8 December 2009

Dom Prosper Gueranger and my last fifty years

A kind friend has passed on to me L'Annee Liturgique; a series which I first met years ago when I was preaching a Priests' Retreat in the Devon house of the Franciscan Servants of Jesus and Mary at Posbury St Francis. The sitting room set aside for my use had, around its walls, most of the library - including Gueranger - of Prebendary John Hooper, the charismatic priest who decades before had fostered my own vocation to the Sacred Priesthood. He was part of that wonderful phenomenon (not quite extinct), the Exeter Mafia, Catholic clergy who spent most of their priesthood in that diocese; he was a drinking partner of Bishop Robert Mortimer, the scholar-bishop and moral theologian (we don't have many of those in the C of E - perhaps that is the root of some of our current tragedies). Fr John had been the Posbury community's Warden; and, indeed, he was buried under the trees in their graveyard. But I had come under his influence much earlier when he was Vicar of S Mary Mags, in this city, then its great Catholic centre (now, sadly, equipped with a woman curate). I first saw him on the feast of our Lady's Immaculate Conception in 1959, when I was in Oxford as a hopeful schoolboy sitting the Scholarship examinations. Purely by chance, I happened to go into Mags that evening when the High Mass - according to the Old Rite and in the language of the English Missal - was just finishing. Mags - and Fr Hooper - made me what I am. It's all in the Patrimony, you know.

Opening my newly acquired Gueranger at random, I hit upon these words about the beginning of the (EF) Mass. "But see, Christians! the Sacrifice begins! The Priest is at the foot of the Altar; God is attentive, the Angels are in adoration, the whole Church is united with the Priest, whose priesthood and action are those of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Let us make the sign of the Cross with him."

Plummy, you think? I suppose so. "God is attentive": that's a bit much isn't it? But isn't that the whole wonder of this most adorable sacrifice? - as Newman also put it: "It is not a mere form of words - it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal."

Dare we? Audeamus dicere.


David said...

It is part of the glory of the EF that at the very beginning the priest stands at the foot of the altar and declares, "I will go unto the altar of God."

And his parting words are no less glorious as he says, "and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and of truth."

Both of these are add ons. They were not a part of the pre-Nicene liturgy of which the liturgical experts were so fond. Pondering them now we can grasp the essence of what was lost in the liturgical reforms.

Are you speaking of St. Mary Mags Oxford? Colin Stephenson's parish? I knew they had gone Aff Cath but this news is really sad.

David said...

By the way, now that Eric Kemp has gone, who will get Bishop Kirk's buskins and sandals. Surely they aren't worn out as Bishop Kemp's episcopate spanned a time when these items were not in fashion.

Gengulphus said...

Prebendary John Hooper… Bishop Robert Mortimer…
tempora mutantur

As for the dear Posbury Sisters I cannot find any confirmation that they still continue in existence. Can you give news for the foreign audience?

motuproprio said...

The destination of those buskins will depend on the last will and testament of the late Father in God, Bishop Eric Kemp.
Can anybody confirm the story that on the morning Bishop Kemp's appointment to the See of Chichester was announced from No 10 Downing Street, a pantechnicon drew up outside Cuddesdon House (the 1960s episcopal residence built on the site of Cuddesdon Palace, which had been conveniently destroyed by fire a few years before) and loaded all of Bishop Kirk's liturgical impedimenta, leaving Kenneth Woolcombe the then Bishop of Oxford to make do with the liturgical remains of Bishop Roscoe Shedden, a former Bishop of Nassau in the Bahamas who had become an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Oxford?