The Latin Mass Society held its annual Pilgrimage to Oxford last Saturday.
In the 19th century a surprisingly broad cross-section of Anglicans incorporated into their thinking the notion of sacred space, leading to a new conception of what churches should be like: a conception which harked back to many old churches' Catholic past. This conception of sacred space had a natural parallel in the idea of processions. This was also the historical moment when Catholic church-building and processions began to be largely untrammelled by legal restrictions, so Catholics, less surprisingly, were doing the same things at the same time. For about a century England saw an amazing number of these, and then they suddenly almost died out in the 1970s.
The idea of sacred space implies that one place can be a better one than another for prayer not just because it is convenient and quiet but because it is holy. When our churches are consecrated there are lots of prayers and ceremonies which call down God's blessing on the building with this idea in mind. But consecration by a bishop is not the only factor: it will also particularly please God to answer our prayers if the place where we are praying is associated with the lives and sufferings of his saints. It is natural therefore to build churches at the sites of martyrdoms (the origin of St Peters and of many ancient Roman churches) and to bring relics of the saints into them. We can also go out to such sites, such as do not, yet, have churches built over them.
The site of the Catholic martyrdoms of 1589 was the Town Gallows, now occupied (approximately) by 100 Holywell Street. Four brave men, two priests and two laymen, made the ultimate witness to the Catholic Faith there, and we can witness to the Faith we share with them by going there in procession. When there the cleric with us says the Collect from the Mass of the Martyrs of England and Wales, and we sing the Church's hymn of thanksgiving, the Te Deum.
This year the sun shone and numbers were higher than they have been for quite a few years, with 70 in church and a very creditable 35 people processing through Oxford's tourists and shoppers.
Many thanks to the Prior and Community of Blackfriars for hosting us, and to Fr Lawrence Lew OP for celebrating the Mass, and to Mrs Shaw for providing lunch for pilgrims in Blackfriars' Aula.
Read more about the martyrs and this event here.
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