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Worldwide Newman Novena

Philip Trower

Lovers of Cardinal Newman will be interested to learn that a worldwide novena of prayer for his beatification will coincide with the beginning of the Synod on the Laity in Rome in October.

Organized by the English Oratorians, an offshoot of the Congregation founded by St. Philip Neri in Rome in the 16th century, which Newman established in England in the middle of the 19th century, the novena will run from Oct. 1st to 9th.

Specific intentions are:

"That Newman's heroic virtue may be successfully established"; and
"That an extraordinary favor may be granted through his intercession."
The leaflet promoting the novena speaks of the complexity of Newman's personality. For this reason, it says, "he was different from many religious figures." This complexity was perhaps the main reason for the misunderstandings and controversies surrounding him, or in which he was involved. But even during his lifetime his holiness was widely recognized both by Catholics and Protestants, and opponents as well as friends. It might be a holiness with a difference—like the holiness of St. Jerome, though in a different style. His [Newman's] sensitive nature, strong will, subtle intellect, powers of intuition and imagination also made it a holiness won at the cost of much interior suffering.

His intellectual pre-eminence and depth of theological understanding were likewise widely recognized during his lifetime, in spite of the opposition some of his ideas aroused. Even those who didn't always agree with him knew that he was one of the outstanding figures of the age. "To have known Newman," a contemporary wrote, "was to have know a Father of the Church and not the least."

Popes have since added their tributes.

Leo XIII, who made him a Cardinal, stated: "I always had a cult for him. I am proud that I was able to honor such a man."

At the beatification of Blessed Dominic Barberi, who received Newman into the Church, Pope Paul VI [sic in original; actually, Pope John Paul II] said that Newman had traveled "an itinerary, the most toilsome, but perhaps the greatest, the most meaningful... that human thought ever traveled during the last century, indeed one might say during the modern era, to arrive at the fullness of wisdom and peace."

And the present Holy Father [John Paul II] on his visit to England in 1982 said of Newman: "I commend to you his example of persevering faith and longing for the truth. He can help you to draw nearer to God, in whose presence he lived, and to whose service he gave himself totally.... Imitate his humility and his obedience to God."

Newman's devotion to our Lady was another noteworthy characteristic.

Long before Leo XIII instituted the regular preaching of the Rosary and October devotions, Newman had daily public recitation of the Rosary in his church.

Other indications of his devotion to our Lady are his having taken her name at his Confirmation, and the fact that he dedicated his first Oratory church in Birmingham to the Immaculate Conception, though the dogma had not yet been defined.

Among Newman's main contributions to theological understanding in this century have been his theories about the development of doctrine (not to be confused with "evolution" of doctrine) and the role of the laity (not to be confused with lay control of the Church).

Newman had a liberal approach to all matters subject to purely rational inquiry, but, on his own admission, was a lifelong opponent of liberalism in the field of religion, or divine Revelation. This is the difference between Newman's "liberalism" and Modernism's. Modernism would withdraw divine Revelation from the authority of the Church and make the human mind the measure of its truth.

The novena prayer for Newman's beatification runs:

"God Our Father, your servant John Henry Newman upheld the faith by his teaching and example.
"May his loyalty to Christ and the Church, his love for the Immaculate Mother of God, and his compassion for the perplexed give guidance to the Christian people today.
"We beg you to grant the favors we ask through his intercession so that his holiness may be recognized by all and the Church may proclaim him a saint. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Inquiries and reports of favors should be addressed to: The Postulator, c/o the Oratory, Hagley Rd., Birmingham B 16 8EU (tel.: 021 454 0496).

Newman's room and chapel at the Birmingham Oratory, which can sometimes be seen by special request, are among the most moving places of Catholic interest in this country.

[A photocopy of this article was provided to me, without any citation whatever, in June 1996. If anyone can provide a citation, please let me know.]

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(Created June 15, 1996; revised June 16)