Consider again, what is the one great act of Catholic worship, which surpasses all others in dignity, and in the frequency of its celebration, and in which all Catholics are bound to join, at least on Sundays and great festivals, on pain of mortal sin. It is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Protestants, rejecting the Catholic doctrine about the Mass altogether, consider the “institution of the Lord’s Supper” as intended only to commemorate His sufferings in a special and solemn manner. Now, imagine for one moment that this opinion were the true one, I cannot suppose any more conclusive proof that Catholics are innocent of the charge brought against them, of undervaluing, or forgetting, or failing sufficiently to shew forth, the sacrifice of the death of Christ. The more we love ro care for a thing, the more often we remember it, and the more important do we deem it to preserve its memory. If, therefore, a Protestant really honours Jesus Christ more than a Catholic—if, especially, he values the merits of His death more than we do—it is at least strange that, acknowledging the “institution of the Lord’s Supper” to be the especial and most solemn commemoration of His sacrifice and death in the way appointed by Himself, he should think less of it, and celebrate it less often, and consider it less an essential part of his religion, than we do. And yet such is the fact. The Protestant, who professes that faith in Jesus Christ, and trust in His death on the Cross, is the very essence of true religion, commemorates it seldom. He who accuses Catholics of trusting in human ordinances, and placing the word of man above that of God, will go to church Sunday after Sunday, and hear sermons, and read prayers, and never think he has omitted any thing essential, in omitting to commemorate that sacrifice which he would have us believe is the very soul of his religion; whilst the Catholic, who, it is supposed, forgets his Lord, and despises His merits, and thinks to be saved without the shedding of that precious Blood, commemorates it every day, and makes its commemoration, not merely a part of his religion, but the chief act of worship, and that which it is sin to neglect. Not once at Easter, nor three times a year, nor every quarter, nor once a month, nor even once a week, satisfies the devotion of the Catholic Church, but every day, and, it may be, many times a day, in every church and chapel throughout the world, is celebrated that which Protestants right call “the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ;” perpetual indeed, but with us, not with them; perpetual with us, who are accused of despising it; occasional, and but scantily honoured, with them who say it is their all in all. Is this no contradiction?
And now, if this were all, think how much is involved therein; think how Jesus is ever present to the mind of a Catholic, and is made the object of all he does. He cannot be a Catholic, at least he cannot practise his religion, without having Jesus continually brought before him, not as an historical character only, but as a very present Person. His memory has not to traverse eighteen centuries and more, in order to behold Him, in the far distance, going about among a strange people and dying in a foreign land; he has but to recollect himself, to recollect where he is, and what it is that is being transacted before him. He has not to make an effort of imagination; he has but to exercise that divine gift of faith which he received in his baptism. He has but to humble himself and adore. Here is the Holy Land; Calvary is set up before his very eyes; and the Divine Victim is offering Himself to His Eternal Father. Or He is again in the midst of us, lifting up His hands to bless; and this time it is not water into wine, but wine that He changes into His own most precious Blood; or it is not bread that He miraculously multiplies to feed us, but His own adorable Body which He distributes to the fainting multitudes, that Flesh which he gave for the life of the world.
And think, too, all this to a Catholic is a life-long experience: from a child he is taught thus to believe in, and thus to love and worship, Jesus. A Protestant child is taken to church, and there he finds little else than words; prayers which, however beautiful they may be, he cannot understand, or a sermon which only wearies him. I will suppose the utmost in his favour, that people, men, women, and all, kneel and join devoutly in the service, which you know is not very often the case, and that not only because tthere happens frequently to be an inattentive or ill-instructed congregation, but because Protestants have a theory that real devotion is something so merely inward, or so very natural and easy, that it may be practised with little external reverence, and almost without any sustained effort of the mind. But suppose the best: I do not deny that an intelligent child who is told by his parents that he is taken to church to worship God, may be impressed by what he sees and hears; at any rate he will carry with him a pre-disposition of mind to join in the devotions of others; and indeed, he will be filled with a sense of the divine presence far more vivid than any he will experience in after life, if he remain a Protestant. But what I say is, that he will not feel that an Incarnate God is worshipped; he will not think that people go to church to worship Jesus. He may have learnt from other sources that Jesus is, or ought to be, an object of adoration; but what he sees in church, and what really goes on there, will not teach it him. It is not the impression which a Protestant Sunday service will make upon him.
[I want to interject here to comment on the anti-Protestant polemics both of this piece as a whole and this last paragraph in particular. My first inclination, upon coming to this point in the exposition, was to simply delete the first part from my blog and move on to another tract altogether. (I admit, much to my chagrin, that I hadn’t read the tract in its entirety before starting to transcribe it and chose it more for the appropriateness of its subject matter than its specific content.) I’m the sort of man who likes to finish what he’s started, though, so I rejected that option and decided to slog through the rest of the piece; after all, there is some decent material here. My second inclination, though—especially as someone who, in approaching the Catholic Church, found solace in its openness to the possibility that those who have never known Christ or who are outside of the visible, sacramental, hierarchical Church can find salvation—was to lambaste the author as, if I may use an anachronistic descriptor, a Feeneyite. Neither option, however, is appropriate, so I will attempt to redeem what has been transcribed here by providing context and a couple of choice quotes from other sources.
