Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Blessed Newman: The Prayers

Three months from this week, years in the making, the highly-anticipated papal visit to the UK will see its climax with the beatification of John Henry Newman, the venerable convert, academic, apologist and cleric, who was elevated to the College of Cardinals a decade before his death in 1890 at age 89.

His prolific works still a source of inspiration to no shortage of seekers out there, such is Newman's global cult that, in a first for the current pontificate, B16 will break from his custom of entrusting beatification rites to local prelates (a return to the traditional practice) to lead the Mass himself.

That said, the venue for the historic event (among other things) remains unconfirmed -- while early versions of the four-day itinerary held that the ceremony would take place at Coventry Airport outside Birmingham for a crowd of some 200,000, recent weeks have seen reports of a PopeTrip planning operation descended into chaos amid the confluence of "soaring costs," the unforeseen felling of the papal nuncio with a stroke and, given the pilgrimage's status as a state visit, last month's change of government from Labour to the Conservatives.

To get things back on rail, the Tory strongman Lord Patten -- the last British governor of Hong Kong -- was recently tapped as Whitehall's "Visit Czar," reporting directly to new Prime Minister David Cameron. Meanwhile, at a press conference unveiling the official PopeTrip booklet last week, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said that while "the plans we have on the table involve Coventry Airport," final "clarity" on the matter wouldn't come until the end of this week, following a visit from the traditional Vatican advance team.

(In a separate intervention, the archbishop told the Daily Telegraph of his anxiety that the PopeTrip would be "marred by vuvuzelas"; an avid soccer fan, Nichols said he had "had enough of" the now-ubiquitous airhorns, which have come to global prominence during the ongoing World Cup in South Africa.)

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Either way, the update is just prelude to something that'd likely be of interest to the Newman fans among us -- the release of the liturgical texts for the cardinal's feast-day, which unconfirmed reports have tipped for 9 October, the anniversary of his 1845 reception into the church; the date of Newman's death, 11 August, is already taken by the feast of the patroness of television, St Clare of Assisi.

(At least in theory, it's important to recall that commemorations of blesseds are restricted to the beatus' area of origin or mission -- at least, in theory. On the other hand, while beatification has its roots in the affirmation of a localized cult, with universal remembrance reserved for the canonized, to say the line's been blurred in a globalized church is an understatement.)

The propers having been confirmed by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments last week, here's the prayer approved for use at the feast-day Mass and Office:

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman
the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church;
graciously grant that, through his intercession and example,
we may be led out of shadows and images
into the fullness of your truth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(Via NLM.)

For the record, the Collect includes two allusion to Newman's canon of writings: his famous poem "Lead, Kindly Light" (later to become a much-cherished hymn), and "out of shadows and images into the truth" was the cardinal's chosen inscription for his memorial stone.

The propers likewise include the beginning of the fifth chapter of Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua for the feast's Office of Readings. In the text, the blessed-to-be speaks of his conversion to Catholicism.

"I have been in perfect peace and contentment," Newman wrote, "I never have had one doubt... it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption."