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Oxford Martyrs' Mass at Blackfriars

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

For the past few years, the Latin Mass Society has organised a High Mass and Procession in memory of those Oxford men who gave their lives for the Catholic faith during the English Reformation and Recusancy period. Last year, Bishop William Kenney CP blessed a plaque at the end of Holywell Street to commemorate their sacrifice, and the liturgies took place in Blackfriars for the first time.

This year saw another first, as the Prior of Blackfriars, fr Simon Gaine OP celebrated the High Mass in the Extraordinary Form on 24 October 2009. He was assisted by fr Richard Conrad OP as deacon, and fr Lawrence Lew OP as sub-deacon. Once again, the team of servers was drawn from the Dominican studentate.

fr Richard Ounsworth OP preached during the Mass and he likened the martyrs to moths who were irresistibly drawn to the light of Christ, and consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Through their death by pyre, gallows and smoke, the martyrs' participated in the one great sacrifice of Christ. We too participate in that sacrifice whenever we celebrate the Mass, and, moth-like, are drawn by the light of Christ and offer ourselves to be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

During the Mass, the choir, which included students from Blackfriars Hall, sang music by William Byrd, who was himself a recusant Catholic. His 4-part Mass was sung in clandestine Masses during the times of the martyrs we were commemorating, and the words of the motet, 'Ne irascaris Domine', which was also sung during the Mass, had a particular poignancy for recusant Catholics in Elizabethan England:

"Be not angry, O Lord,
and remember our iniquity no more.
Behold, we are all your people.

Your holy city has become a wilderness.
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem has been made desolate."

The public celebration of this older form of the Roman rite, which the martyrs may once have celebrated in secret, was an appropriate way to honour the Oxford martyrs and to thank God for their faithful witness and example of perseverance in the face of trials and great suffering. May the graces which God gave them be ours too.

The deacon sings the Gospel from Luke 21:9-19:
"You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives".

"Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" - John 12:31-32.

The deacon and sub-deacon exchange the sign of peace, which comes from Christ truly present on the Altar. Thus, we can say with St Paul, that Christ makes peace "by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20).

Holy Communion is first given to the those ministering around the Altar.

The Prior imparts the blessing at the end of Mass.

The 'Salve Regina' is sung as the ministers leave the Choir.

Photos used with kind permission of Dr Joseph Shaw, and videos of the Mass are online at the Schola Beati Thomae Abelis blog.

Lawrence Lew OP


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