The Marian Heart of John Henry Newman

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Meditations on the Litany of Loreto for the Month of May
By John Henry Newman, edited by Peter M. J. Stravinskas.
Newman House Press USA 2019

John Henry Newman: saint, poet, theologian, pastor, and unseen father of the Second Vatican Council…we sing his beautiful hymns, and we read his Apologia pro Vita Sua, and more. But perhaps we do not remember that his Mariology—his meditations and prayers and sermons that open up to us a deeper understand of the central role of Mary in our salvation story and in the relationship between humanity and God.

Warm thanks, therefore, to the Newman House Press for this new edition of the Meditations on the Litany of Loreto for the Month of May. A thoughtful Foreword recalls major chapters in Newman’s life, including his service as vicar of Oxford’s University Church, his contributions to the Tracts for the Times, his time of deep prayer at Littlemore, and his reception into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1845.

Newman’s prose is beautiful: these meditations are a delight to read. Unlike many a Victorian writer, especially a writer on religious matters, he does not descend into mawkish sentimentality. But he does allow his deep love of Christ and Our Lady to overflow and connect with us. And he is a great teacher: there are thoughtful, Scripture-rich explanations of the Immaculate Conception, and of Mary as the “Seat of Wisdom”. He constantly links the Old Covenant to the New, and shows the bond between them helping us to see Mary as the Maid of Israel who stands as the fulfilment of the prophets of old: “Thou art the glory of Jerusalem and the joy of Israel; thou art the honor of our people”.

 

Newman is described in the Foreword as “quintessentially English” and this is particularly true in his meditation on the suitability of May as a month dedicated to Mary. He points out that in England May can often be a “bleak, inclement” month but that “at least it is the month of promise and hope”. If it is cold, “fine weather is coming, sooner or later”. And he shows us that Mary is the figure of hope: of her will be born the Messiah, our Savior.

The illustrations are delightful: they have a look that is at once modern and Medieval, charming and formal. This is a book that will work well for prayer-groups gathering to pray the Litany, and for some one alone at home or in church. And it would make an excellent Confirmation gift.

In 1974, Pope (now Saint) Paul VI issued an important and rather beautiful exhortation, Marialis Cultus, on devotion to Mary. It came at a time when it was much-needed, and it emphasized the importance of Mary for the Church in an era of change in the Church and in society. He stressed that we must understand her real importance: Mary as a strong and prophetic woman chosen by God from eternity, not a sentimental figure. This attractive edition of Newman’s Meditations will help a new generation to encounter this truth about Mary and to grasp the hugeness of God’s plan for the human race. In this, as in so much else, Newman was ahead of his time in terms of the way Mary should be taught and presented to the faithful, and to those who are asking questions about the Faith.

Published to celebrate Newman’s canonization, this book really is a treasure, a beautiful and useful memento of a great event in the life of the Church, and a tool of practical use in prayer.

Image: Cardinal Newman’s biretta (Catholic Church of England and Wales/Flickr)

Joanna Bogle

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Joanna Bogle is a writer, biographer, and historian. She relishes the new translation of the Mass, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, her own excellent local Catholic parish, traditional hymns (especially, perhaps, Anglican ones) rain, good literature, sleep, the English coast, Autumn, buttered toast, and a number of other things too precious and important to list here. Visit her blog.

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