An appointment to the English episcopate.


Scripture says:  The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.

In this case, in England, it is more a case of the Lord took and the Lord gave.

You may have heard by now that a new bishop has been appointed as Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham: Fr. Robert Byrne, a founder of the Oxford Oratory.

If you are wondering what sort of fellow this new bishop is, here is something about him which I solicited from an English cleric friend (edited, rewritten):

The Oratorians took over a church which the Jesuits had reduced to a shabby barn. They stripped the gray paint away and made it look like church again.  The fine old relics chapel (the Jesuits had the relics and reliquaries cremated) was beautifully restored and hundreds of new relics were collected. He is likeable, with an easy and attractive pastoral manner. The Oxford Oratory under him became a centre of evangelisation. [A few years back during one of my visits to Oxford, a group of the students there had me say Mass at the Oratory, which wouldn’t have happened without the benign nod of the locum tenens.  At the time, I thought good thoughts about what was going on there.] It is expanding in terms of Oratorians and congregation.  They are well into a physical development which will include more accommodation for brethren, a Newman shrine and a Newman library. There is a good “reform of reform” high Mass and regular Extraordinary Form Solemn Sunday Vespers.  He continues the old English way of preparing converts individually and receiving them when ready. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?  This is interesting to me because that is how I came into the Church.  The usual RCIA course would have driven me off.  Also, Byrne had been involved in the English/Welsh conference’s ecumencial office.] The Oratory has moved towards versus populum liturgy and there is a regular Extraordinary Form Sunday Mass. He has been a friend to the Ordinariate.

This is positive.  My clerical Jedi powers tell me that the force was strong with the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbp. Mennini, in this nomination.  Let us hope that it remains strong.

As a matter of fact, let us remember Archbp. Mennini in our prayers. Pray that Mennini’s influence prevails often in the naming of bishops for that “precious stone set in the silver sea”.   Add prayerful bids for confusion to his enemies, which are not few.

Say a prayer also for the bishop-elect, Fr. Byrne, who must be… well… more than a little apprehensive.  It is hard for me to imagine what he is going through in preparing for the day of his consecration.  God Bless our bishops, so attacked by the Enemy.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. rtjl says:

    “the Jesuits had the relics and reliquaries cremated” !!??? The relics cremated? Deliberately? How is that not a sin of sacrilege and sacrilege among the worst kind? Maybe it’s not sacrilege. Maybe they did it out of some bizarre sense of reverence and respect. But I can’t see how and it’s not something I would ever dare to do.

  2. kpoterack says:

    “The Oratory has moved towards versus populum liturgy . . .” ?

    I can’t help but think that this is a misprint, given the context of the article mentioning all of the other traditional things introduced, and the fact that the Oratorians would have inherited “versus populum” from the Jesuits who preceded them. There would have been no need to ‘move toward’ something practiced so widely for decades in most churches. Either the author meant “moved AWAY” or “versus DEUM” and mistyped.

    Just a bit puzzling.

    Otherwise, very good news.

  3. Fr. Ó Buaidhe says:

    I’m sure you’re right, kpoterack. The Jesuits did indeed leave a versus populum altar behind. If I remember correctly, however, the complicating issue was that true east actually lay toward the congregation and so the situation remained for many years. Recently, the altar has been moved to accommodate celebrations facing liturgical east.

  4. Ben Trovato says:

    Fr Robert Byne is indeed a tremendous appointment, and the best news we have had here in England for a while.

    My mother was a parishioner of St Aloysius (now the Oxford Oratory) for the last decades of her life. The transformation wrought by the Oratorians, led by Fr Byrne, was extraordinary. The parish is now vibrant: liturgically, educationally, and in social outreach. Fr Byrne was personally very kind to her, and particularly solicitous when she was dying. A priest visited her every day to bring her the Blessed Sacrament, and she was buried following a magnificent sung Requiem Mass according to the traditional Missal.

    I know from first hand experience that he is also an excellent confessor and spiritual advisor.

    Ad multos annos.

  5. O. Possum says:

    Rtjl: I was about to say the same thing. Destroying relics is just downright demonic. :(

  6. SteelBiretta says:

    @rtjl: That was my thought as well. How horrifying! Was this a common thing? I am sure that someone would have been happy to take the relics off the Jesuits’ hands, but perhaps that is why they were disposed of.

    In trying to look up the destruction of relics, I found this article:

    The article notes a shop that sells relics/reliquaries, which is run by a Jewish woman. There is this quote: “After having no takers with other parishes, some church officials feel they have no other option but to send someone over to Broomer with a load of relics in the hope that they end up in the right hands.”

    How could they end up in “the right hands” if it’s a sin to purchase relics?

  7. M. K. says:

    Quote: “The Oratory has moved towards versus populum liturgy and there is a regular Extraordinary Form Sunday Mass. ”

    I had the same thought as kpoterack. ‘Versus Deum’ seems to make more sense in context and I wondered whether there was a typo.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    I have a special place in my heart for the Oratorians, as the Brompton Oratory was my parish. This is excellent news, and, yes, owing to the Nuncio. I hope he stays in England. We must pray for him.

