To pray is to be a Christian, to be a Saint is to have prayed often. John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Blessed, was a man of prayer, and this book contains the prayers and devotions found in his room after his death and put together by his executors, as Fr William Neville tells us in his preface. They reveal the man, and the manner of his prayer. They reveal also his century and his formation. It is only since his time that there was the great revival of contemplative spirituality, expounded by Abbot Chapman and Evelyn Underhill, popularised, and perhaps vulgarised, by later authors. Chapman had to advise people who felt guilty about not being able to practise discursive meditation, and assured them that the various forms of wordless contemplation were equally valid, pray as you can and don't try to pray as you can't, he would say, repeatedly. Now perhaps we have the opposite problem: those who do not feel drawn to contemplation feel guilty about using vocal prayers, or pondering over the Gospels in the way of meditation. But these were the methods of prayer used by Newman, and indeed every Catholic priest of his time and place. The works of St John of the Cross remain unopened on his desk, the mediaeval English mystics were unknown, but the regular daily practice of meditation was the essence of his life as a priest and as an Oratorian.
Vocal prayers he wrote for public use, the litanies, the Stations of the Cross, the short meditations for the evening exercises of the Oratory in May, in the first and second parts of this compilation. They can still be used, with great profit. In private he also kept books with lists of names, all those to whom he had promised prayers, read over day after day to the end of his life. Newman became accustomed to this manner of prayer when he began to recite the Divine Office. This is a much longer affair than the present Prayer of the Church, and the psalms and readings have to be recited continuously, one word following fast on the one before, for even at that pace the Office occupies a significant portion of the day. Newman delighted in the Office, in the rich variety of its scriptural and patristic readings, as well as the familiar psalms, all one hundred and fifty recited every week, in the ancient tradition of the Church. Litanies, like the Office, are recited fast and Newman wrote a famous vindication of the rapid patter of liturgical prayer or the words are something of a background to the prayer itself. Indeed, paradoxically, litanies, the Office, the Rosary and other such repeated prayers are a form of contemplation, a steady rhythm of words, sacred words whose meaning is valuable, but not always consciously understood, as we fix our gaze on an image, or on the Blessed Sacrament.
The short meditations can also be used in public worship, and spoken aloud. They are to be read more slowly, for in this case the meaning has to be heard and understood, and stored up in the heart. They are the distillation of the longer forms of meditation, the usual form of prayer which Newman practised alone. The long meditations in the third part of the book are for private use. Each one can last half an hour, for they are to be read very slowly indeed, pausing on each phrase, each word even, to ponder their meaning, and passing on to the next phrase only when we become aware of the danger of distraction. Newman, like many others, meditated best with pen and paper to hand. This practice he began before his conversion, and he mentions it in a number of his Oxford sermons, although it was something new to an English congregation. He read the Scriptures, the entire Bible, taking each passage slowly and carefully, thinking about what it might mean, being aware of other passages that could shed additional light, bringing together a lifetime's familiarity with the Word of God. The fruit is to be seen in his published sermons, all of which are full of Scriptural references, both conscious and unconscious. His meditations are full of doctrine he would have nothing vacuous and sentimental. Doctrine, for Newman, is the expression of Truth, and above all things he longed to bear witness to the Truth, as his Master before him. It is from the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the living Church that Newman drew his doctrine, and in his meditations he made it his own, lodged in his heart. They are reprinted here, so that his heart may speak to our hearts.
Fr. Jerome Bertram
The Oratory, Oxford:
1st February, 2010.
"Like all manifestos this book is relatively short, but clear in its diagnosis and in its prescriptions, as well as being pregnant with many suggestive lines of thought. Anyone concerned about the condition of the perennial philosophy, or the future of Christian civilisation, ought to read it."
New Liturgical Movement
"For those who already have a devotion to the soon to be beatified Newman, this would be an excellent complement to your devotion; for those for whom this devotion is only in its infancy, this, along with the other writings of the Cardinal of course, would be something to consider for your library."
ICN - Independent Catholic News
"The market appears a little saturated and for this reason it is gratifying to be able to recommend a real gem, that offers great insight into the soul of the esteemed Victorian theologian."
Fr. Z's Blog What Does The Prayer Really Say?
"This could be a very good book for a visit to a chapel or even when commuting or traveling."