Solemn vespers to celebrate canonisation of John Henry Newman
CTE’s chair of trustees Rowena Loverance, and National Ecumenical Officer John O’Toole, reflect on this significant ecumenical service at Westminster Cathedral on 19th October 2019...
Even in sanctity, it seems, John Henry Newman still has an eye for moments of potential controversy. His beatification in 2010, on the occasion of Pope Benedict’s state visit to the UK, followed the formation of the first UK coalition government of modern times; now his canonization has taken place at a time of such political chaos that comparing his Anglican-turned-Catholic career to the rivalry of the Liverpool and Everton football teams and to MPs ‘crossing the floor’, seemed entirely appropriate, indeed rather mild.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, invited to give the sermon at the Solemn Vespers held at Westminster Cathedral to celebrate Newman’s canonisation, offered these comparisons in light-hearted mode (his host, Cardinal Nichols, being a well-known Liverpool supporter), but took as his text 1 Peter 5 1-11: ‘be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you’, and presented the new saint first and foremost as a pastor.
Since this was an ecumenical occasion, he also addressed, apparently with some trepidation, what we should be doing today to unite the flock of Christ. Here his watchwords were love and truth. ‘To view truth is to move away from a binary right or wrong attitude.’ We must love with our eyes open.
All this as the late afternoon light lit up the glowing mosaics and the choir sang Bruckner’s motet, ‘Os justi’. The Vespers included a generous dose of Newman’s own words from his Dream of Gerontius: ‘Firmly I believe and Truly’ and ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’. Even more moving were those printed at the end of the order of service, for us to reflect on as we came away: ‘God has created me to do him some definite service. I have my mission… – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next’.
Rowena Loverance is chair of CTE trustees and convenor of the Enabling Group. She is a life-long Quaker.
The Reuniting of Friends
In the very fine sermon which Archbishop Justin Welby preached during the Solemn Vespers in Westminster Cathedral, on Saturday 19th October 2019, to celebrate the canonisation of Cardinal John Henry Newman, he spoke about Anglicans and Catholics and how our two churches
“are often seen, [as] at best rivals, possibly mutual opponents, and even in some cases enemy forces in a five-century war.”
He then went on to add the following:
“How wrong can analogy be?! For we are not enemies, nor are we opponents, nor even rivals. God forbid! Indeed, God has forbidden. We are more like a family that had a bitter dispute, a divorce in the past, and has acquired the habits and occasionally bad manners of separation. For all that we are still family, called together by grace, caught up in the love of God. This is where St John Henry comes in, for he is the saint of this age as well as of his own, and thus we rejoice both at his canonisation; more appropriately we learn from his life and seek his intercessions.”
When Newman became a Roman Catholic on 9th October 1845, it involved a sad parting from many of his Anglican friends. Yet one of his dearest friends E.B. Pusey (who was to remain a devout Anglican for the rest of his life) wrote as early as 16th October 1845 that Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was
“perhaps the greatest event which has happened since the communion of the churches has been interrupted.”
Thomas J. Norris, in his book Cardinal Newman for Today (Columba Press, 2010, p. 107) explains what Pusey meant.
‘Pusey provided at once a reason for his judgement. “If anything could open their (Roman Catholic eyes) to what is good in us, or soften in us any wrong prejudices against them, it would be the presence of such a one, nurtured and grown to such ripeness in our own church and now removed to theirs.” Newman is a bridge between Rome and Canterbury! With the hindsight of a century and a half, Pusey’s prediction can be seen as a prophecy generously fulfilled: Cardinal Newman has indeed been a bond of understanding and a stimulus to dialogue between Catholic and Anglican churches. On the day of his requiem the Cork Examiner wrote, “Cardinal Newman goes to his grave with the singular honour of being by all creeds and classes acknowledged as the just man made perfect.”’
John O’Toole, National Ecumenical Officer and Secretary to the Department for Dialogue and Unity, Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales.
Photo credit: © Mazur/cbcew.org.uk