05 November 2022

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Saturday 5 November 2022

Merton College, Oxford, dates back to the 1260s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

Throughout this week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, A reflection based on seven more churches or chapels in Oxford I have visited recently;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Gatehouse at Merton College dates the early 15th century, when Henry V granted a royal license to crenellate, allowing for the battlement tower above the lodge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 16: 9-15 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 9 ‘And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15 So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.’

Inside the chapel of Merton College, Oxford, facing the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Chapel, Merton College, Oxford:

Merton College, Oxford, dates back to the 1260s when Walter de Merton, chancellor to Henry III and later to Edward I, first drew up statutes for an independent academic community and established endowments to support it. An important feature of de Merton’s foundation was that this college was to be self-governing and the endowments were directly vested in the Warden and Fellows.

Alumni and academics of Merton include five Nobel laureates, the writer JRR Tolkien, Merton Professor of English Language and Literature in 1945-1959, and Liz Truss, Prime Minister in September-October 2022.

Merton College Chapel has been a place of prayer and worship for over 700 years. Work on the church of Saint Mary and Saint John, now the Quire of Merton College Chapel, started in the late 1280s to replace the parish church of Saint John the Baptist which stood on the site now occupied by the north wing of Mob Quad. The Quire’s large size attests perhaps to thirteenth-century confidence in the growth of the college as well as the practical need to accommodate parishioners.

Of the seven pairs of windows in the side walls of the quire, 12 contain the original glass from this period, set in decorated tracery. The figured and grisaille glass was given to the chapel ca 1289-1296 by Henry Mansfield, fellow of the college. The heraldic glass and the Annunciation scene in the east window are also original and date from the late 13th century; much of the glass in the rest of the windows dates from the 15th century.

The 1300s saw considerable expansion of the chapel. By the end of the century, the crossing and south transept had been built, followed in 1425 by the north transept. This space was designated for the use of parishioners, accounting for the ability to enter the chapel from the street.

The chapel was never completed. The site originally intended for the nave was leased in 1517 to Bishop Foxe, the founder of neighbouring Corpus Christi College. The resulting T-shape became the model for many other Oxbridge college chapels. Despite the strain on college finances, the late mediaeval chapel was rich in ornamentation, including a gothic screen, fine sets of vestments and 24 copes.

The pre-Reformation lectern, a gift from John Martock in 1504, is one of the finest examples of the period, and continues to be used at chapel services.

Much of the stained glass was removed during the reign of Edward VI (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Reformation was deeply divisive in Merton. Under Edward VI, traditional worship in the chapel ceased, including masses and requiems for the souls of benefactors, and the statues and stained glass were removed. Under Marian I (1553-1558), the college was strongly Catholic, and later attempted to resist Protestant interference in Elizabeth’s reign. In a famous episode, the college stood siege against the officers of Archbishop Matthew Parker for three weeks.

During the English Civil War, Merton was the only Oxford college to side with Parliament. This was due to an earlier dispute between the Warden, Nathaniel Brent, and the Visitor of Merton and Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.

By the mid-17th century, however, the chapel was in need of refurbishment; the south transept roof collapsed in 1655, smashing many of the mediaeval monuments below. Sir Christopher Wren fitted up the interior with a new screen and stalls in the classical style in 1671.

The medieval The chapel bells were cast by Christopher Hodson in 1680. They are the oldest complete ring of eight by one founder in existence.

The 19th century saw extensive changes to the chapel interior. Under the influence of Blore, Butterfield and Scott, monuments from the sanctuary were rearranged in the ante-chapel. Red and yellow tiles were fitted among the black and white ones of the quire floor, a Gothic font was introduced to the north transept and the new Victorian roof was painted.

Worship changed too, and a regular Sunday Communion, and morning and evening services, were established in 1870. By 1886, the college brewery, that had occupied the sacristy for nearly 60 years, was removed.

The new organ, installed in 2013, was built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa.

The Revd Canon Dr Simon Jones has been Chaplain of Merton since 2002. He trained for ordination at Westcott House, Cambridge, and at Selwyn College he completed a PhD in Syrian baptismal theology. His current research interests include recent revisions of Anglican baptismal rites, Gregory Dix and the origin and development of marriage rites. He is a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission and the Oxford Diocesan Liturgical Committee. He is an Honorary Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and honorary canon theologian of Chichester Cathedral.

The Revd Lyndon Webb is Associate Chaplain with particular responsibility for pastoral care within the chapel community, for leading discussion groups, and developing new initiatives.

Choral services on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday are sung by the College Choir, and on Monday and Wednesday by Merton’s Girl Choristers. The term-time Sunday services are: 9 am Morning Prayer or College Eucharist; 5:45 pm, Choral Evensong or Choral Eucharist. The chapel collections in Michaelmas term are being donated to Children Heard and Seen, and the Trinity term collections were donated to Christian Aid.

TS Eliot, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, was awarded a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, in 1914, but left after a year, commenting: ‘Oxford is very pretty, but I don’t like to be dead.’ This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Waste Land in 1922, and I plan to focus on The Waste Land in my prayer diary next week.

The gatehouse of Merton College includes a relief above the entrance made in 1465, showing Saint John the Baptist in the wilderness, and two 19th century statues of Henry III and the college founder Walter de Merton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Saturday 5 November 2022):

The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God,
you have kindled the flame of love
in the hearts of the saints:
grant to us the same faith and power of love,
that, as we rejoice in their triumphs,
we may be sustained by their example and fellowship;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect:
as in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd David Rajiah, Diocesan Prayer Co-ordinator for the Diocese of West Malaysia.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We give thanks for those working to protect freedom of expression, belief and speech. Let us not take our freedoms for granted but pray for our brothers and sisters in other countries to be free.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The new organ, installed in 2013, was built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Looking out onto Merton College from the chapel door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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