I was recently invited to write a few pieces for Catholic Education Daily and also to report on the Sacra Liturgia 2012 conference on Sacred Liturgy. Catholic Education Daily is published by the Cardinal Newman Society which is dedicated to the promotion and defence of faithful Catholic education. I will be posting several of these over the next few weeks. I cover topics such as the presentation on art and architecture by Fr Uwe Michael Lang of the London Oratory, and why Catholic education is education for the liturgy….period!
They asked me first to write a piece about the changes that have been made gradually in the chapel at Thomas More College. For instance if you look at the photograph below showing us installing the Christ in Majesty, look at the pews. They are facing each other. I explain that we do this because it helps our liturgy – we sing the Office antiphonally and so like monks in the choir, it helps the dynamic of the singing. Also, because our chapel is a funny shape – it is wider than it is long, visually it helps to create the sense of a longitudinal sweep down the axis of the church towards the altar. The article is here.
What I don’t say in the article is that when we first introduced some students were unsettled by it. Many had not seen this arrangement before and because the pews did not face forward towards the altar, they thought this was the introduction of a post-Vatican II abuse, similar to seating in the round. It felt to them that they were being asked to focus on each other in Mass, rather than God. I explained that this was in fact a traditional collegiate arrangement in which the pattern worship, when takes into account the line of the pews is intended to increase the focus on worship on God. In order to help convince them, I showed them about 20 photographs of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge made before the Reformation, each with the same seating arrangement. Below the photo of Thomas More College’s I show a photograph of Merton College, Oxford as an example. I found videos of the Extraordinary Form Mass and of Solemn Vespers being celebrated in this chapel at 2006 Ciel Conference (Ciel UK was one of the organisers of Liturgia Sacra 2013 in Rome).