The Apostle of Rome and Father of the Oratorians said that “a joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.” I came away from the evening believing that regular visits to the Oratory’s Church of the Holy Family on King Street could do much to perfect the heart.

This was an encounter with the Roman Rite in all of its sobriety. I had seen photos of the restrained classical church completed in 2001, but found that the photos did not do it justice. By the time the office began, there were around 70 people were in the nave, including several Missionaries of Charity. The Oratorians entered in cassock and surplus at an appropriately reverent pace. Two assistants in copes preceded Fr. Jonathan Robinson, superior of the Oratory and author of The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backwards. Between the sanctuary, gallery, and nave there must have been well over 100 people present.

The ministers entered as the schola sang William Sewell’s Respice de Coelo, Sancte Pater. I could not see the choir gallery from where I was sitting without some very blatant rubber-necking, but I was told afterward that there were eight or nine singers. The psalms and antiphons were in English supported by the organ with the assistants intoning the antiphons with the proper reverences and the fathers and congregation alternating the verses with the schola.

The Magnificat, Benediction motet, and Salve Regina were all by Victoria, especially fitting since he is believed to have been a participant in the musical life of the Oratory in St. Philip’s day. The performance standard was high, as was the singers’ perch in the particularly lofty west gallery, which contributed wonderfully to the sound.

Like the church, the ceremonies were classical, sober, and clean. The thurifer had particularly good dispatch; the assistants were musically confident; and Fr. Robinson officiated with a command equal to his learning. If there is less specific commentary on Vespers at the Oratory than at St. Thomas it is because the Oratory is of the same school as one of my mentors who is fond of saying, "We open the book and we do what the book says." If a photo from the evening were given to St. Philip, he would only wonder where the birettas were. Most everything else would look quite familiar.

Afterward, I was given a tour of the house and seminary. The house chapel and library were particularly fine, but I was probably most impressed with the refectory, which is arranged in the traditional manner and includes a proper reader’s pulpit. Between the growth of the community and the growth of the seminary it is clear that this wonderful new facility is already bursting at the seams. I look forward to joining them again this evening for the St. Philip’s Day Mass.

A very blessed feast day to all the Oratorians.

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