First, I would like to point out when and where “The Religion of Catholics the Worship of Jesus” was written. In the average RCIA, the discrepancy between the tract’s attitude toward Protestants and that of, say, the current catechism would likely be explained in light of the former’s having been published over a hundred years before Vatican II. Yes, Catholic priests were more likely to talk about hell—with reference both to non-Catholics and their own parishioners—before the Second Vatican Council than after, and that is part of the picture. This view doesn’t hold much water on its own, though, because Catholic soteriology has walked a tightrope between exclusivism and universalism from the beginning, veering closer to one or extreme (Fr. Feeney) or another (Origen) at various times throughout its history. A better apology for this particular writer’s attitude lies in his exact historical setting: England circa 1851. At this time British culture and government were still a long ways away, for better or worse, from their modern-day attitudes of secularism and tolerance; and the established Church of England was at this time still an oppressive force in the lives of British Catholics. (Actually, according to a family friend—a U. K.-born Catholic now living in the States—being loyal to Rome is still difficult in England, so perhaps things haven’t changed as much as they might seem to have at first glance.) The author, in this respect, can hardly be blamed for his seeming hostility, since his side of the argument was at that time under siege from the authorities and a majority of the population.
Secondly, I would like to temper this passage with two quotes. The first comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers [that outside the Church there is no salvation]? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.
‘Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.’
The second comes from a rather different source, Fr. Georges Florovsky, an Eastern Orthodox priest and theologian: “[while] we know where The Church is we do not know with certainty where it is not.” This, I believe, sums up well the Catholic position on salvation. Stating that all souls will eventually wind up in heaven can never be an acceptable position for the Catholic Church, and Origen’s teachings were rightly condemned as heretical. Yet neither can we ever dogmatically state that person X is not destined for heaven because he or she is not a Catholic, a follower of Christ, or whatever. We spread the word of God to the world because this is our calling and because within the Church are the surest means of obtaining salvation and attaining sainthood; “because they’ll go to hell otherwise” shouldn’t be the chief animating source of Catholic missions, in any case.
Ok, that’s my two cents. Back to the tract.]
It is far otherwise with a Catholic child. This, at least, he soon gets to understand, that a church is a very different place from a common house, not because once a week people go there to read prayers and hear a sermon, but because Jesus is worshipped there as He is not worshipped anywhere else. The worship he sees going on around him is the worship of a present Incarnate God; there is one especial moment when he is taught to kneel down, bow his head, and adore. The Object of his adoration is before him. Does he ask what It is, and why people kneel down before It, and seem to be in awe of It so much? he is told that It is Jesus, he God; that at the word of consecration He descends from heaven upon the altar, and offers to His Eternal Father the tremendous sacrifice of His Body and Blood. It is not merely that he is taught, as a kind of sacred lesson, that Jesus must be worshipped, but he learns to adore Him, then and there, as his Incarnate God.
But not at church only, and on solemn occasions, does he learn to worship Jesus; he cannot help but think of Him at home, and many times a day. He sees Him, as it were, continually; he may be said even to live with Him: now how is this? It is that the Catholic Church is indefatigable in the means she employs for keeping Jesus ever before our minds, and these means are so simple and natural as to be peculiarly adapted to a child’s intelligence. The Catholic, leaving with regret the presence of the Lord, surrounds himself at home with the vivid representations of Him. The child can never forget the person of Jesus; nay, he remembers not when he first began to know and love Him. He has always seen about him holy images and pictures, which recal the memory of Him who is the centre of love in a Catholic family, as well as in a Catholic church. Nor do these images and pictures recal His memory only: they represent His Person; they are the dear objects of the child’s young affections. He salutes them lying down to rest at night, and waking in the morning. He is taught to take the crucifix in his little hands, and address to it words of childish tenderness and love. He is taught to talk to Jesus. Jesus is near his bed, blessing his slumbers. He hands bleeding on the cross when the family assemble for prayer. Nor is this all; the child is taught, or allowed,—for Catholic children are not slow in inventing sweet devices to shew their love to their Saviour,—to make his own little altar, where he places the Infant God in His Mother’s arms. He surrounds Him with those He loves, brings flowers to give to the Child Jesus and Mary His Mother, and keeps festive days in their honour. Thus is Jesus as real a Person to him, and as present too, as any of the dearest friends with whom he lives; Jesus, not an imaginary sacred character, but the Divine Child whose Mother is Mary, and His foster-father Joseph; the Man of sorrows hanging on His cross, still with His Virgin Mother near Him, and Mary Magdalen, and the beloved St. John; the Lover of men reigning in heaven among His saints and angels, but, O mystery of love! still tabernacling with His people.
That which the Church begins in childhood she matures in later years. These sensible representations of the Infancy and Sufferings of Jesus a habit of meditation graves upon the heart. The mind indeed is naturally disposed to meditation on those objects which it loves, and which are constantly present to it; but this is not sufficient. The Catholic Church cultivates and trains this disposition; she reduces meditation to a system and a practice, for she considers it as the very soul of the spiritual life. As she directs the minds of her child to the use of prayer, so would she have them, according to their leisure and capacity, give some time every day to that dwelling upon the thought of Jesus, that constant realisation of His life and death, which nourishes the love of Him in our hearts, and stirs us up to the imitation of Him in our lives; for the Church has ever this practical end in view. The exercise of the intellect and of the affections is not to be a mere mental luxury; it is the will which is to be excited to form good resolutions, that so we may live in the flesh the life of Him who died for us. She would have us then take our Lord’s life and sufferings by parts, and by exercising our affections upon them, grow into an intimate familiarity with their minutest details. Such is Catholic meditation. Is this a discipline which makes us forget our Lord? Can an continue daily thus to think of Jesus, and fail to love Him? Rather, as meditation gets to be a habit of the soul, will not love become a habit too?