Tuesday, 20 March 2007


Tonight I had a rare opportunity to tear away from my parish and benefit from the vibrant Catholic life of Central London by attending the magnificent opening of the Forty Hours at the Oratory. It's always good to visit the Oratory, since this was the church of my First Holy Communion and my childhood attempts at altar-serving - but the Quarant'Ore is something special.

Firstly, High Mass (Novus Ordo) was celebrated by the Provost. According to my swift calculations, 179 candles were lit during the Liturgy of the Word - such things can be done when you have a splendid seventeenth century Neapolitan High Altar with spacious gradines. The Blessed Sacrament was placed in the monstrance after Holy Communion and solemnly processed around the church, as the choir sang F. Correa de Arauxo's Lauda Sion and Palestrina's stunning Pange lingua. Then the Sanctissimum was placed on the altar, the ministers quietly left and the lights dimmed. Theatrical and baroque, yes - but I think everyone felt very much 'involved' and the ritual was a genuine means to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Afterwards I bumped into a fellow Westminster priest and two musician friends (one of whom is the author of the Surge illuminare blog) and we retired to The Oratory brasserie, where I was able to sample an 'Oratory Burger and chips' and a few glasses of 'Holy Trinity.'

As I write this, I'm listening to the Oratory Choir's new CD: Vexilla Regis Prodeunt - Music for Holy Week and Easter - highly recommended for these final weeks leading to Easter. To quote the website, this CD:
presents a musical journey through the great liturgies of the most solemn week in the Church’s year. The spiritual power of these ceremonies, as celebrated at the Oratory, is evoked through some of the most profound masterpieces of the Latin liturgical repertoire, in which the Oratory Choir’s qualities of ‘musical self-control combined with passionate expression’ (to quote Church Music Quarterly) are famed.

Starting with the excitement and glowering splendour of Palm Sunday in Victoria’s Pueri hebraeorum and Wingham’s Vexilla Regis prodeunt, the programme continues through the dignified, reflective atmosphere of Maundy Thursday with Anerio’s Christus factus est and Duruflé’s Ubi caritas to the humbled adoration and penitence of Good Friday with King John of Portugal’s Crux fidelis and Byrd’s Civitas sancti tui. Palestrina’s Sicut cervus and Taverner’s Dum transisset sabbatum embody the gathering crescendo of joy at the Easter Vigil, and the full light of Easter Day is conveyed by Palestrina’s Haec dies and Allegri’s brilliant double-choir Christus resurgens. In addition, familiar Gregorian chants such as Vidi aquam and Victimae paschali laudes punctuate the choral progress.

Nearly all these items were recorded on the affectionately remembered 1979 LP Music for Holy Week and Easter made by the Oratory Choir under the direction of John Hoban. The longer playing time on CD means that this new recording also includes additional items including Victoria’s glorious Tantum ergo and haunting Reproaches (with a distant solo quartet singing the Greek text), Monteverdi’s intense Adoramus te Christe and Lhéritier’s refulgent Surrexit pastor bonus, now sung during Communion at High Mass on Easter morning.

The booklet documentation is comprehensive and the recording quality is superb. Like the Oratory Choir’s previous two CDs(Totus tuus sum, Maria and Jesu dulcis memoria – both acclaimed in the musical press) Vexilla Regis prodeunt has been sponsored by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, to whom go all profits from sales, and is now available in the Oratory shop at £11.50.

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Blogger Hebdomadary said...

Really, Father, aren't you quite forgetting another Oratorian affiliation which you and I share? ;-) Why not give your fratellini a little plug, you never know who might be inspired by your words, to follow in the footsteps of Fr. Philip's sons!

By the way, did you know that Sir Edward Elgar and his wife were married in Brompton Oratory? I just read that the other day. It might not be as rarified an event as the reception into the church of Maurice Baring, but it is rather special in its own way. Especially from a Catholic musician's point of view!

5:31 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Interesting about Elgar's connection with the Oratory. Regarding the fratellini, since there are several bloggers who regularly go to the Sunday afternoon exercises (and are thus 'up to date'), I was leaving it up to them to spread the word!

8:32 am  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Hebdo - I take it that you are a Brother of the Little Oratory as well? You're always welcome to the Sunday excercises, even if you've haven't been for a long time.

We also have Oratory of the Passion in the Little Oratory, after stations of the cross every Friday.

Good to see you Father yesterday.

1:01 pm  
Anonymous Dubliner said...

Can I join, even if I live several hundred miles away?

11:36 am  

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