Two days to report on:
Sunday the 3rd
We're now back in London, at a decent place, Vandon House, which I would recommend as good value for money: it's in Westminster, very close to New Scotland Yard, Westminster Cathedral and, just down the road, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Having arrived from Oxford at about four o'clock, by the time we went off for a walk around the Abbey and Parliament, crossing over the Thames and back, it was thoroughly dark and very cold: Mike suddenly said, "I can't feel my ears!"
To think that this morning we'd been walking along the Thames south of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford...
We attended the solemn eleven o'clock Mass to-day at the Oxford Oratory: it was quite glorious, a Latin Novus Ordo done rather as if it were the '62 (entirely juxta rubricas, I hasten to say: Fr Dominic twitted me about this) with a Haydn Mass performed by full choir and strings, and a moving sermon by Fr Paul Chavasse in honour of the occasion, marking the Epiphany of Christ and remembering the 25th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of the Provost of the Oxford Oratory: tu es sacerdos in aeternum - ad multos annos!
It was very impressive to see the church crammed to bursting with priests and people, and much hearty singing. The opening hymn, Dix's uplifting Epiphany anthem "As with gladness men of old", until then unknown to me, was sung with a full-throated roar. I was interested to hear the choir sing the Gradual and Alleluia in faux-bourdon, with instrumental music before and after, almost as if it were an Epistle sonata. Now there's an idea...
The Mass was celebrated by priest, deacon and sub-deacon (acolyte?), with the readings, sermon, intercessions, and hymns at start and end in English, the rest being in Latin. (A lady read the Lesson, drest for the occasion in hat and fur coat; the Epistle the sub-deacon read, and the deacon sang the Gospel. This I feel was a fine example of progressive solemnity, though to a strict Traddie the chanting of all three in Latin, the first being done by an instituted lector, would have been theoretically preferable.) Credo III was sung by all; as with even the Gregorian setting of the Memorial Acclamation, the strong singing of the congregation was highly impressive: talk about active participation.
After Mass (which lasted a shade over an hour and a half), I paid a last visit to the altars of the church, in particular venerating the splendid restored relic chapel. Back in the 1970's, the unparalleled collection of relics there had been somewhat scattered. But conserved in a cupboard whose door had stuck fast, and found just a week before the Oratorians arrived to take charge of the parish, the Jesuits having left, were - a book once in the possession of St Philip Neri, with his signature, and his death mask! He well knew in God that his sons would come. Thanks to some Carmelites, Jesuits and others, they have now on display a display of thousands of holy relics as once there had been before.
(There is another nice touch: a painting over at the opposite end of the church, representing the trials of the projected foundation of an Oratory in Oxford: Cardinal Newman is shewn kneeling and sad before the foundations of the Oratory, but with clods of earth and stones about him, apparently thrown at him by the Christ Child, held in His Mother's arms! Providence permitted he be hurt grievously by his fellow Catholics, that he be tried as gold in the furnace. But in the painting, St Philip interposes himself to obtain of Our Lord that His trial of Newman cease, and that the foundations laid be eventually built up into the Oratory now existing.)
Mass and prayers over, Mike and I then caught up with our fellow Aussie, Andrew, who's studying in Oxford. (Unfortunately my friends Alex and Helen have been ill, and we missed seeing them.) We three did as our betters once did, and went for a pie and a pint at the Bird and Baby, once the favoured spot of the Inklings: so I ticked the box marked Tolkien and Lewis in my Oxford itinerary...
The afternoon bus trip back to London from Oxford was pleasant and comfortable: the weather remains cold but fine and clear, and I enjoyed seeing the green and pleasant land.
Saturday the 2nd
One drawback of going on holiday and sharing digs with friends is that, well, certain people snore... I have done a lot of reading in the wee small hours as a result! The Eurobar, where we stayed, was adequate, if well-supplied with flights of stairs...
Mike and I went first up the road to At Aloysius, the Oxford Oratory, to hear Saturday Mass, which was an English Novus Ordo done impeccably.
If only the modern Mass were everywhere done with aplomb, and the communicants, as feels so right, all and everywhere knelt to receive Our Lord at the altar rails, as is done unembarrassedly at the English Oratories! It gives a whole new nuance to what Newman wrote of the Via Media...
We then hurried off down across a branch of the Isis or Thames to visit Fr John Hunwicke, that well-known Anglo-Papalist blogger. He very kindly invited us in, gave us a cup of coffee, introduced us to his good wife Pam, and took us on a fascinating guided tour of his church, St Thomas the Martyr (that is, Thomas a Becket - the Oratory displayed a reliquary having his bones), even shewing us his English Missal, with the latest Rome-approved translations of the Canon and Ordinary pasted therein, that everything be done more Romano, if still for the moment (how much longer?) in Ecclesia Anglicana. He was most gracious a host, and I thank him.
Priests are good men: Fr Dominic Jacob of the Oxford Oratory is an instance of this - years back he generously supplied me with a number of items regarding St Philip Neri, and on Saturday we then went on to meet him for lunch, and a very pleasant meal it was too. Ad multos annos, Pater reverende.
The afternoon remaining we whiled away in St Philip's Books and Blackwell Books, before attending Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral. I enjoyed the latter, but Mike found the Anglican chant all a bit O.T.T.