On 19 October, the feast of St Frideswide, were once again fortunate to be able to hold Solemn Evensong and Benediction in the Priory Church at Blackfriars, Oxford. The Sub-Prior, Fr Benjamin Earl, O.P, was the Prior’s representative, and some other members of the community were present in choro and in the congregation. St Frideswide, Abbess, is patron of the city and University of Oxford, and we were keen to be able to honour her and to mark the Ordinariate’s presence in this place. Whereas previously we had followed Evensong from the Book of Divine Worship, for this occasion we were able to resort for the Office to the liturgical use of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham as permitted ad interim. We felt we had achieved much the first time we made this act of worship, earlier in the year, and so we were surprised and delighted to find that attendance was higher than before.
The Newman Consort sang the Preces and Responses by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), and the canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) from his Second Service. The anthem was also Tomkins, O sing unto the Lord a new song. The office hymn, Jesu corona virginum, was sung (before the Magnificat) in the translation of J. M. Neale, and to the plainsong tune as given in the English Hymnal. Dom Aidan Bellenger, Abbot of Downside, preached, and his sermon will be made available here. Following the sermon, and while the altar was being prepared for Benediction, we sang Neale’s translation of Peter Abelard’s hymn O quanta qualia, to Thomas Helmore’s (1811-90) adaptation of the tune Regnator Orbis. Helmore was partly responsible for the revival of interest in plainsong in England, with his books The Psalter Noted and the Primer of Plainsong. The evening’s two Thomases, Tomkins and Helmore, had both in their time been members of Magdalen College, Oxford, a happy connection to the saint of the day.
O Salutaris Hostia, in the six-part setting by William Byrd, was sung as the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. This beautiful piece, with its glistening cascade of false relations in almost every bar, took us back to a different kind of piety from Tomkins’s works, and England and the continent were yoked in the final Salve Regina by Victoria. Once again, we were able to recite the General Thanksgiving (itself composed by a sometime Warden of Merton College, Oxford) before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. Jerusalem the Golden was the recessional hymn, and its reference to ‘social joys’ aptly heralded the well-attended refreshments which followed the service.