ALL HAS been a busy season in the Church, particularly with respect to new saints. October featured the canonization of St. John Henry Newman, and December brings the beatification of Bl. Fulton Sheen. These are wonderful occasions of grace, in which all the people of God rejoice.
Newman is a giant of Catholic thought, and the sacred liturgy was central to his life. The theology of the liturgy, however, does not figure prominently in his writings. Even so, is there anything that can be gleaned on the topic from within Newman’s corpus?
This question has recently been expertly addressed by Oratorian Father Uwe Michael Lang, a liturgical scholar and parish priest at Brompton Oratory in London. In an article in the November 2019 issue of Adoremus Bulletin, Fr. Lang gives an excellent survey of the points of contact existing between Newman and the liturgy. 1 Lang’s article is available in full on the Adoremus website.
Another excellent resource for understanding Newman’s approach to the liturgy is a newly published book, entitled John Henry Newman on Worship, Reverence, and Ritual: A Selection of Texts. Edited by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, this anthology collects over 500 pages of more than 70 texts that manifest Newman’s understanding of liturgy. Newman on Worship is available here.
Concerning Newman’s liturgical legacy, one thing I would add is that his greatest poem—the Dream of Gerontius, available here—is set in a liturgical framework. The poem quotes generously from the rite for commendation of the dying, including the magnificent Profiscere prayer, which dates at least to the 8th century and remains in use today. One suspects that the scene recounted in the poem reflects, in part, St. John Henry Newman’s own pastoral experience.
Newman’s contributions to the Church are vast. Two small items that have previously been featured here on Views from the Choir Loft include Newman’s prayer before Mass and his thoughts on preaching. Both are worth another look, as our celebration of his canonization continues.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Uwe Michael Lang, “‘The Most Joyful Ordinance of the Gospel’: Saint John Henry Newman on the Liturgy,” Adoremus Bulletin 25, no. 3 (November 2019): 1 and 4.