News Archive

Wednesday 24 February 2021


If you were to open a missal for the older form of the Roman Rite for any day in Lent, you will find an intriguing note. Today, for example, “Station at St Mary Major” indicates that the ancient Roman “Station” liturgy takes place in that church on this day. There will be another church tomorrow, and another the day after and so on, in a long series stretching to Easter. In the earliest days of the Roman Church, the faithful would gather at one church, imaginatively called the collectum, where they would all walk in procession, singing the litany of the saints to the Station church of the day where the pope himself would celebrate Mass. There they commemorated the saints, kept the ember days, and prayed and sang. The whole business takes its name from their destination — the statio, a name it shares with the guard duty of a Roman soldier, which came to mean a fast, from sunset until the ninth hour the following day. The ancient Christians took their fasting and prayer seriously — so seriously that they saw it to be of equal importance to those soldiers, walking the walls of the ancient City, keeping the enemy at bay. But it was no bleak penance. This most ancient of Lenten customs had forward motion, it had a trajectory, it was going somewhere — and we can learn a lot from it.

We may not (sadly) be able to be in Rome this Lent, but there should be something stational about our Lenten penance too. We should be watchful in prayer, vigilant, ready for spiritual action. We should approach our Lenten fast not only with commitment but also a kind of enthusiasm. If we cannot be on a physical daily pilgrimage around the churches of Rome, we can ensure our Lent is a pilgrimage of the heart, wherever we are, heading towards Easter day when our new habits will be formed and virtues grown-into, ready to meet the Lord’s resurrection.

But, of course, if we are to reach its end, every journey requires some food for the way. It is no coincidence that what happened as the high point of the statio was the Mass, the bread from heaven, given as food to wayfaring man below, and just as the Eucharist was the food for the station pilgrims, so it should be the nourishment that fuels our Lenten discipline too. Our Lenten eyes are, understandably cast towards Calvary, to that moment of sorrow and sacrifice which, whilst it wrought our salvation, meant the suffering of the Lord for our sake. But it is the love which runs to the core of that sacrifice which is our sustenance on this journey, it is that love that transforms us, and it is that love Himself which we receive, truly present in the Blessed Eucharist.

So while we fast from earthly food, and Netflix, from Deliveroo and alcohol, may the absence of these earthly delights teach us to cling more firmly to that true food for our journey, that more lasting nourishment, the very One who gave himself for us.

These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Enter your e-mail address below to receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.

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Saturday 20 February 2021

Lent Project: Mary’s Meals

Our Lent project this year is Mary’s Meals, a charity that provides one good meal to some of the world’s poorest children every school day. The charity is also currently running a particular appeal in order to send life-saving food parcels to children and vulnerable adults in Tigray, Ethiopia, where, due to fighting in the region, many families are at risk of imminent starvation.

The best way to give is directly to Mary’s Meals via their website, but you can also use the ‘Lent Project’ slot of the safe at the back of church to make cash donations.


Saturday 20 February 2021

The Blessed Sacrament is exposed all day each Saturday of Lent until Benediction at 6pm.

“Everyone tries to obtain an audience of the Prince when he is disengaged, and so when there is no concourse of people, it is a good time to obtain an audience of Almighty God. He who really wishes to be heard and to demand graces for his soul will not mind a little inconvenience.” — Fr Gioan-Matteo Ancina of the Roman Oratory


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Thursday 18 February 2021

In case anyone had wondered where all the straw from our Christmas Crib had gone when it went away at Candlemas, John Keown’s pigs are happily hunkered-down in it. We probably won’t ask for it back for next Christmas! #oxfordoratory

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Wednesday 17 February 2021

O God, who desire not the death of sinners, but their conversion, mercifully hear our prayers and in your kindness be pleased to bless these ashes, which we intend to receive upon our heads, that we, who acknowledge we are but ashes and shall return to dust, may, through a steadfast observance of Lent, gain pardon for sins and newness of life after the likeness of your Risen Son. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. #oxfordoratory
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Wednesday 17 February 2021

Dust and ashes

Today is one of the most distinctive days of the Church’s calendar. We all like those days where we get something, and today everyone is invited to be covered with ash. But when you think about it, that doesn’t actually sound like a particularly nice thing to receive. Ash has become such a significant sign of the beginning of Lent — but why ash?

As the priest sprinkles the ash, he gives us an idea. He says, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ They’re not his own words of course. He’s quoting God himself. When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, God reminded him of his own mortality. So there’s a message here: be careful how you live now, because one day you will face God in judgment.

