Friday 24 September 2010

Ushaw, Exams and Results, Part One (posted 23/04/2010)

Exams in school are not everyone's cup of tea; but perhaps even worse is the waiting for the results and then the actual results.
In my final year at Ushaw, Fourth Year Divines, there were two exams which were really important, the most important of my whole time at Ushaw.  After a lot of practising on top of a chest of drawers in my room, with an old chalice and a few bits of cloth,  I was ready to meet the professor who was Prefect of the Sacristy, Father Harrison, who would find out if I was able to celebrate the Mass properly; I passed that test without difficulty; after all, apart from all the practising, I had lived with the Traditional Mass all my life and had served Mass in various roles for years.
The other test we all had to face was an exam to see if we could cope with hearing Confessions.  We used to practise for this too, by being 'in' to some of our younger brethren, who would walk in and make the most outrageous 'Confession' to try and catch us out.  Eventually we each had to face the Professor of Morality for the actual exam.  If I remember rightly, we all of us that year passed and received our licentiate to hear Confessions.  I doubt if there was ever an intention on the part of the Prof to fail any of us.  Those were probably the most important exams which I faced in my time at Ushaw.  Life would have been very different had I failed!
But I have to be honest (For goodness' sake, Why?) and admit that not all my exams produced favourable results.
The Ushaw scholastic year was divided into three quarters: First (Autumn), Second (Spring), and Third (Summer) Quarters.  At the end of each Quarter there were written exams, and this was true for the two years of Philosophy and the four years of Divinity.  But in addition there were for the two years of Philosophy the peculiar torment of Oral Exams.  Many people will be familiar with the principle of Oral Exams.  I can't quite remember whether these Orals were held each Quarter or only a couple of times a year.  The Reading Room on the Front Ambulacrum was transformed: the tables and chairs normally used by students for private reading were arranged around the sides of the room; at one end the Inquisitors' table and in the central open space a lonely chair.  All the students in the years of Philosophy were seated around the room.  And after an opening prayer, the President of the College would call out a name (each Oral there would be three or four students called out) and the student called would take his seat in the centre of the room and be grilled for about fifteen minutes on a subject being studied that Quarter.  One day my name was called out.  BUT I WASN'T THERE! I had succumbed to a dose of flu that very morning and I was in bed in the Infirmary with a temperature.  There was a stunned silence, so I am told, in the Reading Room as my name was called a second time; then someone quietly announced that I was ill - after the Oral the President hot-footed it over to the Infirmary to make sure that I wasn't faking it.  Of course, when the next Oral took place, I was first on the agenda for a grilling.  Sadly, I did not do very well, and received something of a rocket before all my peers.  Oh dear!
Those were our exams in the last six years of our course at Ushaw.  These years were only for what we called Church Students, those actually hoping to become priests and actively preparing by courses in Philosophy, Divinity, Canon Law, Scripture and other associated subjects.  But in the other years at Ushaw, from Underlow to Rhetoric, the students were a mixture of Church Students and Lay Students, all receiving a boarding grammar school education, with a lot of religious practices thrown in.  But there were still exams each quarter, and once a year the proclamation of results was a peculiar and sometimes terrifying ritual. 
Explanations will come in Part Two of Ushaw, Exams and Results.

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