    And, yes, the Jesuits did burn relics and other pre-Reformation things in Oxford. I knew about this a long time ago–is not news.

  9. wmeyer says:

    Father Z, I must say that two years spent in an insipid RCIA with catechists whose “favorite theologian” is Richard Rohr, and with frequent handouts of the pronouncements from Sr. Joan Chittister nearly drove me off. But I persevered, and now I hope to build a CCC study group, with an eye to forming a continuing class in the Catechism, for adults.

  10. “And, yes, the Jesuits did burn relics and other pre-Reformation things in Oxford.”

    How sadly ironic. Considering that so many staunchly faithful 16th century Jesuits gave their lives for “pre-Reformation”. And now their contemporary successors act like followers of Henry VIII!

  11. James C says:

    I’ve been to the Sunday High Novus Ordo at the Oxford Oratory. It is definitely ad Deum.

    Another nice ad Deum Mass in Oxford: the weekly Ordinariate Mass. It’s wonderful! What liturgy in the vernacular should be!

    Fortunately the Oxford Jesuits are getting more truly liberal these days. In November they hosted an EF Mass organised by the Latin Mass Society at the Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy (which they run). That was the first public EF Mass there since the Sixties and was well attended.

  12. pelerin says:

    It is interesting to learn that the new Bishop prepares future converts individually. This was how I was prepared prior to my reception into the Church in 1965. I don’t think the RCIA was in existance then or if it was I had not heard of it. I understand that there are far fewer converts today than 50 years ago and yet for most, individual preparation is no longer given. Very strange.

    The destruction of the relics in Oxford was shocking. This is what happened to relics during the Reformation in Britain and during the Revolution in France. If they no longer wanted them why did they not offer them to other places of worship? Did nobody protest? I don’t remember seeing any publicity about the destruction but have no idea when this took place.

  13. Scott Woltze says:

    The late Fr. Thwaites SJ was probably relieved when his British confreres neglected to add him to the bonfire. Fr. Thwaites, ora pro nobis…

  14. pelerin says:

    Having now discovered that the destruction of the Oxford relics took place during the 1970s ie within living memory of most of us, I have been looking for more information.

    A layman by the name of Hartwell de la Garde Grissell (1839 – 1907) was a convert who was received into the Church in 1868 by Archbishop (later Cardinal) Manning of Westminster. He later became Papal Chamberlain and co-founder of the Oxford University Newman Society. During his time in Rome he amassed a large collection of relics which he left in trust to the Diocese of Birmingham with the proviso that it be housed in a special chapel at the church of St Aloysius Gonzaga in Oxford. The relics included a piece of the Crown of Thorns and the entire body of St Pacificus (another name to look up). I do wonder how he managed to bring back an entire body to Britain!

    I once had an old photo of the Relic Chapel and at the time had no idea that it had been destroyed in this manner. I like to think that perhaps a few relics were held back from destruction unknown to those who carried out the desecration.

  15. pelerin says:

    More can be read about the legacy of Mr Grissell in the archives of the Tablet dated 7th September 1907. How could such treasures have ever been destroyed?

  16. StWinefride says:

    Pelerin, there is some information here re the fate of the old relics – the ashes were collected and put into a glass urn bearing the inscription which translates as “From the ashes of ten thousand martyrs”:

  17. SteelBiretta says:

    @Pelerin and @StWinefride: Thank you for the additional information!

  18. Pingback: Congratulations Bishop-Elect Robert P. Byrne, CO | Fraternity of St. Philip Neri

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  20. ProBrum says:

    The one occassion I went to the Oxford Oratory they celebrated a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin versus populum as opposed to the Birmingham Oratory which celebrates all Masses ad orientem. Therefore I am not convinced that is a mistake.

    The Oxford Oratory was set up from the Birmingham Oratory back in the 1990s at the order of the Archbishop of Birmingham at the time finally fulfilling Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s dream which he never saw in his lifetime, and it is interesting to see what is happening to the two priests and student who were involved. Fr Robert Byrne has just been made auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham as this article says; Fr Richard Duffield is about to set up an Oratory in York. It appears Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, beatified of course by Pope Benedict XVI in his visit to the UK three and a half years ago, is looking down upon his community of English speaking Oratorians kindly.

  21. John Nolan says:

    In addition to burning the relics, the vestments were sold off to theatrical companies; they included mitres which had belonged to Pio Nono. However, I understand the sacrilege occurred after the Jesuits left and before the Oratorians arrived. The main altar allows celebration in either orientation, and a couple of years ago it was decided that the Solemn Latin OF Mass would be ad apsidem. On Holy Days and occasions such as Ash Wednesday there is a lunchtime EF Low Mass which draws a good crowd and a Solemn Latin OF Mass in the evening.

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