« PreviousContinue »
from that absence of all regard to effect which is so strikingly characteristic of the Scripture records.
The great excellence (if we may presume to speak in language wearing even the appearance of criticism concerning what is so much above us,) of Catholic devotion, consists in its union, as of affectionateness, so again of vividness, with reverence and depth. Out of the Church, or with those who lack her spirit, practical religious writings are apt to be alternately stiff and unchastened, rationalistic and merely sentimental. Or, again, where graphic delineation of incidents in the Gospel History is attempted (as is remarkably illustrated in an American work popular in this country three or four years ago), un-Catholic writers are quite certain to be betrayed into irreverence, as the unhappy result of their deviation from the true Faith. Such authors, so far as they aim at promoting a more lively and intimate experience of the Mystery of our Lord's Humanity, are most important, although unconscious, witnesses to the Divine origin of that gracious Economy which is alone the counterpart of our nature in all its fulness; while, so far as they set themselves to supply a grievous deficiency in existing works of a devotional character, they may well claim sympathy at the hands even of those who are most seriously opposed to them. Lacking, however, the spirit which the Church's holy guidance can alone supply in all its perfection, they approach the body of sacred Truth without that adoring awe, the effect of an abiding sense of
our Lord's Divine Nature, which enables the Catholic to dwell even upon the minutest details, without, on the one hand, the danger of rash and presumptuous inquiry, and, on the other, the embarrassment which clogs the freedom, and contracts the range, of devout contemplation, in the case of a half-formed and selfdistrusting faith. And hence they can hardly help falling into what may be called a Socinian tone, whatever allowance we may desire to make for the writers themselves on account of the circumstances in which they have been placed. Now, if there be any one part of our Blessed Lord's history more than another, in the study of which this difference between Catholic and un-Catholic minds will shew itself, it is the sacred Mystery of His Passion. Here the cold, and again the irreverent, will be sure to fail in one or the other essential point; either in warmth and vividness, or in awe; while here, on the other hand, the excellence of the Catholic spirit will be most apparent in combining the accurate consideration of particulars (an exercise so essential to devotion) with the temper of reverence, the surest preservative against those too familiar advances which the exhibition of love in so many varieties of form is calculated, without such accompanying corrective, to provoke.
It is in this spirit of awe, humble yet confident, and in this spirit of love, glowing yet chastened, that the compilers would wish the following prayers and meditations to be approached; sure that they are thus seeking to encourage the temper in which the h
authors both indited them and would have them received. Above all, without desiring to shrink from any responsibility which they themselves may sustain in giving these Devotions to the public, they would earnestly deprecate the perusal of them in the spirit of criticism. If they cannot be used, let them be at once laid aside; on the contrary, if their general tone be felt by the reader to be in keeping with the spirit of a season which, if any other, must incline the devout mind to every latitude even of rapturous expression, which is consistent with awe, and to the contemplation of every feature of suffering (not one, we may be sure, disclosed, or suggested, without a gracious purpose), so as the idea of unfathomable mystery be kept prominently in view,—then the compilers would earnestly entreat, they do not say indulgence (for they have nothing to do with apologizing for works derived from such sources), but a calm suspension of judgment in the case of expressions, if any such there be in the following pages, which may wear the appearance of exaggeration and unreality to minds trained in a system external to that which they presuppose.
It remains only to give a brief account of the Devotions comprised in this little volume, in order as they occur.
The Office of the Passion, like the Rhythm which follows it, is taken from the works of S. Buonaventura. In this Office, the translators have ventured to make one or two slight alterations of passages