Some time ago, a religious superior, whose works have been specially blessed by our dear Lord, asked for a translation of the following book. The version now presented to the public was undertaken at my request by a Catholic layman; and as the coadjutor Bishop of the Western District of Scotland has kindly revised it, I am glad to be allowed to cooperate with this venerable Prelate in recommending it to the perusal of Catholics.
If St. Philip Neri was satisfied with a book when the name of its author began with S, it will be surely unnecessary to recommend this treatise, which bears the name of the heroic missionary, Saint Leonard of Port Maurice. To those who have read his Life it must appear strange how he found time, in the course of his apostolic wanderings, to compose his various works. Reviewing his efforts to gain souls, his retreats, his sermons, his journeys, they will conclude that his support under such labors must have been in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and they will not wonder that he has spoken with so much unction of its efficacy and graces. Where could he, after hours spent in the confessional, hours short for his zeal, but long for his bodily strength, find vigor, save in the refreshing waters for which, as he said in his daily preparation, he thirsted as the stag thirsts after the fountains of water? To him Our Lord was truly the strong and the living God, and from Him he received each day power to begin anew the fight which ended only when he went to receive his crown. While the holy missionary was collecting the faithful to the Stations of the Cross in the Coliseum, he may, perhaps, have looked to the building on the neighboring hill where his earthly remains were to await the resurrection, and felt in ardent faith that the Sacrifice which those Stations commemorated was really and truly offered on the altars of that humble church. And then his heart would bum with the desire to make all Christians love the Lamb Whom his faith beheld “standing as if slain,” stantem tanquam occisum (Apoc. v. 6), and he would wish to make men understand how certainly this blessed Victim offers for our sake, day after day, the Sacrifice of Mount Calvary.
We think that if we had lived with Mary and the Apostles, we should have loved Him really. If so, when the Fathers tell us that in the Blessed Sacrament He perpetuates and continues the Incarnation for us, we ought to show this love; and where is it? When we have to bear the reproach of our many sins, we persuade ourselves that we should not have committed them if we had knelt with John under the Cross; and yet in the Mass the very same Sacrifice is before our eyes, while we too often remain as hardened as ever. But Saint Leonard saw that it would be at least difficult for men to remain in their sins if they were drawn often to this Sacrifice, by the offering whereof, as the Council of Trent teaches, “the Lord being appeased, sends grace and the gift of repentance, and forgives crimes and even grievous sins.” Therefore, he sought to draw them to the altar, and bade them pray for the grace that cannot fail. More than once it has happened that those who were not Catholics have been converted by being present during Mass: and can we wonder at it when He, Whose look converted Peter, looks upon them from the altar? Some there are, favored souls and fervent in prayer, who cannot hear Mass without tears. No one ever saw the holy Pontiff Gregory XVI in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament without witnessing the tenderness to which he was moved.
If we had but faith, we should see the heavenly host gathered around the altar during Mass, “since,” as the Council of Oxford says, “it is undoubted that the whole heavenly court is then present.” (Anno 1222.) When the prophet prayed, the eyes of his servant were opened, and he saw the hill covered with fiery chariots (4 Kings vi. 17); and if the holy author of this book would pray that we might see the altar as he saw it, our eyes, opened to the light which is there shining (in lumine tuo videbimus lumen), would behold the chariots of fire on which the heavenly host are borne when their King comes from His throne to earth. If some pious person possessing worldly means were to see the picture designed in explanation of Mass by M. Olier, the devout leader of the Sulpicians, we think he would be disposed to fulfill the intention which death prevented that holy man from carrying out, by having the picture engraved, and scattered among the faithful. The picture is in itself a meditation, and a sermon upon the mysterious presence of the Saints and Angels with their glorious Queen during the Holy Sacrifice, upon the graces which flow from the altar over the whole Church, and upon its ineffable comfort to our suffering brethren in Purgatory. We venture to extract from the Life of M. Olier a description of this picture; and while we are reading it, let us remember that such is the Mass every time it is offered, rendering glory to Heaven, pouring grace upon the earth, and shedding consolation over Purgatory.
“When the priest celebrates,” says the author of the Imitation, “he honors God, he rejoices the Angels, he edifies the Church, he helps the living, he obtains repose for the dead.” (iv, v., 3.) This is the subject which M. Olier wished to represent in this picture. At the moment of the Elevation, the Church Triumphant, borne on the clouds, descends, and unites herself to the Church on earth, to be an offering to God, as one sole victim with Jesus Christ.
“In the upper part we see God the Father, to Whom the Sacrifice is offered. He contemplates the holy Victim Who immolates Himself to His glory, and He seems to accept the oblation with infinite complacency and satisfaction. The most holy Virgin is placed a little lower; she kneels, as do all the Saints and Angels, to show their dependence in respect of the Creator; nevertheless, she addresses God with the confidence of a Spouse, and seems to exercise that suppliant almightiness which the holy doctors recognize in the august Queen of Heaven.