Remember that you are dust. Therefore, ash. Except ash and dust are not the same thing. Man isn’t made from ash. Yes the the two are similar, but not the same. In the Old Testament, people show their grief and sorrow by sprinkling dust or ashes or both on themselves. The King of Nineveh covers himself in sackcloth and ashes to show his repentance when Jonah preaches. Job repents in dust and ashes. It’s not just a reminder of mortality: ash is simply something unpleasant — like wearing sackcloth. It doesn’t do anything in and of itself. And therefore, it’s not something we want to do instinctively. Covering ourselves in ash serves no practical purpose — we only do it because we don’t want to.

When we repent in ashes, we’re using that God-given gift of reason, that higher ability unique to humans among all animals to think and choose a course of action that isn’t practically helpful. Ash doesn’t make us healthier, it doesn’t make us happier, it doesn’t fulfil any of our natural, animal instincts. It becomes a sign of us choosing to be as God intended us — not giving in to our passions all the time, but choosing our actions through reason and understanding.

All of this then is a prelude to our Lenten fasting, where the same idea applies. You don’t see animals fasting in wildlife documentaries. It doesn’t make sense. Nature says that you should eat what you can when you can if you want to survive, and animals cannot overcome that nature. We are called to a higher vocation. We are different from animals. God gives us reason and free will — an ability to choose and control our actions.

So it’s a bit ungrateful of us when we so often ignore those gifts. We sin by giving in to those passions rather than doing what we know to be good by the light of reason. We waste that gift of God. So our fasting is a chance to put things right. We put reason in charge of what we eat. We do something that doesn’t make practical sense. And that’s the point. We’re not fasting for any other reasons. We’re not dieting, we’re not trying to be healthy by eating less during Lent. We’re giving something up unnecessarily in order to put reason back in command. That way, when our bodies try to get us to behave like animals, our reason will be strong enough to say ‘no’. If we can say ‘no’ to our stomachs when they ask for more food, we’ll be able to say ‘no’ to our bodies, our instincts, our emotions in all other kinds of areas too.

If only that really were our worst problem. But our bodies are not our biggest weakness. Our biggest problem is our mind. When we do choose to use that gift of reason, we misuse it. We try to find ways of getting what we want, regardless of what’s good for anyone else, or what God tells us is good for us. We’re all trying to get our own way all the time, ever since Adam and Eve decided that they’d rather listen to the advice of a talking snake than the command of their Creator.

So that use of reason also needs to be purified and tamed. And that’s a much more important thing to worry about. As the prophet Joel says, ‘Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn.’ The external signs only go so far. It’s what’s going on inside that matters most.

Our Holy Father St Philip used to say that the sanctity of a man lay in the width of three fingers. And as he said this, he would place three fingers against the forehead of the person he was speaking to, to show that by this, he meant the mortification of the reason.

We’re practising saying ‘no’ to ourselves. And we don’t have to do very much penance before that becomes a challenge. It’s much more important to practise this in our conversation, our decisions, our interactions with others. Things don’t always have to be exactly as we want them to be. And in those small things that really don’t matter, why not practise letting other people have their way, so that eventually we’ll be happy to let God have things his way? Or in the words of St Philip: ‘We ought to mortify our understanding in little things, if we wish easily to mortify it in great ones, and to advance in the way of virtue.’ Start small and get bigger, but the chief thing is to tame the understanding and will. The sanctity of a man lies in the width of three fingers.

The end result of all of this must be a growth in charity. If we can give way to other people’s opinions more easily, if we’re happy doing what God asks us to, instead of trying to reason our way out of it, then we’ll find it easier to love God and our neighbour. And that’s the point of Lent. Whatever we take on, whatever we give up, ultimately the point is to make us more loving in 40 days’ time than we are today.

It’s quite appropriate that the ashes are placed on our heads, as a sign that this is where most of the work needs to happen in us. We see in today’s Gospel how Christ shows us that the biggest change needs to take place where others don’t see it, secretly, privately, ‘so that our Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward us’. And what is that reward? What reward is there for those who know that they are dust and ashes? Well, as the great hymn puts it: Exult, O dust and ashes, the Lord shall be thy part. His only, his forever, thou shalt be and thou art.

These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Enter your e-mail address below to receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of one of the e-mails.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

OYA: ‘But it’s Lent already!’

Whatever our good resolutions for Lent last year, many of us thought that a global pandemic was a good enough excuse for giving them up early. As Lent approaches, after the year we’ve had and the year we are having, there are few pleasures left to us, and we’re not so sure about giving those up! Join us on Zoom at 8pm this Friday as we think about how we can use this season to progress in holiness, without making ourselves miserable on the way.

A link to the Zoom meeting and a downloadable booklet will be made available here on Friday evening before the meeting starts. The Zoom link is already on the Facebook event.

To stay up to date with Oratory Young Adults news and meetings, subscribe to our Facebook page or our OYA mailing list.

Saturday 13 February 2021

“I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

Congratulations to Axel, who was received into full Communion with the Church this morning. #oxfordoratory

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