We ended last year with the singing of the Te Deum and Solemn Benediction, in thanksgiving to God for the many blessings and graces he has bestowed on us in 2022. There was much to be grateful for during the year, and many occasions for the Te Deum.
In March, Fr Nicholas represented the community at the solemn celebrations in Rome for the 400th anniversary of the canonisation of St Philip, St Ignatius, St Francis Xavier, St Theresa of Avila and St Isidore the Farmer, and we celebrated a Jubilee Mass and Te Deum in our church together with Jesuit fathers from the University Chaplaincy and Campion Hall, and Carmelite friars from Boar’s Hill.
The Te Deum was again sung in October at the end of our canonical visitation. The Congregation of the Oratory is unusual in the Church in that each Oratory is completely independent, and we have no Superior General. The Holy Father himself watches over our Houses through an Apostolic Delegate, who visits every six years or so to ensure we are living a true Oratorian life. The Delegate, Fr Marco from the Toronto Oratory, was very impressed with our community and parish, and we passed the visitation with flying colours.
We had the great pleasure of singing the Te Deum three more times as part of the clothing rite for our three novices during 2022, welcoming into our family Fr Rupert, Br Vincent, and Br Clement. All three are familiar faces in the parish already, and we are blessed to have such fine men wanting to share our life and serve the Church as priests after St Philip’s example.
Our good friend George, Cardinal Pell, returned to Oxford in May to celebrate St Philip’s Day with us and offered his reflections on what St Philip has to say to us today, and how he can help us with many of the current fears and anxieties of the Church. Cardinal Pell graciously agreed to become patron of the Friends of the Oxford Oratory, a group which we hope to grow this year. In that capacity, the Cardinal hosted a dinner in Rome for some of our Friends and other parishioners who were on pilgrimage to the Eternal City with Fr Benedict.
There were also a great many causes for celebration and thanksgiving in our parish last year. The bishops reinstated the Sunday obligation in May, but our Sunday Mass congregations were already back to pre-Covid numbers, averaging 850 each weekend. This is sadly not a pattern that is repeated in a majority of parishes in the country, so we are especially blessed in Oxford through the dedication of our parishioners and the hard work of the Fathers and Brothers. The Sunday collection, however, lags behind, and is not what a large, busy parish like ours needs to run effectively and to grow. Please see our website for more details on the need to support the parish and how to give: oxfordoratory.org.uk/giving.php
In 2022 we baptised 45 new Christians and welcomed David, Skye, George, Ignacio, Perrine, Lucy, Helena, Weixi, Cillian, Alana, Theodore, Beatrice, Johnny, Dominic, Hugo, Benjamin, Tahri, Mario, Louie, Anne-Fleur, John, Jemima, Helene, Jane, Mahri, Daria, Marie-Louise, Lucy, Leon, Beatrix, Issac, Xhulietta, Xhavier, Lydia, Matilda, Livia, Oakley, Maxwell, Leo, Ambrose, Ava, Matilda, Maia and Anthony into the family of the Church. Matthew, Robin, Holly, Ben, Martin, Stephen, Jade, Philip, Breanna, Asher, Samuel and Nicholas were received into full communion in the One Fold of the Redeemer. The Oratory continues to be a popular church for weddings, and last year 15 couples began their married lives together here: please pray for Ignacio and Consúelo, James and Naomi, Thomas and Jade, Christopher and Bethany, Gareth and Lucy, Timothy and Harriet, Dominic and Michaela, Robin and Melissa, Riley and Ana, Pierre and Weixi, Andrew and Kelly, Andrew and Elizabeth, Paul and Marie, Charles-Marie and Samantha, and Isaac and Ashley.
Cafe Neri and our Oratory Bookshop have had a very successful year, and we are grateful to the many volunteers who help keep these two important ministries going. We are grateful also to our dedicated team of cleaners who keep our church and lodge beautifully clean and welcoming. Paulette, one of the first (and therefore longest serving) porters, retired at the end of the year, as did Christine who has looked after the bookshop for many years, and we had a small celebration before Christmas to thank them and all our other porters and cleaners. There is always need for more helpers, so if you are able to give a few hours each week to help in the Lodge, the Cafe, or as a cleaner, please speak to one of the Fathers.
Our Oratory family was able to help a number of charities here in Oxford and throughout the world through the generosity of parishioners. In total we were able to give £3,832 of “poor box” donations to St Mungo’s, the Oxford Companions of the Order of Malta, the Archdiocese of Birmingham’s Ukraine Appeal, the Gatehouse, Let the Children Live, Missio, and Mary’s Meals. In addition, our crib collection raised £882 for Aid to the Church in Need, and the Lent Project for St Mungo’s totalled £1,511. The Mission Appeal for the Society of African Missions collected £1,415, and we were able to send 186 gift parcels to the Operation Christmas Child Christmas shoebox appeal. Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity.
2022 was not only a year of Te Deums, but also of moments of sadness. The peculiar demography of central Oxford means that we have far fewer funerals than other similar parishes, but we still said goodbye to a number of parishioners last year, commending to God: John MacDonald, Pat Burrows, Ruth Preston, Rosemary Sampson, Francesca Beckinsale, Bimal Prodhan, Dorothy Crowley, and Laurence Payne (who died aged 101). We also hosted the funeral rites of two famous Oxford figures: the Orthodox bishop and theologian Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, and Fr Ian Ker, the great biographer of Our Cardinal, St John Henry Newman. A Solemn Requiem was celebrated for her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and on the last day of the year we sadly lost our beloved Pope Benedict XVI. May God give them all the reward of their labours, and may their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Our pipe organ suffered from a terminal illness throughout 2022, finally giving up the ghost just before the feast of the Immaculate Conception. We are managing with a temporary digital replacement, but a new pipe organ will be commissioned in the fullness of time, as part of our general renewal and development project. Planning permission has been given for some of the works to our church, and we hope to share final plans and artist impressions with you this year. Then will begin the tremendous task of fundraising to pay for the redecoration of the church, a new altar, renovated sacristies, a baptistery and the Newman chapel. This is an exciting but daunting project, ensuring a more fitting church in which to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. As Pope Benedict reminded us so often in his sermons and writings:
The beauty of the liturgy is a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth. Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation.
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 35
The daily round of Masses and Confessions continues, and 2023 will see its own share of joys, sorrows and celebrations. The life of the Church goes on, and we continue to dedicate ourselves, our Oratory and the parish to the Lord and his Blessed Mother, trusting in the prayers of St Philip and St Aloysius. If we dedicate ourselves to the Lord, if we give him everything that we have and are, we will always shine with him as light in the darkness, and inspire more and more of our brothers and sisters to give themselves to him also.
Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
Pope Benedict XVI, Homily for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry, 24 April 2005
It was with great sadness that we learnt of the sudden and unexpected death of Cardinal Pell last night. We pray for the repose of his soul, giving thanks to God for the inspiration so many found in His Eminence's steadfast perseverance and witness to the Catholic faith. May he rest in peace.
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