But Protestants will say perhaps that they also meditate, and that it is an easy thing to do so, especially for gentle and thoughtful minds, and at particular times when they are in a humour for it. This, however, is mere natural meditation; meditation as the Church would have it is a very different thing. To meditate when we are not in the humour, and upon a set subject, and to persevere in this regularly day by day, is no easy task. Now it is very plain that Protestants are never taught in private any such systematic practice, nor in the character of their public worship is there any thing calculated to call it forth; whereas we cannot open a Catholic prayer-book without finding, not one, but many kinds of devotion formed on the principle of meditation, and of a nature wholly unknown among Protestants. The Rosary, which is in use with all classes, is nothing but a continued meditation on the chief mysteries of our blessed Lord’s life, combined with vocal prayer. Again, there are other devotions, such as to the Holy Name of Jesus, to His Divine Infancy, to His Sacred Heart, to His Five Wounds, to His Precious Blood, which, when they do not offend, at least seem singular and startling to them, because they are not accustomed to any continued and detailed consideration of our Lord’s humiliation and passion; and partly, I must add, from a deeper cause, because they do not realize the great mystery of the Incarnation, God made man. They do not, in fact, know Jesus. Or, again, there are festivals in our calendar which must certainly sound strange to Protestants; such as those on the successive Fridays of Lent in honour of our Lord’s Prayer and Agony in the Garden, the Crown of Thorns, the Spear and Nails, and the Holy Winding-sheet. A Protestant looks upon these as childish; he sees no meaning in them. Yet he might see that the meaning is much love; that to one who loves, each point of the Passion of Christ is so dear, each hour of suffering so steeped in its own fulness, that his heart is not large enough to hold it all at once; but he lingers over each detail with renewed tenderness, and counts each drop that falls from the wounds of his suffering Lord, and dwells on each fresh circumstance of that exceeding agony, and finds in each enough to think upon and adore. If Jesus suffered all these things separately, and suffered them for us, shall we not meditate on them separately?
The great daily act of Catholic worship, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, itself furnishes a wide field and school for meditation. The whole idea of it, as I have said, is different from that of common prayer: not but that Mass is common prayer in its highest sense, since the prayers of all present meet in one centre, our Incarnate God come down upon our altars; but it is something higher also. A great act is going on, of which the Catholic worshipper may either follow the details as the priest proceeds from the sacrifice, or he may allow free scope to his devout meditations, keeping to no particular words or system: just as might have been the case with different persons present at the tremendous scene on Calvary. One might have been filled with compassion for the sufferings of his Saviour; another absorbed in the contemplation of the love with which the Son of God was giving Himself for the world; another stricken at heart by the thought of his own sins, thus laid on the innocent Lamb of God; another, in the intenseness of his love, uniting the grief of his own soul with his Lord’s bitter torments. Different might have been the thoughts of the beloved disciple to those of Mary Magdalen, or of the other devout women at the foot of the cross; but whatever might be that difference, they were all engaged in one common object—all were meditating on Jesus crucified.
But not content with her daily sacrifice, at once real and commemorative, the Church is jealous lest her children should forget the sufferings of her Spouse, and multiplies her memorials of Him. Let a Protestant enter any of our principal churches, and he will see hanging, at stated intervals, fourteen pictures, all of them depicting some incident in the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. Beginning with His condemnation, they end with His entombment, and trace step by step His way to Calvary, as He bore the weight of the heavy cross. One who has no idea of employing pictures save for ornament might wonder what was the purpose of them, particularly as they might not always be such as claimed his admiration as specimens of art. But let him happen to enter the church when the devotion of the “Stations” is going on, what will he see? A group of persons of all ages and all ranks are moving slowly from one of these pictures or “stations” to another. At each a few simple words of meditation are read by him who leads the group, calling upon both himself and them to consider Jesus at that moment of suffering represented before their eyes, and then a prayer follows, and then a pause. All are kneeling on the stone floor of the Church—say rather they are kneeling on the blood-stained traces of their Saviour’s feet. It is the “Way of the Cross,” the path to Calvary, to the Hill of Sorrows, that they are following, and worshipping and weeping as they go. And now they rise and continue their way, and you hear a sweet soft hymn: it is a remembrance of Her who first trod this holy way with the soul of grief in her soul. Who that loves the Son can forget the Mother’s sorrows? In Catholic countries, where men are not ashamed of Jesus, nor afraid to shew Him honour save within the shelter and concealment of four walls, you will see these stations with figures often as large as life erected on some hill, with a Calvary, as it is called, at the summit—that is, Jesus hanging on His cross between the two thieves. The Protestant tourist turns with a cold sneer from the life-like representation—too life-like for his shadowy and vague belief,—or from the sight of the poor peasant who, setting down his burden, pauses and kneels on his way up the steep ascent; and he mutters an expression of disgust at the coarse execution of the figures, or gives vent to an exclamation of pity at the superstition of the poor Catholic, while he thanks God that he is not as other men are, and that he was born in the full blaze of Gospel light! So little does he understand of the love of Jesus, that its most natural expressions are to him an unknown and a distasteful language.
