quod pro nobis traditum est

Friday, June 27, 2008

the general rule of all true religious worship (long)

The following quotation I came across by a Catholic author from years past. In it he discusses worship and the true veneration of Mary and the Saints. Whether or not the reader accepts what he states it is not a bit unconvincing and a good read. Enjoy!

" . . . let us carefully consider in what way devotion to [Mary] should be practised; for, even though furnished with a lasting foundation for our piety, we may show it by what are only vain and superstitious practices. There is a true devotion, and a false one; and the next point to treat concerns the kind of worship that we owe respectively to God, to the Blessed Virgin, and to all the Saints.

"The fundamental rule of the honour we pay to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints is this: that we must entirely refer it all to God and to our eternal salvation. If it were not referred to God it would be a purely human act, and we surely know that the Saints, being filled with God and His glory, will not accept purely human devotion. What does "religion" meand but a binding to God? And how could any act that was not religious please His holy ones? Hence, all devotion to Mary is useless and superstitious that does not lead us to the possession of God and the enjoyment of our heavenly inheritance. This is, indeed, the general rule of all true religious worship: that it flows from, and returns to, God, and is in no wise diverted from Him by being extended to His creatures.

"To come to particulars in the matter: there are two special points, concerning prayer to Our Lady and the Saints, on which the Church is accused by her enemies of erroneous practices, the first of which is 'idolatry'. In other words, Catholics are often charged with acting almost like the heathen in so using their canonised fellow-creatures as to be guilty of multiplying God, by turning them into so many minor deities to whom they pay divine homage. The folly and injustice of such an accusation is very simply proved by reference to the rule just given. The only honour recognized by the Church as due to her Saints is an honour strictly in accordance with that rule; which rule is itself founded upon the central principle of our Faith; namely, on the unity and supremacy of God.

"We Christians adore but one God; single, omnipotent, creator and dispensor of all things; in whose name we were consecrated at baptism; and in whom alone we recognise absolute sovereignty, unlimited goodness, and perfect fulness of Being. We honour the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, not by a worship of necessary service, or of subjection --for, in the order of religion, we are free as regards creatures, and subject only to God--but by an honour of brotherly love and fellowship. In them, we pay homage to wonders worked 'by the right hand of the Most High'; we revere the communication to them of His grace--the diffusion, through them, of His glory. In short, what we honour in them is the very fact of their dependence on that Primary Being to Whom alone our true worship relates; the sole principle of all good, and the end of all our desires, as of theirs. We must, then, entirely repudiate the fear, professed by our enemies, that the glory of God can be diminished by our conceiving high notions of Mary and the Saints. Would it not be attributing miserable weakness to the Creator to imagine Him jealous of His own gifts, and of the light He sheds on His creatures? Just as well might we expect the sun, if he had life, to be jealous of the moon, who shines merely by reflection of his own rays! No matter how highly we may honour Mary's perfections Jesus Christ could not possibly envy her, seeing that He is Himself the source of every grace she possesses. Let the critics who accuse us of idolatry in our worship of the Saints remember that they condemn, with us, the Ambroses, the Augustines, the Chrysostoms, on whose doctrine and example they know our practice to be founded, and whom they themselves acknowledge as authorities.

"The second accusation commonly made against us is that we make for ourselves many mediators, instead of relying on 'the One Sole Mediator, Jesus Christ, Who saved us with His blood'; and our motive for this error is often, further, said to be that--like certain ancient philosophers--we deem God Himself, even though made man for us, to be inaccessible immediately from His extreme purity. Now, if any Catholic ever allows such a notion as this to lay hold of him, and make him put the Saints, to the smallest extent, in the place of Christ, it can only be because of his most culpable ignorance or neglect of his own Church's teaching. No one is taught so plainly as we are that we were created by God for immediate intercourse with Him; but that we lost our privilege, for time, by sin; and that we should have lost it also for eternity if the Son had not reconciled us to the Father by taking our sins on Himself. Hence, we ask absolutely nothing except in the name of Our Saviour, as every child who has properly learnt its catechism is fully aware. All we do, in begging the Saints' prayers, is to beg the prayers of those among our own brethren who are specially dear to that Saviour Himself because of their supreme love for Him. We all--Protestant and Catholic alike--ask for the prayers of our living friends and fellow-Christians, and all believe that 'the prayer of the just man availeth much'. The doctrine of the 'Communion of Saints,' as Catholics put it into practice, is merely the carrying out of this principle with regard to those who are already in the company of God, but whom we believe to be, through His power, still present in spirit among us, and to have our interests at heart though no longer with us in the flesh.

"There is yet another principle involved in the true doctrine of honour to the Saints, which must be touched upon before we leave the subject; and that is the great advantage to ourselves contained in practising devotion towards them of a right sort. The Christian is bound to imitate what he honours, and the object of his worship must also be the model of his life. His God is a perfect God; and hence he must try to make himself perfect, and worship only those who have given honour to their Maker by imitating His perfections. When we venerate the Saints it is not to increase their glory: that is full; they have their perfect measure of it with God in heaven. We pay them homage--over and above the motive of giving glory to God--that we may incite ourselves to follow them, and we ask their prayers for the same purpose. This is the sense of the Church in instituting the feasts she does in honour of the Saints; and it is shown in the collect for St. Stephen's Day, which says: 'O Lord! give us grace to imitate that which we honour'. It is the constant tradition of the Church that the most essential part of devotion to the blessed in heaven is to profit by their example. Without this, all homage is vain. Whatever individual saint we are devout to, we must try to acquire that one's special virtues, and most of all are we bound to do this where the Queen of all Saints--the Virgin of virgins--is concerned. If we deeply revere--as every true Catholic does--the virginal chastity which enabled her to conceive the Son of God in her womb, we can duly express our veneration only by doing our best, according to our states of life, to imitate it in our own souls. So far does St. Ambrose go in his conviction of the power which the reverent imitation of Mary's virtue may confer on her true clients, that he says: 'every chaste soul that keeps its purity and innocence untarnished conceives the Eternal Wisdom in itself; and is filled with God and His grace after the pattern of Mary'."

(Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by Jacques Benigne Bossuet, tr. F. M. Capes, pp. 8-13)

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