ON HEARING MASS DAILY, PART 3: LADIES DRESS
A lady who enters church decked out with various ornaments is apt to attract attention, and perhaps, though God forbid it, to withdraw hearts from the worship of God. It is needless to adduce examples to encourage ladies to hear holy Mass every day. Truly they are but too well inclined to frequent churches, and the thing in point is to make them understand with what modesty and reverence they ought to demean themselves in the house of God, and more particularly when the holy sacrifice is being celebrated; since, however much many ladies edify me, appearing as they do before the altars in simple dress, without variety of color, without anything elaborate or curious, I am as much scandalized, on the other hand, by those vain trifling creatures who, arrayed in the fashion of the hour, and with an air caught as it were from the theatre, almost seem as if they would be the goddesses of some temple. The Blessed Ivetta, herself a noble Flemish lady, had once a wonderful vision in church. Such a one as I have mentioned was not far distant from her during holy Mass, magnificently dressed, and the Saint was enlightened to see the disposition of her heart, and the vain, worldly, and even impure thoughts which came and went freely through her mind without any check. And all the while she perceived that there were evil spirits close to this self-complacent woman of fashion, who would at times seem to touch her lace or her ribbons as objects of which they had a care. The lady approached the altar-rails for holy Communion; the priest descended the steps, the adorable Sacrament in his hand, when, lo, the Saviour separated Himself from the sacred particle, and ascending heavenward, disappeared, refusing to enter the mouth of one so wretched as to carry her vanity into His very presence and there complacently to dwell on thoughts of sin. The Saint was made clearly to understand that the evil spirits who were near her found in her luxury and vanity of dress something congenial to their minds and easy instruments for her ruin, and that the Saviour refused to be given to her because of her sinful dispositions. Quoniam in malevolam animam non introibit sapientia, nec habitabit in corpore subdito peccatis, “For wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins” (Wis. i. 4).
But you will say to me that you are not of the number of those so corrupt and lost; and I believe you—–with all frankness I believe you: but yet all that finery, those perfumes, that search after effect; that studious calculation of means to heighten every good feature of face, figure, or complexion; that pride of splendor and outlay; how shall these things be sternly enough denounced? Do you not, so far as you can, degrade the house of God; do you not rob Christ of honor, by casting more or less of distraction by your demeanor and your finery? Ah, enter into your own hearts, and resolve to imitate St. Elizabeth of Hungary—–a Saint, a queen, who would go with all royal pomp to holy Mass, but on entering church would take the crown from her head, the jewels from her fingers, and, despoiled of all ornament, would remain covered with a veil, so modest in deportment that she was never seen to direct a glance in any direction but the altar. This so pleased Almighty God that He chose to make His satisfaction apparent to all; for once, during Mass, the Saint was so glorified with Divine splendor that the eyes which looked on her were dazzled, and she seemed to all as it were an angel of paradise. Make use of this noble example, and be assured you will thus become pleasing to God and to man, and your share in the divine sacrifice will be of the highest profit to you in this life and in the next.
FOR WOMEN IN GENERAL
Great, indeed, is the benefit to be derived from holy Mass, as has been shown in the preceding instances; but very often it is not befitting for all women to go to church on week days. You who nurse a child, or are obliged by motives, whether of virtue or of charity, to assist the sick, or you who have a perverse husband, who forbids you to leave the house, must not be troubled about it, or, what would be worse, disobey; for though holy Mass is indeed a thing most holy and, as we have shown, of the utmost benefit, yet, for all this, obedience and the denial of your own will are better in your case. Nay, for your consolation be it known to you that by such obedience you acquire double grace and merit, since the goodness of God in such a case will not only reward your obedience, but will look on you as having attended Mass, graciously accepting your good intention. By disobedience, on the contrary, you would lose the one and the other merit, showing yourself to have more pleasure in your own will than in that of God, Who expressly declares in the page of Holy Writ that Melior est obedientia quam victimae (1 Kings xv. 22). God is more pleased with obedience than with Masses and sacrifices not of precept. But what if you should go to Mass in such circumstances, only to meet acquaintances with whom to chat, or in such a spirit as to indulge in voluntary distractions, and thus cause you to return home empty-handed as to all benefit? So it was with a country woman who lived in a village at some little distance from church. (Heur, in Mag. Spec. Exem. d. 10 Ex. 28.) Tn order to win some great favor or another which she desired of Almighty God, she determined and engaged to herself that she would hear a great number of Masses in the course of the year. And so, whenever she heard the bell of invitation to the holy sacrifice ring from any neighboring country church, she would immediately interrupt her occupations and make hastily off, even through rain or snow, without taking at all into account the inclemency of the weather. When again at home she would, in order to keep count of the Masses so as to complete the number precisely, slip a bean into a box through a small slit like that in money-boxes or those used for voting, so that it seemed a perfectly secure repository. When the year had flown, confident of having fulfilled her vow, of having presented a great offering of homage to God, and of having acquired no little merit, she went to open the little case, where, of all the beans she had deposited, she found one only. Confounded and amazed beyond measure, she quite took it to heart, and turning to God, she said with tears: “O Lord, how is it that so many Masses at which I have assisted, I only find the record of one? Nor have I ever failed to be present, even at the very greatest inconvenience, never fearing adverse weather, but hurrying through rain or hail, and in spite of whatever seemed to oppose me.” Then Almighty God inspired her to go and consult a wise and pious priest, who asked her in what spirit she had pursued her devotion, her demeanor on the way to, and the affections with which she had assisted at the sacrifice. To all which she had to acknowledge that on the way to church she had always been thinking about her affairs, or chatting in a light and jocular style; and that, while assisting at the Divine mysteries, she had passed much of the time in whispering with some friend or neighbor, or had occupied her mind with domestic cares. “Behold the cause,” exclaimed the priest, “of so many Masses being lost. Chatting, idle curiosity, and voluntary distractions have taken away all your merit. Either the devil has taken your tokens as a record against you, or your angel has carried them off, that you might see how good works are lost if not done in the right way and the right spirit. But be sure you return thanks to God that one at least seems to have been well heard and has remained profitable to you.” Now make a serious reflection, and say to yourself: Who knows how many out of all the Masses heard during my life, may have been accepted by God and agreeable to Him? What says conscience? If it seems that but few have been profitable to you in the sight of God, apply the remedy in a true and thorough spirit of amendment for the future. But if, which God forbid, you have been one of those unfortunates who levy recruits for hell, dragging souls down to it even in church, listen to the following frightful incident, and tremble. It is handed down in a book called “Dormisicuro,” as a well-founded story, that a woman, for a long time suffering deep poverty, wandered about in a sort of despair through solitary places, and that there, in some way or other, an evil spirit intimated to her that if she had conducted herself in church as some did, entertaining those near with idle whisperings and useless and impertinent talk, he would have befriended her and made her better off. The miserable woman accepted the bargain thus suggested, applied herself to the miserable and devilish work, and succeeded marvellously; for whoever happened to be placed beside her found it impossible to attend devoutly to Mass or other Divine functions, so constant were her observations or questions, and so many the little methods of interruption which she applied. But no long time passed before she felt the avenging hand of God. One morning there occurred a violent tempest, and a thunderbolt fell among the crowd, which slew her alone, reducing her to ashes. Learn, then, at another’s cost, and avoid those who with idle talk, and with so much irreverence in church, make themselves truly the servants of Satan; spurn them if you do not yourselves wish to incur the wrath of God.