Saturday, 7 June 2008
Something Extraordinary is Happening.
For those of us attached to the beauty of the Liturgy of the Church, these are interesting times. Not alone are we seeing a gradual increase in celebrations of Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form but something a little unusual also appears to be happening.
On Saturday of last week I attended a most wonderful Solemn Sung Latin Mass in the Lady Chapel of Gloucester Cathedral. It was celebrated in the Novus Ordo and organised by the Association for Latin Liturgy. The propers and ordinary, ( Con Jubilo), of the Mass for the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin were sung by the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge under Philip Duffy. The celebrant was the Abbot of Downside Abbey and the deacon and subdeacon were Fr. Guy Nicholls of the Birmingham Oratory and Fr. Anton Guziel respectively. The Mass was offered Ad Orientum and it was special for a number of reasons.
Gloucester Cathedral was built and thrived as one of the largest Benedictine abbeys in the West of England, until it was dissolved by Good King Henry VIII. It had become immensely rich due to the huge influx of pilgrims visiting the tomb of King Edward II. After his murder, his body was refused by several abbeys including the very powerful one at Malmesbury. The abbot of Gloucester accepted the body and the abbey profited from having not just the body of a King of England but a murdered one at that. It underwent an amazing building programme over approx a hundred and fifty years from 1330 onward which culminated in the building of the Lady Chapel in 1470. This is entirely in the Perpendicular style, with a beautiful East Window and unusual singing galleries on each side. The Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter at Gloucester was one of the last abbeys in this area of England to surrender, doing so only on January 2nd. 1540, ( I think the last but one, that being Tewkesbury).
The Mass was a moving event on a number of levels. How lovely to be able to offer Holy Mass once again in one of the finest churches in the land. And to offer the Mass of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin appropriately in the Lady Chapel. And offered by a Benedictine Abbot. And offered in Latin, with Gregorian Chant, Ad Orientum, with all the ceremony of the Church. Holy Communion was offered kneeling and it seemed the majority received on the tongue. As an interesting note the three sacred ministers wore very fine BLUE vestments. This colour is not generally regarded as liturgical. But the Abbey of Downside has an indult dating from the turn of the C19/20th to use such a colour for feasts of the B.V.M., ( I don't know if the vestments used were property of Downside but I suspect so). It appears to have been an accepted colour in the Sarum Rite. And indeed the Altar at Gloucester was set up in the Sarum fashion; crucifix on the altar and candles on the floor either side.
There are some images of the Mass on the Association for Latin Liturgy website: http://www.latin-liturgy.org/events.htm
But this event is not alone. Last month there was a full High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. John's College Chapel, Cambridge and later this month, June 21st, there will be another High Mass, EF, at the High Altar of the Anglican Cathedral at Winchester, resting place of the early English Kings.
So what is happening?
It might be interesting to contrast it with the way in which some of our Catholic Churches approach things.
Today, Sunday, I met an elderly and quite infirm Lady whom I had ferried to the Mass. She said it took her three days to recover, after walking the length of the Cathedral to the Lady Chapel, " But", she said, " it was worth it. I was longing for a Latin Mass".