29 March 2009

Calvin and the Latin Mass

I've just been sent, qua parish priest, advertising material from the Oxford Department For Continuing Education about a course dealing with one John Calvin: whose 500th anniversary (I'm sure you all knew this) we are all celebrating this year. The first of ten sessions (cost £105) is about "pre-Reformation Conditions ... the Church in Decline", so it isn't hard to guess what the presuppositions will be. Not Duffy, for certain. The publicity also claims that "the discovery of the 'New World' ... can trace [its] origins to the Protestant Reformation". I'm a bit vague about the historical accuracy of that statement ... did Columbus, and the Conquistadores, really carry Dr Calvin's Institutiones in their knapsacks? When next I am gossiping with ProfessorTighe I must remember to ask him to explain to me the role of Calvin in starting the Wars of the Roses and in the preliminary planning for the Norman Conquest. Somehow, I don't think I shall be publicising the course from my pulpit.

The lecturer is a Kenneth Barnes, Director of the Oxford American Mission, who holds "three advanced degrees" - MATS; MDiv; MPhil. Can anybody fill me in with info about the bloke, the organisation, the degrees? Only idle curiosity on my part, you understand.

Changing the subject entirely: I wonder how many people are aware that the University of Oxford begins each term with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Latin Tongue? Is it the only university in the UK to do so? An hour spent browsing in Bodley through old University Calendars reveals the following about the history of the practice.

It is not a survival from Medieval Oxford. By the start of the nineteenth century, each of Oxford's four terms [our modern Trinity term in the summer is historically a conflation of the old 'Easter Term' and the old 'Trinity, or Act, Term'] began with Latin Litany, Latin Commemoration of Benefactors, and Latin Sermon, apparently at about 10.00 in the morning in the University Church [the S Mary's where Mr Newman was Vicar, and with the baroque porch and statue of our Lady which became part of the indictment leading to the martyrdom of Archbishop William Laud]. In 1862 "and Holy Communion ... also in Latin", was added. I suspect this was a result of the Oxford Movement aka the Catholic Revival. So things continued until 1901, when the Mass was separated from the Litany and Sermon and was now to be "Earlier in the day". I put this down to either or both of the following: the preference of Anglican Catholics to communicate fasting; and the growth in numbers of non-Anglican or non-communicant dons. In 1920, the Latin Litany and Sermon were reduced to once a year - at the start of the Hilary Term, when they still happen - but the Latin Mass was still three times [Oxford terms now being rationalised to three] a year. The Proctors, representing formally the body corporate of Chancellor Masters and Scholars, attended until last year, when they decided that it was invidious thus to privilege [by getting out of bed for a 8.00 Mass!] one religion and a fortiori one sect of one religion.

The Latin Mass is at 8.00 a.m. on the Thursday of Noughth Week of each term. If any Oxford resident lay or clerical with some competence in Latin would like to be Celebrant's Assistant some time when I am saying it, please be in touch with me.

Post Scriptum

For those who have got slack in checking the erudite and graceful Pastor in Valle Adurni ... get back in there; he's posting again!

Post post scriptum I'm intrigued about the post he has suppressed. If Father is inclined so to do, I would be glad get the goods: pp@thomasthemartyr.org.uk

4 comments:

FrKing said...

Here in the states, MATS (Master of Arts in Theological Studies is usually the basic three-year seminary degree for those not on the ordination track. MDiv is now the basic seminary degree for those who are seeking Holy Orders. I always thought that MPhil was an Oxford sort of thing.

Mark said...

I've actually attended one of those Oxford Latin Holy Communions at the beginning of term. It was quiet and a good experience. I think it was all said, not sung, but my memory is not the most reliable.

wannabeanglican

Fr William said...

I think I attended the Latin Eucharist every one of my twelve terms (with the possible exception of the very first). I also never missed the Latin Litany and Sermon, and returned to Oxford for it for a number of years afterwards - one of the fun aspects of the latter (as also of Encaenia) involved vying to spot the Latin jokes and be the first to laugh uproariously. Dreadfully Oxford-undergraduate-ish, I'm sure. But am I right in thinking that nowadays they spoil the fun by providing printed texts and even (gasp) translations? O dear, such dumbing-down at the very heart of British academe augurs ill.

Ben said...

It's good news, but I'm not telling!