The Inaugural Blessed John Henry Newman Lecture was delivered by Dr Stephen McInerney (Senior Lecturer in Literature, Campion College).
…the Oxford Movement emerged in large part as a reaction against proposed alterations to the Anglican liturgy, albeit within the larger context of political and social reform deplored by the founders of the Movement – John Keble, Edward Pusey, Richard Hurrell Froude and John Henry Newman. It was, from its inception, what we in the Catholic Church today might recognize as a traditionalist movement.
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. (2)
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. (3) 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, (4) 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”. (5) “Religious worship”, Newman would assert, “supplies all our spiritual need…[and] suits every mood of mind and variety of circumstance”. (6) 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”, (7) though he always retained the protestant practice of celebrating the Sunday Communion at the north end of the holy table. (8) Although he was not principally concerned with ritualism, (9) 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”(10) of the Faith onto the memories and imaginations of the faithful.
High Mass for All Souls at the Birmingham Oratory (Ohoto: Rorate Caeli)