Sunday, September 19, 2010

Newman Sunday

According to my trusty companion to the altar (Juergens, My Daily Missal, 1963), this is the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, ... apparently the parish was keeping, not so much the relevant Sunday in Ordinary Time (I don't know what number, I remain wisely ignorant of that), as the Beatification of John Henry Newman: hooray!

The processional hymn, therefore, was "Firmly I believe and truly", and the recessional, "Praise to the Holiest in the height" – both penned by the Beatus-elect, as part of his great poem The Dream of Gerontius, wherein these stanzas, amongst others, express the faith and trust and hope of the dying "old man" of the title: surely a figure of Everyman.  Likewise, the latter part of the sermon, as also more than a page of the parish bulletin, was all about about-to-be-Blessed John Henry.

Regarding that great poem, it is surely a very deep expression of Newman's profoundly Godward outlook, rightly Oriented toward the true East (as Donne said) – for this was a saint who daily, as well as praying the prayers of preparation for and thanksgiving after Mass in the Breviary or Missal, also recited the prayers for the dying, the Ordo commendationis animæ, which he prayed for his own and all mortal souls: 
  • the brief Litanies for the dying – quoted in Newman's Dream of Gerontius;
  • the prayer Proficiscere, anima christiana ("Go forth, Christian soul") – versified in Newman's Dream of Gerontius ("Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul");
  • the prayer Deus misericors ("Merciful God");
  • the prayer Commendo te omnipotenti Deo ("I commend thee to almighty God");
  • the prayer Suscipe, Domine, servum tuum ("Receive, Lord, Thy servant"), set out as versicles and responses – versified in Newman's Dream of Gerontius ("Rescue him, O Lord, in this his evil hour");
  • the prayer Commendamus tibi ("We commend unto Thee");
  • the prayer Delicta juventutis... ne memineris ("Remember not the sins of his youth");
  • the prayer Clementissima Virgo ("Most clement Virgin");
  • the prayer Ad te confugio sancte Joseph ("To thee I fly, Saint Joseph");
  • and also, perhaps, the suggested aspirations in expiratione, at the time of expiring: Jesu, Jesu, Jesu... In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum... Jesu, Maria, Joseph...

The eight long prayers in particular are most worthy meditations for all, the Cardinal evidently believed, as he taught by his own example.

Did he nightly say even the responsory Subvenite, with preces and collect, for his own soul?  A worthy devotion.

How many of us will have the chance of a deathbed as was the ideal of old, with priest and family gathered to pray as we pass on?  Perhaps our best chance is to pray these prayers now.

In particular, I recall the most saluary prayer, the Hail Mary: every time we say it, we supplicate her to "pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death".  A great consolation!

As for "Firmly I believe and truly", here are the seldom-sung first and last, Latin, verses thereof:

Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus,
De profundis oro te,
Miserere, Judex meus,
Parce mihi, Domine.

Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus,
De profundis oro te,
Miserere, Judex meus,
Mortis in discrimine.


For those curious, I like to read in my Trad. Missal as much of the Proper and Ordinary as possible, while still attending to the Mass going on – so for instance, singing the English paraphrase of the Gloria while reading the Latin, and ditto while saying the Creed.  Some prayers, such as the Domine non sum dignus, I always say in Latin, albeit softly enough for those around not to notice this singularity, I trust.  Using my hand-missal in this way helps me to deal with having perforce to attend the Novus Ordo, when I would far rather go to the Traditional Mass always, but cannot since it is not available here.

Listening to Bruckner in the car to and from Mass also helps – "Locus iste", "Ecce sacerdos magnus", and "Christus factus est", as sung just yester-day at the Pope's Mass in London.

The key to the modern Mass, I find, is attending one offered by a devout priest – some priests by their antics can make it a torture.  Yet, as a friend of mine put it, and he lives in a parish with a vile misbeliever, "Jesus has to come to Mass – so why don't you?".  Too true!  Offering oneself up as a victim soul helps in such circumstances; but when I've had to be at a service that was a congeries of liturgical abuses, I did become horribly upset – I suppose it gives me some tiny inkling of what people suffer when they are the innocent helpless targets of evildoers.

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