Yes, a Latin Book of Common Prayer service may seem a bit of a contradiction, an oxymoron even. Wasn’t the BCP written in English precisely so that it would be “understanded of the people”? Wasn’t it a pointed break from the Latin Sarum Rite?
But remember that in times past, Latin was very well “understanded” by Oxford scholars. You really could not even get into the place, much less flourish within, without knowing Latin well. So in 1560, just one year after the Elizabethan Prayer Book of 1559 was approved, a Latin BCP was promulgated for the use in the universities.
A survivor of those times – because tradition! – is a Latin BCP Holy Communion service at the University Church of St. Mary’s in Oxford at 8am the Thursday before the beginning of the academic year, which service I attended this morning.
I attended (among only about 15 so to do) because . . . tradition! and because Oxford could use all the Latin prayer it can get. But I have to admit it was more stirring than I expected. As I walked down the High about ten minutes early, St. Mary’s main bell was calling scholars to the service. Of course, most of even Oxford students on High Street were probably clueless as to why all the gonging.
The service itself was quiet and said, only about 35 minutes. I found hearing and saying (tolerably well) the Latin moving. There is something about Latin. And when I crossed my arms for a blessing only (Oddly, the sacrament was brought around to the stalls instead of the congregation going forward.), being quietly blessed in Latin moved me indeed.
I attended this in 2007, missed it in 2011. I am glad I didn’t miss it this time and recommend it to all visitors to Oxford, at least those not allergic to Latin.