Newman on Revising Liturgical Language

November 10, 2011


In light of the fact that we’re drawing near to the implementation of the Roman Missal, I found this little nugget from Newman’s Anglican phase interesting.  Apparently, a general enthusiasm arose in the 1820s to revise the Book of Common Prayer.  Newman, however, demurred.  Always the pastor, he resisted any measure that, in an age of ‘liberalism’, would diminish popular attachment to the Church of England.  As he saw it, moreover, the chief ‘influence’ that the Church of England exerted ‘in the hearts of her people’ came

by a reverential attachment to those prayers which they have heard from childhood and have been their solace often in their most trying seasons, and have shed a grace on the high solemnities of marriages and births.—Should we not dread disturbing this feeling? (Letters and Diaries, ii, 191).

The quote, of course, can’t really be used to score any points in contemporary liturgical debates.  It argues as much against the change to the vernacular as against the change within the vernacular.  Still, I think Newman is on to something about the true seat of religious influence.  We might at least piously hope that the imminent transition to the Roman Missal will be the last of its kind for many years.