Controversy has arisen at Mansfield this week over whether the college should discard its Latin grace.
Many members of the college have argued that the Christian grace, which is traditionally spoken by a student before formal meals in hall, should either be totally abolished, or replaced by a secular equivalent, to be spoken in English rather than Latin.
The views of the JCR, MCR and SCR were collated this week, and a meeting was held on Wednesday to discuss whether the grace should be replaced or modified.
Dr Diana Walford, Principal of Mansfield College, told Cherwell that “the Governing Body has for some time been of the view that the current grace is insufficiently inclusive for those of all faiths or none”.
She explained that the Governing Body has therefore decided to opt for a compromise, whereby the current grace will be retained alongside several other new graces.
Dana Landau, a postgraduate student of Politics at Mansfield and outspoken opponent of the grace in its current form, takes issue with the fact that the grace is explicitly Christian in nature.
She said, “it makes no sense for a non-religious institution to be saying a religious prayer before formal. If we care about making people feel welcome, we should not make a Christian prayer part of our communal experience at hall, since that excludes and alienates atheists, agnostics and people of other faiths.”
Those in favour of changing the grace have also claimed that the current grace is not in fact the long-standing tradition that it may appear, but was invented in 1953 by the then college principal, John Marsh.
A college alumnus who was at Mansfield in the early 1950s supported this view, recalling that prior to 1953 the college used the more religiously neutral “Benedictus benedicat” (“May the blessed impart blessings”), a grace which is commonly used at several other Oxford colleges, including Balliol, St Catherine’s, New and St Hilda’s.
Yet a significant number of students are against any changes to the grace. Simon Fairclough, a Materials student, insisted that “if people come to a place steeped in history, there should be a willingness to appreciate the history and culture that has been there for generations”.
Fairclcough defended the fact that the grace is said in Latin, arguing that it is “a language that has been a large part of Mansfield history”, and that “the fact that it is a dead language should mean that everyone is in the same boat: people may not understand it, but everyone agrees with the sentiment, that we are appreciative of the food and company in front of us.”
He also supported the explicitly Christian nature of the grace, remarking, “the country’s official first religion is still Church of England” and that “a person who is atheist or belongs to another religion should appreciate the sentiment that the grace is giving, even though they are from a different religion.”
A working group is to be set up over the summer, whose job, according to Dr Walford, will be “to suggest a few alternative graces, and languages in which they could be said, from which students and presiding Fellows might pick their preferred grace – which could include the current grace – on formal occasions.”
Mansfield JCR President Maia Muirwood, told Cherwell, “The results of the survey have been very mixed, with some seeing it as an altogether unimportant issue, some viewing tradition as being key, and others viewing change as important.The majority of JCR members, however, have been in favour of keeping the Grace as it is.”
The current Latin Christian grace reads “Omnipotens Deus, clementissime Pater, omnis boni fons, in donis tuis gaudentes nomen tuum magnificamus, per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum”, which translates as “Almighty God, Father of mercies and fount of every good, in the enjoyment of thy gifts we bless thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”