Over fifty years ago, as he reflected on the legacy of John Henry Newman, Fr Frank O’Malley asked: “What was the spirit of this man who is with us a constant reference and a standard and a sign?” By way of an answer, he pointed to something that few Newman scholars before or since have sought to highlight:
the spirit of Newman moved within the spirit of the liturgy, the liturgy thought of in its most significant sense as the very rhythm of Christian existence, stirred and centred by the life of Christ. Newman absorbed the liturgical character of existence. He lived by the liturgy.
It was as an Anglican that “the liturgical character of existence” first impressed itself upon Newman. On the eve of his fourteenth birthday his mother made him a gift of The Book of Common Prayer – or would have done had he not preempted her offer by buying the book himself for her to give to him, which she then did “without saying a word”, bemused no doubt by her “impatient headstrong” boy. From the time of his ordination he preached regularly on the importance of the sacraments and the indispensability of public prayer, eventually coming to believe that the Church’s public prayer was the means through which the Church is visibly manifested in time and space. And during the early years of the Oxford Movement he came to regard the Prayer Book as the depository of Apostolic teaching in England, and a sure sign that the Anglican Communion belonged to and expressed the Catholic Faith – a belief he would gradually question.
Newman was known to celebrate the services of the Church with great care and devotion, and to encourage the faithful to attend them regularly, believing (as Donald Withey writes) “the daily office and frequent celebration of communion to be of the essence of the life of the Church”. “Religious worship”, Newman would assert, “supplies all our spiritual need...[and] suits every mood of mind and variety of circumstance”. At Littlemore, as Pusey recounted in 1837, during parts of the Daily Service Newman followed the ancient practice of kneeling “towards the East, the same way as the congregation, turning to the congregation in the parts directed to them”, though he always retained the protestant practice of celebrating the Sunday Communion at the north end of the holy table. Although he was not principally concerned with ritualism, he had a great appreciation for the importance of outward forms of public prayer and the liturgical cycle whose yearly round impressed the “great revealed verities” of the Faith onto the memories and imaginations of the faithful.
The liturgy inspired and shaped Newman’s preaching. An obvious example of this is that the sanctoral and seasonal cycle of the liturgical year became the organizing principle of Volume Two of the Parochial Sermons, first published in 1835. Despite the sermons having been written over many years, Newman arranged them not in the order in which they were written but according to their place in the liturgical calendar. In doing so he situated the volume in an Anglican tradition of liturgically ordered works that includes George Herbert’s The Temple (1633), Robert Nelson’s Companion for the Fasts and Festivals of the Church of England (1704), Charles Wheatly’s A Rational Illustration Upon the Book of Common Prayer (1710), and John Keble’s The Christian Year (1827). Beyond the liturgical arrangement of Volume Two, Newman’s sermons more generally reflect, as Placid Murray writes, the “range of Christian feeling aroused by the mysteries of Christ’s life as commemorated in the liturgy”.
Read the rest there. Turns out my receiving this was most timely, because I've just been asked to give the annual Cardinal Newman lecture at Newman University next year on Ash Wednesday, February 18 (before Mass that evening) on the theme of Newman and Lent. I'm working on the title and the blurb, but you can be sure the lecture will be based on Newman's sermons for the season of Lent.