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Friday, 27 April 2012

Newman on not changing the Liturgy

An Oratorian sent me a link to a fascinating piece by Blessed John Henry Newman, one of his Tracts for the Times. The title is On Alterations in the Liturgy. Newman was writing as an Anglican at the time - the Tracts were an important part of the activities of the Oxford Movement: Newmans fmaous Tract 90, arguing for a Catholic interpretation of the 39 articles, caused immense controversy, brought the series to an end, and was a significant milestone in his conversion.

In Tract 3, Newman is essentially arguing against change in the Liturgy. I think that many of you would be interested to read the whole tract but here are some quotations. First of all on the "temper" of innovation:
"But as regards ourselves, the Clergy, what will be the effect of this temper of innovation in us? We have the power to bring about changes in the Liturgy; shall we not exert it? have we any security, if we once begin, that we shall ever end? Shall not we pass from non-essentials to essentials? And then, on looking back after the mischief is done, what excuse shall we be able to make for ourselves for having encouraged such proceedings at first?"
Then on the cursing psalms which were in fact omitted in our post-concilar Liturgia Horarum:
There are some who wish the imprecatory Psalms omitted; there are others who would lament this omission as savouring of the shallow and detestable liberalism of the day.
On the same subject Newman observes later in the Tract:
If we were to leave out the imprecatory Psalms, we certainly countenance the notion of the day, that love and love only is in the Gospel the character of ALMIGHTY GOD and the duty of regenerate man; whereas that Gospel, rightly understood, shows His Infinite Holiness and Justice as well as His Infinite Love; and it enjoins on men the duties of zeal towards Him, hatred of sin, and separation from sinners, as well as that of kindness and charity.
 I was struck forcibly by the application of the following paragraph to our circumstances over 170 years later:
We know not what is to come upon us; but the writer for one will try so to acquit himself now, that if any irremediable calamity befalls the Church, he may not have to vex himself with the recollections of silence on his part and indifference, when he might have been up and alive. There was a time when he, as well as others, might feel the wish, or rather the temptation, of steering a middle course between parties; but if so, a more close attention to passing events has cured his infirmity. In a day like this there are but two sides, zeal and persecution, the Church and the world; and those who attempt to occupy the ground between them, at best will lose their labour, but probably will be drawn back to the latter. Be practical, I respectfully urge you; do not {5} attempt impossibilities; sail not as if in pleasure boats upon a troubled sea. Not a word falls to the ground, in a time like this. Speculations about ecclesiastical improvements which might be innocent at other times, have a strength of mischief now. They are realized before he who utters them understands that he has committed himself.
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