Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger presided and preached at Mass in Trinity College, Oxford on Friday afternoon, to commemorate the life of Cardinal Newman - one of Trinity's most notable alumni. The event was one of the celebrations to mark Trinity's 450th anniversary this year. At the start of Mass, held in the College chapel, the retired Archbishop of Paris, read a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to mark the historic occasion. Pope Benedict, who has studied and written about Cardinal Newman since the mid 1940's, wrote: "To my Venerable Brother, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop Emeritus of Paris. I was pleased to learn that you have been invited to offer Holy Mass at Trinity College, Oxford, as part of the celebrations marking the 450th anniversary of the establishment of that distinguished institution, which was the beloved alma mater of John Henry Cardinal Newman and which later elected him its first Honorary Fellow. "It was at Trinity College that the young Newman learned those habits of mind and heart which guided him through a life of disciplined commitment to the pursuit of religious truth. May his example continue to inspire new generations of students to draw abundantly from the richness of the Christian tradition in order to respond to the deepest yearnings of the human spirit and to draw men and women in every age to Jesus Christ, 'the Way, and the Truth and the Life' (John 14:6) in the communion of his Mystical Body, the Church. "With these sentiments, I ask you kindly to convey my prayerful good wishes for the anniversary celebrations. Upon all taking part, and in particular the members of the College and their families, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace." In his welcome, Michael Beloff QC, President of Trinity College, said: "Cardinal Newman is laid claim to by many educational institutions, and indeed had links with other Oxford colleges but Trinity was his first and deepest love as his undergraduate letters to his mother vividly illustrate. "Cardinal Newman felt deeply honoured by Trinity's invitation to become the College's first ever Honorary Fellow in 1877. It was a symbolic gesture of the reconciliation between England's Catholics and Oxford's Anglican establishment which he himself had done so much to effect." The College Chaplain, Canon Trevor Williams, added a little historical background. He said: "The college was founded in 1555, exactly 450 years ago, by Sir Thomas Pope, who had been treasurer of the court of Augmentations under Henry VIII. Sir Thomas later served as a leading Privy Counsellor of Queen Mary. However, there had been a college on this site long before that, Durham College, founded in 1286. It was one of the dependent cells of the great Benedictine Abbey of St Cuthbert and was established to provide an education for the monks of Durham. But when the monasteries were suppressed by Henry VIII, Durham College suffered a similar fate. "After a few years the site was acquired by Sir Thomas Pope, and during the reign of Philip and Mary he founded the College dedicated to the One Holy and undivided Trinity. The Chapel was central to the life of the young college. Mass was celebrated daily, and all the fellows were expected to proceed to the priesthood. "The new chapel, where we are now, was built and consecrated in 1694, and has remained almost unchanged except for the 19th century stained glass windows. Most of these very fittingly depict saints associated with Durham, with St Cuthbert and St Benedict portrayed opposite me. The chapel was very important to Newman; it's where he took his first communion, and he kept a photo of the interior in his rooms at the Oratory." During his homily, delivered in English, Cardinal Lustiger said: "We have just heard St Paul's great prayer of praise and thanksgiving in his Epistle to the Ephesians (3:14-21). It leads us to the heart of John Henry Cardinal Newman's prayer and faith. "If today the same grace is granted to us, the mystery of God as Father will invest us with the strength of the Holy Spirit, and allow Christ to come into our hearts, introducing us to the boundless mystery of love. This is exactly what young John Henry discovered, in what he himself in his Apologia called a conversion. Reading the Fathers immediately gave him to experience God's intimacy in the most private life of a person who has been baptized. "As we too are called to share this experience, I would like to invite you to reread the few sentences we have just heard of Christ's farewell discourses - to find there, not the 'invisible Church' of Newman's early years, characterised as they were by Evangelicalism, but what in the Church remains invisible, that of which she is the sign and the sacrament." During the Offertory the evocative words and melody of Newman's great hymn "Lead, kindly light", written while he was becalmed in a boat off Sicily in 1833, filled the old chapel, as the rays of the mid-May afternoon sunshine shone through the stained-glass windows. A poignant moment occurred during the sign of peace when the Roman Cardinal, and convert from Judaism, walked from the altar to the back of the chapel to the President's stall, to shake hands with the Jewish President of Trinity. Among the concelebrants at the Mass, on the Feast on Our Lady of Fatima, was Fr Paul Chavasse, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, Postulator of the Newman Cause for the beatification and canonization of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman. Fr Jeremy Fairhead, the Catholic Chaplain at Oxford, acted as Master of Ceremonies. After tea in the College Hall, there was a lecture in Chapel on Cardinal Newman, by his biographer, Fr Ian Ker. The President said that it had been a "memorable afternoon" in the history of Trinity College. It was also a deeply spiritual experience for those of us privileged to be present.
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