Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Priestly Office


The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi, is celebrated the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. In many dioceses the celebration of this feast is transferred to the following Sunday, which falls this year on June 2, 2024. St. John Henry Newman didn’t compose any poems specifically about this feast, but he did compose a beautiful translation entitled, “The Priestly Office” which focuses on the Blessed Sacrament and its fruits. The poem is subtitled, “From St. Gregory Nazianzen” since it is one of Newman’s inspired translations, here from the Greek of this early Church Father. Translations from ancient languages into English are considered poems in their own right because of the artistry and skill required to render a poetic line from one language to another. Here is the poem in its entirety: 

The Priestly Office  (From St. Gregory Nazianzen)

IN service o’er the Mystic Feast I stand;

     I cleanse Thy victim-flock, and bring them near

          In holiest wise, and by a bloodless rite.

          O fire of Love! O gushing Fount of Light!

(As best I know, who need Thy pitying Hand)

     Dread office this, bemired souls to clear

          Of their defilement, and again made bright.


Here, the celebration is called a “mystic feast” which indeed it is, beyond all human understanding. Earlier in Church history the term “mystic or mystical” referred to the Holy Eucharist. Only more recently was it applied to the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.These two uses are, however, intimately related as we shall see below.

The poem explains what is taking place using compact language: those who participate are cleansed and made more holy by the work of the priest’s hand, a “dread” office, or an act which inspires awe. We are reminded here of the very high calling of priests and the need to pray each day for their faithfulness. 

The sacrifice of the altar as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary is a “bloodless rite,” but nevertheless, like that sacrifice, it too is a “fire of Love,” and a “Fount of Light” which will clear the “defilement” from those receiving the sacrament, the “bemired souls,” that is, the sinful communicants.

The Catechism of Catholic Church teaches that “The principal fruits of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus which preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism; it separates from sin and strengthens charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and it preserves from future mortal sins, uniting all the faithful in one body – the Church.” 

As a side note, it is evident from various texts that St. John Henry admired St. Gregory Nazianzen. For instance, he not only wrote an original poem about him, but also mentions him in Discourse 12 of the Discourses to Mixed Congregations, as follows from:  “The Prospects of the Catholic Missioner” :

“In such a time as this, did the great Doctor, St. Gregory Nazianzen, he too an old man, a timid man, a retiring man, fond of solitude and books, and unpractised in the struggles of the world, suddenly appear in the Arian city of Constantinople; and, in despite of a fanatical populace, and an heretical clergy, preach the truth, and prevail—to his own wonder, and to the glory of that grace which is strong in weakness, and is ever nearest to its triumph when it is most despised.” 

No doubt our beloved English saint identified with this saint of the early church, whom together with St. Basil he considered “special champions of the Catholic creed,” as he wrote in one of his Historical Sketches, “Church of the Fathers” (Historical Sketches, vol. 2). 

And so on the Feast of Corpus Christi, as we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and Savior, we can remember that this mystic feast cleanses us and also unites us with the whole Church, with St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Basil, St. John Henry Newman, and all the saints, especially the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. 

The moving hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” composed by Samuel John Stone in the 1860s expresses this beautiful truth:

Yet she on earth hath union
  With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
  With those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
  Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly,
  In love may dwell with Thee.

It is through the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit unites us in mystical communion as God’s children.




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The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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