Sunday night Beatus

September 19, 2010

I awoke bright and early this morning — no fault of my own, I assure you — and through a miracle of modern technology was able to join the Pope in praying the Angelus, live, on the interweb. He was closing the beatification Mass for John Henry Cardinal Newman at Birmingham. His trip to the UK this week, which, going in, put many people in mind of Daniel going into the lions’ den, seems to have turned out to be a good success. The Queen, whose manners never lapse, received him graciously, and he made a mind-blowing appearance at Westminster a couple of days ago, choosing as the subject of his address no less a man than St. Thomas More. (Damian Thompson reeled too.)

Whatever else may have happened, the principal reason for the journey was to honour Newman. I am no great expert on the man, though I would cite his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine as being among those handful of books that had a significant impact on shaping my thinking about things churchy and historical. I admire him, partly for his intellect, but mostly for his courage and devotion to truth. God knows that it did not earn him an easy life.

Newman had a very high view of the communion of saints. He wrote, in that luscious Victorian prose for which he was famous,

They are present still! We are not solitary though we seem so. Few now alive understand and sanction us; but those multitudes in primitive time, who believed, and taught, and worshiped as we do, still live unto God, and, in their past deeds and their present voices, cry from the Altar. They animate us by their example; they cheer us by their company; they are on our right hand and our left. Martyrs, Confessors, and the like, high and low, who used the same Creeds, and celebrated the same Mysteries, and preached the same Gospel as we do. And to them were joined, as ages went on, even in fallen times, nay, even now in times of division, fresh and fresh witnesses from the Church below. In the world of spirits there is no difference of parties.

I’ll finish up with an excerpt from Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, a setting of Blessed John Henry Newman’s poem about death and the afterlife. I have posted this clip before, but repetition, being the hearty fare on which the spice of life is sprinkled, is not to be disparaged.

And now the threshold, as we traverse it,
Utters aloud its glad responsive chant.

Choir of Angelicals
Praise to the Holiest in the height,
And in the depth be praise:
In all His words most wonderful;
Most sure in all His ways!

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
O Wisest love! that flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.
And that a higher gift than grace
Should flesh and blood refine,
God’s Presence and His very Self,
And Essence all divine.
O generous love! that He who smote
In man for man the foe,
The double agony in man
For man should undergo;
And in the garden secretly,
And on the cross on high,
Should teach His brethren and inspire
To suffer and to die.

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
And in the depth be praise:
In all His words most wonderful,
Most sure in all His ways!

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