17 December 2023

O Bampfield, O Newman

In the 1854, a a young clergyman called George Bampfield had reached that moment of decision. Nathaniel Woodard, down in Sussex, had moved him on from his post schoolmastering in the College of Ss Mary and Nicolas at Lancing, because of his attack of Roman Fever. So he spent a few weeks in Oxford, with Canon Chamberlain the Vicar of S Thomas's, known as England's most advanced parochial clergyman  (he wore a chasuble for the Lord's Supper, confected of two Oxford red silk MA hoods sewn together) and as a marvellous physician in cases of Roman Fever. But Chamberlain knew that "all was lost" one morning when he went into Bampfield's room and saw a Totum on the table. He was dead right: within days the young man was knocking at Fr Faber's door ... and receiving a warm welcome.

A Totum was an edition of the Roman Breviary in just one volume. And while this may seem odd to us, the evidence is that keen young Tractarians and Ritualists immersed themselves in the Breviary long before they had familiarised themselves with the Missal. It was, indeed, considered a less Romish volume.

While he was yet an Anglican, John Henry Newman had also become familiar with the Roman Breviary. And Newman was particularly haunted by the great "O" antiphons which we sing at Vespers during the last great ferias of Advent. They are, surely, the quintessence of Advent; invocations of the the God who led and guided and saved his people Israel; who even bestowed his Presence in burning bush and pillar of fire ... Type of that Antitype whose Real Presence we encounter in the Blessed Sacrament.

In his semi-autobiographical novel Loss and Gain, Newman pictures a convert, Willis, describing the wonders of the Mass by quoting from the Great Antiphons: "And as Moses on the mountain, so we too make haste and bow our heads to the earth and adore. So we, all around, each in his place, look out for the great Advent, waiting for the moving of the water. ... It is wonderful! Quite wonderful! When will these dear good people be enlightened? O Sapientia, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia, O Adonai, O Clavis David et exspectatio gentium, veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster."

And in the climax of the book, when its 'hero' Charles Reding is present for the first time at Benediction, "the truth flashed upon him, fearfully yet sweetly; it was the Blessed Sacrament - it was the Lord Incarnate who was on the Altar, who had come to visit and to bless His people. It was the great Presence, which makes a Catholic Church different from every other place in the world; which makes it holy as no other place can be holy. The Breviary offices were by this time not unknown to Reding: and as he threw himself on the pavement, in sudden self-abasement and joy, some words of those great Antiphons came into his mouth, from which Willis had formerly quoted: O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in rubo apparuisti; O Emmanuel, Exspectatio Gentium et Salvator earum, veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster".

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