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Oxford Martyrs' Mass at Blackfriars

Monday, October 27, 2008
Over two hundred people gathered in Blackfriars Oxford on 25 October for a High Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Roman rite. This was probably the first time that this particular form of Mass, now called the 'extraordinary form' of the Roman rite, has been celebrated in the Oxford priory church with Dominican friars serving at the altar. Fr Dominic Jacob from the Oxford Oratory was the celebrant, and he was assisted by fr David Rocks OP as deacon and fr Lawrence Lew OP as sub-deacon. In addition, five other Dominican brothers served as Master of Ceremonies and acolytes at the High Mass. Also present in choir were Bishop William Kenney CP who preached, and priests and religious from around Oxford.

The Mass was a votive Mass to commemorate four martyrs of Oxford who were executed for their Catholic Faith on 5 July 1589. Fr George Nichols, Fr Richard Yaxley, Thomas Belson and Humphrey Pritchard were beatified in 1987. To mark their heroic witness, the Latin Mass Society (LMS) erected a plaque at 100 Holywell Street in Oxford, which is the site of their martyrdoms. 

Since 2004, Dr Joseph Shaw has been organising a Pilgrimage to honour the Oxford martyrs and this year was especially significant because the newly-erected plaque was to be blessed. After the Mass and lunch, an even larger group met at Cornmarket, near the site of the old prison where the four men were imprisoned, and went in procession singing the Litany and Te Deum to Holywell. There, Bishop Kenney, who is the auxiliary bishop for Oxford, blessed the plaque and reminded us that even today we have to die to ourselves and suffer for our Faith. The group then returned to Blackfriars for Benediction which was given by Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP.

Below are photos from the Mass, courtesy of Joseph Nunan and Martin Beek.

View of the High Altar from the nave which was completely full.

Prayers at the foot of the altar said by the priest, deacon (right) and sub-deacon (left).

The altar is incensed at the beginning of Mass

fr Lawrence sings the reading from Revelations 7:13-17

The Gospel procession forms up in front of the High Altar

fr David sings the Gospel from Luke 2:9-19

Bishop Kenney preaches on the value of suffering and the need to bear witness to Christ with our very lives in an age where the Church is still under attack but in a more subtle manner than in the 16th century.

During the Eucharistic Prayer, or Canon of the Mass, the three ministers at the Altar adopt this position, with the sub-deacon holding the paten in a humeral veil. This is a seemingly odd, but interesting, survival from the 7th-century papal liturgy in Rome.

View from the gallery of the Canon of the Mass being prayed

The bishop receives Holy Communion

Above and below, the distribution of Holy Communion

Acolytes bearing torches lead the procession at the end of Mass

This High Mass, which was celebrated in a form that was familiar to the Oxford martyrs, was a beautiful occasion which reminded us of the richness of the Church's liturgical tradition. It is part of our Catholic heritage, and links those of us who usually celebrate the (post-Vatican II) 'ordinary form' of the Roman rite to those saints we commemorated. 

As Pope Benedict XVI said: "There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place".   - Letter accompanying 'Summorum Pontificum'

Lawrence Lew OP


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