Among other strange ideas entertained by Protestants respecting the religion of Catholics, there is a very general belief that we have well nigh given up the worship of our Blessed Lord. The idolatrous worship of saints and angels and “graven images” is supposed to have long since taken its place; trust in our own merits to have banished all “saving faith” in His; and our hearts to be so filled up with creatures, that we have no room to give to the love and worship of Jesus. Such opinion in the mouths of the many is, indeed, but the expression of prejudice and hatred; but others we believe there are who entertain the same notion in sincere ignorance, and more by their misfortune than their fault. For such persons we cannot but feel charitably solicitous, and to them alone are the following pages addressed.
Of all accusations brought against the Catholic Church, none is more false and unfounded. Nay, to call it false is to say too little. Nothing, in fact, strikes a Catholic so much as that his Lord is (by comparison at least) unloved, unhonoured, and unknown among those who are separated from the Church. The worship of Jesus does not merely form a large part of a Catholic’s religion; it is his religion. All that Protestants can see externally of the Church and her devotions are but portions of a great system that minister to the grand design of the whole; and they think to judge it piecemeal, and that by a cursory glance, or on hearsay evidence. Is this the way to understand it? If you saw a large piece of machinery for the first time, and without any knowledge of its construction, the impression on your mind would be one of confusion. But should some one familiar with its working come and explain it to you, or take it to pieces before your eyes, you would find that the general principle of the whole and the essential parts were very simple and intelligible, while the smaller wheels and secondary portions of the machinery, which perhaps first caught your uninstructed eye, were but subservient to the main design, and had no independent object or action of their own.
It is the same with the Catholic religion. Protestants take up some book of devotion, perhaps directions for keeping the month of May in honour of the blessed Virgin, or they witness some isolated religious act; they see, as in Catholic countries they may often see, some worshipper devoutly placing a lighted candle before the image of our Lady; or they go into a church when some special observance is going on: perhaps the relics of a saint are exposed for veneration, or there is a procession in his honour; or they hear a sermon of which that saint or the blessed Virgin forms the main topic; and they go away, and say that in the Catholic Church they hear the name of Mary oftener than that of Jesus, and that the saints are honoured more than the King of saints. They feel bewildered at the sight of so much that is strange to them; of some things they cannot see the use or meaning; others positively shock them; an undue prominence seems to be given to this or that; and all because they look upon each doctrine and each ceremony as something separate and distinct, and all in all by itself. They do not perceive that, like the wheels of the machine, one thing is dependent on another, and all are results and necessary expressions of one great principle, that great principle being nothing less than the love of Jesus.
This, then, is what I am about to shew you. Come, let us enter one of our churches: what is it that to the Catholics makes its interior so unlike that of any other place? It is not that we see around us memorials of the love of Jesus, so many things that remind us of Him, of all He has done for us, and of all He is ever doing or us from day to day: it is not that we are impressed and touched with the many signs which our holy Mother gives us of her continual memory of Him, and untiring devotion to Him. It is not these things, though these also have unconsciously their effect upon us. It is His own presence. Jesus is here. Our Incarnate God is on the altar; not in mere figure, not as by way of doctrine only, but verily and indeed, in His own Sacred Humanity, with that very Human Body, and with that very Human Soul, which He took for us in the womb of His Virgin Mother. He is hidden by the sacramental veils which He has put about Him; so hidden that neither sight nor sense can perceive His presence. Faith alone beholds Him, and to faith alone does He reveal Himself: yet is He there as really as He is in heaven at the right hand of His Father; and when we come into His presence, and when we pass before His throne, we kneel and adore our God.
The Blessed Sacrament, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Gesù Sacramentato, as the devotion of a tongue very dear to Catholics is able to express the sacred mystery—what this sweet and awful presence makes the material building to be, such is the Catholic Church by reason of It; the house of God, the home of Jesus, of God tabernacling among men. This is the life of the Catholic religion, the object to which it looks, the centre round which it turns—the very Presence of Jesus the Son of God, the Second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity; Jesus the Son of Mary, the First-Born of every creature, Jesus the God-man. This is the Catholic religion—the worship of Jesus Christ; not merely right teaching or belieing about Him, or zeal for this or that dogma, however holy and true, whether it be faith, or baptism, or even the doctrine of the Incarnation itself, but the worship of the Incarnate, the Crucified, the Glorified, of Him who is seated in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (Apoc. i. 13). It is the Person of Jesus which is the one object of Catholic love and adoration: every religious act, every pious practice, every spiritual exercise which the Church enjoins or recommends, or would fain inculcate on her children, is directed to this end.
Even say, as in your ignorance or unbelief you may say, that Jesus is not really present in the Sacrament of the Altar; what then? You will not disprove the fact, that Jesus is the object of Catholic worship; you will throw no discredit on the Catholic’s love for his Lord. At least you must acknowledge that it is Jesus whom he intends to adore, and that it is love which prompts the act. Is it no proof of love, that believing Jesus to be present day and night upon their altars, Catholics are even found to be clustering around the spot where He secretly dwells? Why should they thus throng the altars, but for the love of Him who is thereon? Why, when you enter a Catholic church, do you find devout persons kneeling in silent prayer before the tabernacle? What is it draws them thither? Where are their hearts? What is it that has so fixed their mind’s attention, that they seem unconscious of any thing passing around them? What are these souls doing? Whom are they speaking to? They are worshipping Jesus, and telling Him how they love Him, and begging Him to make them love Him better, and to fill all hearts with his love. Or again, look at yon altar: how unlike is it to the “communion-table” in one of your desolate churches! It may be but meanly furnished, for Catholics are often poor like other people, and yet it is adorned: there is the lamp ever burning before it, and flowers fresh from the garden, or at least such as art can produce; perhaps there is rich carving in wood or stone; at least there is the image of the Crucified. Its decorations may denote an unrefined taste, or a want of acquaintance with what you consider the true principles of art; still that altar is an object of care, and of continual care; hands are always employed about it, thoughts are always engaged upon it; and what is the cause? Love, love to Jesus, who makes the altar His throne. The Church ceases not to minister to her Beloved; she still does what she can to honour Him, because she loveth much (Matt. xiv. 8; Luke vii. 47). Ah! why are you, a religious Protestant, a professed lover of Jesus, less struck at the way in which he expresses it? Why do you scorn him more for his superstition, as you call it, than honour him for his reverent worship of Jesus, mistaken even as you suppose him to be in the matter of his belief? Or how can you deem that Church to be the “synagogue of Satan,” and the very kingdom of antichrist, which makes Jesus so present and so real an object of adoration?