A happy occasion, last night, as I celebrated the 40th anniversary of my Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood. It was a Votive of the Holy and Undivided Trinity (in my day, most seminarians were ordained after the Whitsuntide Ember Days on Trinity Sunday) in Latin and according to the Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite; it was a very family occasion as our Bishop, Andrew, preached a sermon which was too kind about me and inadequately catalogued my failings. It also, as one would expect, combined a witty exposition of the mass texts (dealing with the creative mendacity with which they appear to attribute explicit Trinitarian orthodoxy to the Book of Tobit), a treatment of the glory due to the Trinity (as he observed, people are rather more respectful of the Trinity now than was true in the Year of Revolutions, when I was ordained), and a learned and pastoral discussion of the Hermeneutic of Continuity as it applies both to the use of traditional rites and the Reform of the Reform. He could do worse than to make those parts of the homily available to a wider readership.
I was nervous beforehand; I have said low masses many times according to the 1950s Altar Missal kindly given to me a few years ago by a generous friend, the pp of Knightstown on Valentia Island in the Kingdom of County Kerry. Indeed, I used it even before the Holy Father issued his Motu Proprio (I hope this was not too daring an infrigement of my ordination undertaking only to use rites allowed by canon). But never before have I attempted a Missa Cantata. I need not have worried. Led by Barry, one of our senior and long-faithful servers, resplendent in our festal tunicle, a superbly competent group of seminarians from S Stephen's House swept me through it with aplomb enough to give the impression that they polished off this sort of thing every day of their lives. There is, of course, a history to this. 'Staggers', my own seminary, has long had a reputation for liturgical scholarship and practical accuracy in ritual matters. In the days when that great pontiff Bishop Kirk ruled the See of Oxford, the Principal, Canon Couratin (of whom many anecdotes survive, not all of them suitable for a family blog) used to turn up with his 'circus' to put on all the major Diocesan events. Even during the bleak years after the Council when so many lost their liturgical nerve, the Staggers tradition maintained standards and preserved a high understanding of the ars celebrandi. You might say that the advent of Pope Benedict is a vindication of all that Staggers has stood for and does still maintain under Fr Robin (who was present last night to see the triumphs of his students). The biggest of thankyous to Daniel Lloyd, who officiated as MC, and to his colleagues, a crew faultless not only in matters ritual.
The choir was the Byrd Consortium, who descend from the choir at S Mary Mag's Church back in the happy days when it was Oxford's bastion of orthodoxy. I used to attend on Sundays and weekdays when I was an undergraduate, so there was a comfortable appropriateness in having them there. I am no musician, so I feel shy about ever commenting on the activities of those who are; I can only say that their memorable and haunting performance made me immensely grateful. I know how much work they put in.
It may seem an absurd paradox, but somehow the event, a Latin Tridentine Mass, seemed the very epitome of the Anglican tradition as we have appropriated and preserved it since the Catholic Revival.