"There is so much of excellence and beauty in the services of the Breviary, that were it skilfully set before the Protestant by Roman controversialists ... it would undoubtedly raise a prejudice in their favour, if he were ... but ordinarily candid and unprejudiced."
These are the opening words of Tract 75. The Tracts for the Times were learned papers produced by a number of writers just when the Catholic Revival in the Church of England was getting under way. Tract 75 was published on 24 June 1836 ... and I am not absolutely sure who wrote it.
You see, it was drafted by Hurrell Froude, one of the pushy Intelligentsia behind the Oxford Movement. He had been with S John Henry Newman on part of that Mediterranean tour during which Newman had been so ill (1832-1833). But Froude himself had died on 28 February 1836 ... still only in his mid-thirties. And S John Henry appears to have taken in hand, and published, the final form of this Tract.
It therefore bears the mark of the early, formative days of that important Movement of revival; as well as of the thought of our great Doctor himself, S John Henry.
In my opinion, Tract 75 is massively interesting. We may tend to think of the development of the Movement in terms of its revolutionary effect upon Eucharistic worship. I, naturally, remember S Thomas the Martyr in Oxford; its 'Eucharistic Window'; its claim to be the first Anglicn parish church to restore Eucharistic vestments. But the power of the Divine Office appears to have been well under way bfore Canon Chamberlain had finished gradually expanding the red silk on his Oxford MA gown ... an inch each Sunday ... until it had metamorphosed into a red chasuble!
Newman's Oxford hero in Loss and Gain, Charles Reding, had never been anywhere near Catholic worship. But, upon his conversion, when he found himself at Benediction in an unfinished Passionist church in London, "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 ...".
To this I would add a detail from my own researches: a young man called George Bampfield who, being a brilliant Classicist, had been employed by Nathanael Woodard at Lancing College. He had caught Roman fever and was spending time with Canon Chamberlain (who was reputed to be one of the few healers who could cure that recurrent malady). But Chamberlain knew his efforts were in vain when he noticed a totum (the Breviary in one volume) on Bampfield's table.
Bampfield took himself off from Canon Chamberlain to Fr Faber; and after a few days was present at High Mass on the Feast of our Lady's Assumption. His new friends were surprised to find that this Fabroid spectacle, which they expected Bampfield would enjoy, had quite the opposite effect upon him.
As was true of Charles Reding, George Bampfield was no 'converted' by exotic ritual.
My moral is: the Roman Breviary was and is a powerful Time-Capsule from the Patristic Age, full of the prayers and spirituality of the first millennium. It was an early part of Newman's own recovery of authentic Christianity; and it is a natural part of the Patrimony by which I have been fortunate enough to have been formed. (Yes! and despite the reordering of the psalter by S Pius X!)
And the backbone of that Office is ... the Psalms of David.
To be continued.