But it is in her annual commemoration of the Passion of Jesus that the Church peculiarly displays the depth of her love. I have already spoken of the Fridays in Lent, in which she brings the very instruments of her Lord’s sufferings, singly, one by one, before our minds, suspending them, as it were, as sorrowful tokens along the road to Calvary, whither she is leading us through all the forty days. But this is not enough: she provides a special week of preparation, a week effaced from the memory of Protestants, who, in a very forgetfulness, have transferred its name to that which the Church throughout the ages has styled pre-eminently Holy Week. Thus would the Church deepen in the hearts of her children a sense of her Lord’s sufferings: she would have them dwell in meditation on every sorrowful detail of His Passion, that they may be prepared to behold it, as it were, enacted, and in a manner dramatised before their eyes in the functions of Holy Week. Indeed it is customary in places to stir up the devotion of the faithful by sermons directed to that end, hence called expressly the “Preaching of the Passion.” Then follows the “Week of Weeks;” and ah, if I could give you the faintest idea of what those seven days are to one who has devoutly followed the path we have been tracing! Nothing but personal experience as a child of Holy Church can teach you. I will only bid you think what it would have been to be present as an eye-witness of Jesus’ sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemani, in the house of Annas, before the tribunal of Caiphas, in the palace of Pilate, and the hall of Herod; what it would have been to see Him scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, carrying His cross amidst the jeering rabble through the streets of Jerusalem, and then to watch Him die for three long hours upon the cross; to behold His sacred Body laid in the arms of His sorrowful Mother, and then borne to the tomb. When it is possible, the very three hours during which Jesus hung upon the cross are made the subject of a special service. The cross is erected in the sight of all the people, and at intervals the preacher simply narrates in the way of meditation the progress of the great act on which the thoughts of all are fixed, and which the instructions and the preaching of the preceding week have prepared them feelingly to realise. Such is Holy Week: it is to be with Jesus in His Passion—it is, in very literal truth, for seven days to “know nothing but Jesus and Him crucified.” But even to one who views them from without, if only he be of a humble and religious spirit, the functions of this week, and the evident reality with which Catholics regard them, must be a solemn and a striking spectacle; at least, remembering how he has himself been taught to commemorate the Passion one day probably in the whole year, when he attended prayers and a sermon on Good Friday morning, with nothing to distinguish it from any other day, save perhaps the black covering on pulpit and communion-table, a solitary remnant of Catholic tradition, he will have cause to doubt whether Protestants love Jesus as in theory they assume they do.
I might instance also the custom of going pilgrimages to holy places, and the veneration with which Catholics preserve and honour the wood of the true cross, the nails which pierced the hands and feet of their adorable Lord, and other such-like precious relics, which the affectionate devotion of the faithful has handed down even to our own days. Protestants not only regard all this with utter incredulity, but despise and condemn the feelings which prompt such devotion, even on the supposition of the traditions on which it rests being genuine. And perhaps you will tell me that all these things are outward formalities, and are worthless without the love of Jesus in the heart. I answer, that no Catholic pretends to assert the contrary. But what right have you to infer that they are mere outward formalities? You do not judge thus, nay, you do not act thus, in the matter of human affection. How are you affected towards one you love? He is ever in your thoughts; you delight to dwell upon his actions and his words; the veriest trifles assume a value if connected with him: a picture, however rude, if it do but remind you of him, objects which has touched, places where he has been; and if he be taken from you, these things become relics and memorials of him, and acquire a more touching and almost sacred character in your eyes. The world does not deem such ways extravagant or foolish, least of all does it think them void of love. Now, why should its reasoning be utterly reversed when it is question of divine love, especially when you reflect that the Son of God has taken human nature upon Him? The truth is, that at the root of all these objections lies an ignorance of the Person of the God-Man, and a consequent incapability of appreciating the expression of love which He inspires.
We see a special instance of this in the feelings with which Protestants regard the way in which Catholics honour the saints, and above all, the Queen of saints. Yet surely, if they realised their nearness to Jesus, they could not wonder nor be offended at it. You do not deem that you degrade the object of your affection by caring for his friends for his sake. The love you bear his child or his parent because they are his, and because they are dear to him, and like him, and part of himself, surely in no way comes between you and him. Rather it is part of your great love for him, which runs over all boundaries, and flows out towards any thing and every thing that stands related to him: the more they are like him, the dearer they are to you. And thus the saints of God, who seem in a very special and wonderful manner to be living pictures of Him, and to have reproduced His life on earth,—some representing His poverty, and some His suffering, and some His labours among the poor, and all His habits of continued prayer,—these we make our friends because they were His friends, and like unto Him; we reverence and do them honour for His sake. Above all, His Mother, of whose substance He took flesh, in whose womb he lay for full nine months, who bore Him in her arms and nourished Him at her bosom, who sustained His tottering steps when He was a child, and whose home was His home till He began to be about the age of thirty years, who loved Him so tenderly, and was loved so tenderly in return, Mary, His pure Virgin Mother,—oh, as she was so near and so dear to Jesus, how can she fail to be dear to all who love Him? and how can we wish but to be near to her, to live like little children at her side, and learn at her lips how best to love Her Son, to love what He loves, to make our hearts one with his Heart, and to live on of His life? And this is what the Catholic Church does and teaches us to do. She so loves and so honours the Mother of our God, that they who love Him not, as we are taught to love Him, in their ignorance accuse us of loving her too well. We can love Mary, we can be devout to her, without moderating our feelings lest they be too warm, or our words lest they be too strong; we can love her with a love that knows no bounds, because we alone rightly love and worship Jesus,—not man only when He was on earth, nor God only now that He is in heaven, but now, as then, both God and man, one and the same Person with two natures, a human and a divine.
This is the root of all the misconceptions which Protestants entertain about us. Let them once know the Man-God as He is, let them once worship Him as we worship Him, then, and then only, will they understand the love and the honour which we pay to Mary. Then will they learn to acknowledge that the RELIGION OF CATHOLICS is the WORSHIP OF JESUS.
As illustrative of the subject of this Tract, the reader is referred to No. 8, Benediction of the Holy Sacrament; No. 12, The Rosary; Nos. 14-16, Holy Week; No. 21, Corpus Christi; Nos. 22, 32, Rites and Ceremonies.