4. Catholics, however, it is said, do much more than this; not only do they ask the saints and angels to pray for them, but also to give them this or that temporal or spiritual blessing, to help or defend them; in a word, to interfere actively in their behalf, as though they were themselves possessed of power, and could bestow gifts and blessings according to their own will independently of Almighty God. Such is the inference which a Protestant draws from the language of Catholic devotion; and he refuses to believe us, when we tell him that the true meaning of that language is, that we beg the saints to move Almighty God to give us the things we ask for. Yet holy Scripture, if he would but study it with more attention, would supply him with instances of the same use of language. Thus we read in 2 Kings ii. 9, 10, that “Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And He said, Thou hast asked a hard thing; nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.” Elisha here asked what Elijah could not possibly give him, yet the latter promises that he shall have it on the fulfilment of a certain condition. Elisha asked a petition of Elijah which none but God could grant: so we too, in like manner, often call upon the saints to do what belongs only to the power of God. If Elisha’s words do not attribute omnipotence to Elijah, no more do our prayers ascribe omnipotence to the saints. Again, St. Paul tells Timothy, “In doing this, thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. iv. 16); yet this does not mean that Timothy could save himself or his people without the help of God’s grace. Persons often use the same language in the common affairs of life; as, for instance, they do not scruple to say to a physician whom they have called in to advise in some dangerous illness of a friend or relative, You are our only hope; or again, it is often said of some eminent politician, that in these difficult times he is the only hope of his country; yet in neither of these cases do we mean to exclude the idea of divine providence overruling all, without whom the best human aid would be utterly unavailing. Such an expression, therefore, as “thou art our only hope,” used of our Blessed Lady in the devotions of a Catholic, means this, Thou art our only hope of obtaining God’s help; for we have no confidence in ourselves, or our own worthiness and power to obtain that help.
Archive for the ‘Catholic Devotion’ Category
2. But this will appear still more clearly from the passages which will be quotes in answer to the second and most popular objection, namely, that even though the saints and angels may pray generally for all Christian people, for the whole estate of Christ’s Church upon earth, yet they know nothing of the wants of any one Christian in particular; they cannot, therefore, intercede for one person more than another; they are ignorant of what is going on amongst us, and cannot therefore hear the prayers which individuals may address to them. Now, first, as to the general fact that “the spirits of just men made perfect,” the saints in glory, have knowledge of some at least of this earth’s doings, we may appeal to the language of St. Paul, who speaks of them as forming a cloud of witnesses over our heads [Hebrews 12:1]; and if they are witnesses, and if we are to take courage from the thought that they are looking on at us, it must be because they really know and take an interest in what we are doing. “I charge thee,” says St. Paul, writing to his beloved son Timothy (i. 21), “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things.” St. Paul calls the elect angels to witness the injunction he lays upon Timothy, just as he calls upon God and our blessed Saviour to witness it. What is the meaning of this, if they could know nothing either of the injunction or of the manner in which it was obeyed? Again, our Lord declares that there is joy in heaven, and in the presence of the angels of God, over a sinner doing penance; it is impossible therefore but that it must be known in heaven by the angels of God when a sinner is doing penance. Then, besides these general statements bearing upon the point before us, holy Scripture contains also particular instances of this knowledge. When Moses and Elias appeared at the transfiguration, they knew and spoke of the decease which our Lord should accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke ix. 31). When Samuel appeared to Saul, he knew what was passing at that time among the people of Israel, and what would take place the next day (1 Sam. xxviii. 16-19). Of, if these instances are objected to as being extraordinary and miraculous occurrences, from which we may not fairly draw any general conclusion as to the powers and privileges of departed souls, let us turn to the Book of Revelation, where surely, if any where in the Bible is given us an insight into heaven, and we are told both what it is like, and who are its inhabitants, and what is their occupation. First, then, we read in that book of mysteries (vi. 9-11) that “the souls of those that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held, cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that swell on the earth?” These blessed martyrs then, though no longer upon the earth, yet knew what was happening there, and knew that their blood had not yet been avenged. By and bye we read about the four and twenty elders who have been already mentioned, that they know that “the nations are angry, and the wrath of God is come, and the time of the dead that they should be judged” (xi. 16-18). They know also that the devil is accusing their brethren before God, and a loud voice declares to them when he is cast down; and that “the brethren have overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony;” and that they have been constant, even to martyrdom (xii. 10,11). So also it is known when Babylon is destroyed, and the saints, “the holy Apostles and Prophets,” are called upon “to rejoice over her, because God had avenged them on her” (xviii. 20). And so on, throughout the whole of that book, the saints and angels–the whole court of heaven–are always represented as looking on upon the affairs of this world, having knowledge of all their variations, taking a lively interest in them, so as to be filled at one time with indignation, at another with joy, according to the character of the several events which they witness.
Devotion to saints and angels is a part of the Catholic religion, from which Protestants shrink with horror, and which they loudly denounce as superstitious and unscriptural. Now if they used this word “unscriptural” only in the sense of “not to be found in holy scripture,” it would scarcely fall within the scope of our present inquiry to say any thing at all about it; because all the world knows that this is not an argument which Catholics need care to dispute; for Catholics do not pretend to say that the whole system of their religious belief and practice is to be found in the written Word, but, on the contrary, that several portions of the divine revelation were never committed to writing at all, but were handed on from generation to generation by word of mouth, or, as it is technically called, by tradition. When Protestants, however, speak against any of our doctrines as being unscriptural, they generally mean something more than this; they mean not only that it is not to e found in holy Scripture, but that something else is to be found there, which goes against the doctrine in question, and contradicts it. And this is altogether a different thing, and far more important; for although we do not believe that every thing that is true is contained in holy Scripture, yet we do believe that every thing that is contained in holy Scripture is true; so that it is often necessary, if we would make any way in controversy with Protestants, that we should be ready to shew that on this or that particular subject which they may have selected for censure, there is no contradiction between the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of the Catholic Church.
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?
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?
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.