So Ss Philip and S James used irreverently to be referred to in Oxford. One of our most majestic Victorian Anglo-Catholic churches, also known as Pip'n'jim, raised its great spire into the sky above North Oxford; Parish Church for the redbrick suburbs that grew up in the later nineteenth century after dons were allowed to marry. Spire and building are still there, but the building now houses offices for some Evangelical organisation. A symbol of what has happened to this place. So swiftly, as Waugh put it, have the waters come flooding in; Newman's aquatint Oxford, Anthony Trollope's Oxford, hot-house of Anglican Theology ... and of Anglican scheming and quarrelling and gossipping ... the grey-stone town where and whence the black-backed parsons ruled ... they are no more, unless Plato has their idea wisely and safely tucked away in his heaven and allows tour-operators to arrange excursions.
May Morning still exists; but it is a matter of Mr Plod doing his best to quell disorder (more among the Town than among the Gown). Mr Proctor, of course, comes not within a million miles of Carfax and neither do the gentlemen in bowler hats. Frankly, listening to the madrigals sung, without any alcoholic disorders, in the front quad at S John's (usually, at 7) is distinctly more attractive than pretending to enjoy the 'traditional' crowded goings-on at Magdalene bridge (at six o'clock).
Rather a sad post, this, isn't it, for the lovely old English celebration of May Morning? And it gets sadder: the Roman Rite has joined in the trashing of Tradition by abolishing the celebration of Ss Philip and James on May Morning, and shoving the pair of them around, like vagrants Of No Fixed Abode being endlessly moved on by the police. Yet this was one of the thirty-odd Days of Obligation when the community met together for Mass, until encroachments of the Enlightenment and an appetitive Capitalist desire to keep the workers' noses to the grindstone reduced most of those days to Days of Devotion; when the Faithful were merely urged to go to Mass (and, of course, next to nobody nowadays even urges). It was Pius XII who dispossessed Ss Philip and James of May 1 so that S Joseph Opifex could occupy it and so reclaim for the Church the Socialist Workers' Festival. Let's be fair: on paper, that's not a bad idea. But it never caught on. You can't, simply by decree, create a deeply known and inculturated traditional celebration. Imaginative liturgical reformers never realise that.
And this year, of course, yet another problem raises its ugly head. Pip'n'jim on Sunday May 1 collides with a Sunday in Eastertide; a fact which, since the time of Pius XII, has required their suppression. Mgr Burnham, emeritus Bishop of Ebbsfleet, and Dr Lawrence Hemming, have deplored these modern rules which mean that most of the feasts of the Apostles never get exposed liturgically to the contemplation of Sunday worshippers. I can offer a couple of more-or-less authoritative dodges which might enable readers to circumvent this absurdity.
(1) H Davis Moral and Pastoral Theology (1934) Vol iii p 145 writes "To substitute for the Mass prescribed in the Calendar another Mass at choice would normally be a venial sin, but if great scandal arose or there was contempt or serious negligence, the sin would be a grave one. It would be no sin if the celebrant had a reasonable excuse for the change and if there were no scandal. But to make such substitutions frequently would connote contempt of the Rubrics, and would be a grievous sin unless, as stated, there was a serious reason for thus acting." Would a devotional desire, or the pastoral need for catechesis, be a iusta causa? Even a gravis causa?
(2) The current Roman Pontiff has given a most powerful lead, each and every Maundy Thursday since his success in getting elected Bishop of Rome, to those who feel that one should not worry too much about pettifogging liturgical red-tape and silly little rubrical prohibitions which prevent one from making some great and glorious point. Especially if one is oneself wiser than the rules, which, like the Holy Father, I almost always find I am. Does this particular rubrical Gordian Knot offer an occasion upon which Papa Bergoglio's example of splendid rubrical freedom should be embraced and followed? Does his praxis create what Fr Davis would have considered a iusta or a gravis causa? Surely!! Viva il Papa!