Pusey House, Oxford: Soul of the Oxford Movement

Pusey House is a very special chapel that shares facilities with St. Cross College at the University of Oxford. Established in 1884 in honor of one of the founders of the Oxford Movement, which sought to return the Anglican Church to the more formal service of the early days of the English Reformation – before the rise of the Puritans – it was named for Dr. Edward B. Pusey (1800-1882), who took up the mantle of leadership of the Anglo-Catholic tradition within the Church of England after John Henry Newman converted to Catholicism. Pusey House Library comprises Pusey’s own vast library and many other books acquired or donated since Pusey’s death.

The service is beautiful and traditional, with Solemn High Mass on Sunday mornings that some would say is more Catholic than Catholic, something which has surprised even those familiar with the modern Anglican church, including a friend with whom I attended. The sermons/homilies are engaging and quite often penetratingly witty and apropos, as befits the grandeur of this old university city. But I must say that the music is the part that is truly ethereal and hauntingly beautiful, and the small ensemble making up Pusey House Choir fill the chapel with the sounds of Byrd, Tallis, Mozart, Vaughn Williams and others every week during term time. Even those familiar with the masses of these composers receive a chill upon hearing such sounds during the solemnity of a High Mass, in the midst of the “smells and bells” of the Anglo-Catholic rite. Simply put – I have never heard such singing and pipe organ playing in a church of this size, and only very rarely in the greatest cathedrals. Ironically, perhaps only the word “magic” can possibly describe the hard work and pain-staking practice that inevitably results in such spine-tingling sacred song.

After each Sunday morning mass a reception is held where juice, wine, and sometimes champagne are served and where visitors and members can meet the priests, sacristan, and the Friends of Pusey House. There are also periodic suppers and dinners within the House and the priests, who are fellows of St. Cross College, can often be seen and met whilst entertaining their guests at various St. Cross dinners.

As the sacristan’s emails say to the elect, as those simply on the email list may be called, it truly is beautiful and intelligent religion!

“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord….”

King David of Israel, Psalm 122, ca. 1000 B.C. (King James Version, A.D. 1611) (This psalm has been set to music several times and is traditionally sung during the coronation of British monarchs)

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