An Oxford priest describes another example of the new righteousness and political correctness in academic circles

Three times a year, in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford (where Keble preached the Assize Sermon and Newman was Vicar), the Holy Communion is celebrated in Latin, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Book of Common Prayer. The service takes place on the Thursday before the First Sunday of Full Term; Thursday of 0th, or Noughth Week (what else would you call the week before First Week?). It is attended by a representative of the Vice-Chancellor, dressed in academic cap and gown; and the celebrant is formally the Vice-Chancellor s nominee. The date and time of the celebration, together with the name of the celebrant, heads the notice of University Preachers for the term, and is published in the official weekly record of University business, the Gazette.

The Latin Communion

The Latin Communion has always, hitherto, also been attended by the Proctors: two Senior Members of the University, elected annually, and responsible for University business, both executive and ceremonial. Where the Proctors are to be found, there is Oxford University.

But why bother readers of New Directions with this expression of, and testimony to, the Christian origins of one of our ancient universities, albeit of a particular (and now somewhat eccentric) character? The Latin Communion has always been attended by the Proctors, representing the entire University: bringing the entire University, as it were, to the Lords Table with them. But no longer. In his Oration on demitting office, delivered on 12 March this year, the departing Senior Proctor had this to say:

I harbour concerns about the amount of time [the Proctors] spent engaged in representing the University at certain religious ceremonies. Above all, the Proctors must be impartial…to ensure the fair representation of all the University’s members. In an increasingly multi-faith – and no faith -society, it is a growing anomaly that the Proctors should ally

themselves so publicly and so ceremonially with one branch of one faith tradition… While originally born within a Christian – though not of course Church of England – tradition, the University now rightly welcomes students and senior scholars for whom that tradition is not their tradition. So there you have it: another example – trivial perhaps – of the recognition of the special place of the Christian faith being quietly dropped from the life of a public institution. It is sad (but perhaps unsurprising) that the University of Oxford should use the same logic as Birmingham City Council in their suppression of Christmas and promotion of Winterval …not everyone is a Christian… therefore this is offensive to non-Christians…therefore this must be stopped.

Secularist victories

It would be interesting to discover how many Moslem, Hindu or Jewish students have complained about the proctorial presence at the Latin Communion. My guess would be somewhere under one. But how many born-again atheists and secularists? And how easily we can predict this debate being played out, and this muddle-headed conclusion reached, in situations where rather more is at stake: daily prayers at the beginning of parliamentary business; the Coronation of King Charles III. At least the Archbishop of Canterbury has made it plain that he will not tolerate any revision of that rite which would compromise its essentially Christian and sacramental integrity.

Did you notice the Senior Proctors judgement on the Church of England in particular? Even as he concedes that, yes, the University was ‘born within a Christian tradition, that tradition was not that of the CofE.

So much, then, for ecclesia anglicana, for the cherished Church of England apologetic that in her subsists not a new church (born at the Reformation), but rather the church of medieval England cleansed from error, the church of St Augustine, the church of the apostles. Hang on a moment…