“The celestial spirits, ranged around the God Whom they adore by Jesus Christ, are divided into three hierarchies, of which each is made to contain three orders, forming altogether the nine choirs of Angels; at their head we see St. Michael, then the angel Gabriel, who bends toward Mary. The holy Precursor is alone, on account of his greatness, among the children of men. “Next we see, on one side, Adam and Eve, and the just of the law of nature; and, on the other, Moses with the Saints of the Mosaic Law, who, in transports of gratitude, confess that they have obtained salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ alone, the sole virtue of all the ancient sacrifices. These are headed by the prophet David, placed thus near to Mary and St. Joseph, as being their ancestor. “The next portion of the picture is the Christian Church, in three orders, or circles. The holy Apostles appear in the first—–they who, triumphing over idolatry, shed over the world the knowledge of God. St. Peter, their chief, returns thanks to the Eternal Father for having inspired him to make the immortal confession which was the origin of his prerogatives; St. Paul blesses Him for having called him to the apostolate (Gal. i. 1); and St. James the Great, for having given him a place in His kingdom (St. Matt. xx. 23). Close to St. Peter we get a glimpse of St. John, placed nearer to God, Whose highest mysteries he seemed to penetrate, and next to the most holy Virgin, to whom he was given as a son and a guardian. St. Andrew, St. Thomas, and St. Bartholomew come next, each designated by the instruments of his Martyrdom; and then the other Apostles, the disciples, and the preachers of the Faith. Opposite are the holy Martyrs, triumphant over their persecutors: they return thanks to God by Jesus Christ, their invisible strength, and renew their offering in union with His. Their leader, St. Stephen, seems still continuing his sacrifice: we recognize several of the most illustrious Martyrs following him—–St. Domitella, St. Laurence, St. Cecilia, St. Vincent, St. Barbara, St. Agnes. “In the second rank we see, on one side, the holy doctors; at their head, St. Leo, St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine; they all give thanks to God for the victories they have gained over heresies, through Jesus Christ, the sole source of their enlightenment. On the other side are all the holy monks and nuns, represented by their founders, each in the habit of his order; they glorify God for having enabled them to overcome the love of the goods of this world, by true poverty, and for having chosen them to represent to the Church, according to their respective institutes, some virtue, or some hidden perfection, of Jesus Christ. They are placed in the following order: St. Benedict, considered as patriarch of the Western Monks; an old religious of the Carmelite Order; next, St. Teresa, in the habit of her reform; St. Scholastica, as mother of the Benedictines; St. Bernard, restorer of the Cistercian Order; a Cistercian nun; a monk of Cluny, arrayed in black; St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Friars Minor; St. Claire, foundress of the Poor Clares; then St. Bruno, patriarch of the Carthusians; St. Dominic, founder of the Friars Preachers; St. Francis of Paula, founder of the Minorities; St. Ignatius Loyola; and various societies of regular clerks.
“Finally, the laity of the different states of Christendom are represented by some one of their princes ranked among the Saints; among others, the Germans by St. Henry, the English by St. Edward, the French by St. Louis, the Spaniards by St. Ferdinand, and those of the Eastern provinces by St. Helen: they give thanks to God that they have happily triumphed, by Jesus Christ, over the love of the honors and pomps of the world. Opposite are placed the penitents and anchorets who overcame its pleasures; we mark at their head St. Mary Magdalene, St. Antony, patriarch of the Cenobites, St. Jerome, St. Mary of Egypt, St. William of Maleval, founder of the Wilhelmites: and thus ends the picture of the Church in Heaven.
“That upon earth is also represented by some one personage of each of the different ecclesiastical orders, religious or political, of which she is formed: after the Sovereign Pontiff we see cardinals, prelates, priests, monks, and nuns of all the orders; and, in the second rank, the Emperor of Germany; Louis XIV, in his youth; his mother, Anne of Austria; and a multitude of persons of all conditions and countries, on whose countenances the most lively and touching expressions of piety are visible.
“Lastly, the members of the suffering Church implore the Eternal Father to shorten their torments, for the sake of the Victim Who offers Himself for them; and at the foot of the picture is this inscription, in which the whole is condensed: The most august sacrifice of the Mass, offered to God for all His intentions and for all the intentions of the Church in Heaven, on earth, and in Purgatory.”
So far the account of this wonderful design; and we hope that some will be moved by it to look at the picture itself, or at the engraving in his book. It will help them to pray more fervently that they may never lose an opportunity of assisting at Mass; it will make them envy the rich, whose privilege it is to build churches and educate priests, in order that the holy sacrifice may be offered on many altars for the living and the dead. If they are priests, they will desire to preach unceasingly upon the Mass. If they are poor, they will learn to imitate so many of whom we have seen, renouncing situations because they could not hear Mass, or coming fasting till four in the afternoon, that they might receive the holy Communion.
A few years ago, the Confraternity of St. Patrick was founded at the Oratory in London for the purpose of encouraging the faithful to hear Mass; and Pius IX, ever anxious to spread devotion among his children, granted to the members an indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines, so often as they shall induce anyone to hear Mass, and a plenary indulgence if, complying with the usual conditions of Confession and Communion, they pray according to the intention of the Holy Father on the feasts of Our Lord and of His Blessed Mother, of St. Joseph and of his patronage; of SS. Peter and Paul, St. John the Baptist, St. Patrick, St. Philip Neri, and of Blessed Sebastian Valfre. These indulgences are applicable to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. May this little book bring to many hearts a feeling of gratitude to our dear Lord for the love which He has displayed in allowing us to hear Mass, and may it move us to claim every day the grace of being present at this adorable Sacrifice.