Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Witnesses to the Holy Mass

Our first excerpt is from Witnesses to the Holy Mass and other sermons by Dom Bede Camm, O.S.B. This book first published in England in 1904 celebrates the English Martyrs and exhorts the Faithful to become more devout based on the example given by these courageous men and women.

The Requiem Press edition (our first full-length book) has converted English spellings to "American" spellings, has added footnotes translating Latin phrases, and added several footnotes on content.

The following is from the first chapter. (Footnotes in the book are not included in the excerpt.)

The Martyrs -the Consolation of the Heart of God

Sunday, May 1, 1904

In servis suis consolabitur Deus. — God shall find His consolation in His servants.”

WHAT a wonderful thought it is, dear brethren in Jesus Christ: how consoling and inspiring, that the great God who has all things and can do all things, whose bliss from all eternity has known no limits and no imperfections, should nevertheless desire our love, should yearn after it with unspeakable longing, should seek it with unwearied patience, and, having obtained it, should rejoice over it as a treasure of great price! “My son, give Me thy heart,” He cries to each one of us, and to those who respond to the call, to them He reveals all the hidden secrets of His heart, on them He pours out the riches of His love, in them He finds His consolation and His joy.

Our divine Lord asks for faithful friends, for friends who will be true till death, who will not shrink from trials and sufferings for His sake, who will embrace the cross with joy because it unites them more closely to Him, who will welcome persecution, torture — yes, and death itself — in order to prove more surely the reality and constancy of their devotion.

Our Lord does not seek for mere fair weather friends. It is very easy to think we love Him when all things are bright around us, easy to have hot feelings in prayer, to delight in beautiful services, music and ceremonial, easy to fancy we are very devout, as long as there is nothing serious to give up for God’s love, no fierce struggles with the world and the devil, no wearing conflict with the flesh. But it is temptation, it is sacrifice which proves and tests our love, it is the day of darkness and gloom which reveals the true nature of our devotion, and happy indeed are they who in the hour of trial are found faithful, even unto death, for they are those blessed ones who console the heart of God.

There never, perhaps, was a time when all things seemed brighter than in the early days of Henry VIII. Never had the Church seemed more flourishing, more prosperous, more honored. The beauty and riches of the churches were the wonder of Christendom, and foreign visitors to England were amazed at their magnificence. Stately monasteries and religious houses covered the land, and for the most part were filled with men and women who had given up the world for Christ, and whose lives of unostentatious beneficence made them beloved of the people around their gates. The bishops and higher clergy were learned and munificent, and foreign scholars, like the famous Erasmus, found in them their most generous patrons. A new life was transforming the ancient universities, where the study of Greek was eagerly pursued under the auspices of men like Colet and Fisher. The German heresiarchs, who were beginning their revolt against the Church and her teaching, found their most strenuous and formidable opponents in England, where the Lord High Chancellor of the realm — nay, the very monarch himself — did not disdain to break a lance with them on behalf of the orthodox faith. The king was the most brilliant, the most generous, the most devout in Christendom. He was wont to hear four or five Masses a day; he went on pilgrimage to the shrine of our Lady of Walsingham, walking the last few miles barefoot; he wrote treatises on theological subjects, such as the necessity of vocal prayer, and indeed until his elder brother’s death had intended to take holy orders. Above all he was the most strenuous supporter of the claims of the Holy See to be found in all his realms. When all was thus smiling who could have foreseen the storm?

Who would have guessed that a period of peace and sunshine was so suddenly to be changed into one of tempest and gloom?

And yet we now see clearly enough that there were ominous signs of the coming change, had men only looked for them, long before the storm finally broke. The land seemed full of beautiful fruits and flowers, but there was a blight in the air, a canker in the heart of it all. And this blight, this canker, was the prevailing worldliness of the time. All this material prosperity had had a corrupting effect on those to whose pastoral care the flock of Christ had been committed; the riches of the monastic orders had too often become a snare and a hindrance to regular observance; the bishops were in many cases rather statesmen and politicians than ministers of Christ. And, what was even worse, there was a strong undercurrent of what are known as Gallican ideas, a fatal consequence of the disedifying spectacle presented to Christendom by the great schism, and the various scandals to which it had given rise.

And so, when the storm burst and God looked down upon this land of ours to seek servants and friends after His own heart, he found so few, so very few. A little cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand at first, had risen in the sky, and before men were aware of it, it had overshadowed the heavens from one end to another, and as the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled, the shep­herds cowered trembling before the fury of the storm, and too often fled, leaving their flocks to perish. Yet even here, God found His consolation in His faithful servants.

Thus, when the Duke of Norfolk warned the Blessed Thomas More that the anger of the king was death (Indignatio principis mors est), the blessed martyr calmly replied: “Then the only difference between you and me, my lord, is that I must die today and you tomorrow.”

I need not say much as to the causes of the fierce persecution which now broke upon England. You all know that it was directly due to the evil passions of the king. He fell into sin and desired a woman who was not his wife, and tried by every means to induce the Pope to grant him his unlawful desire. When he found that both threats and cajolery were powerless to obtain from the Holy See a license for bigamy, he determined to make himself Pope and drag the country with him into heresy and schism. Henry’s dominant passions were obstinacy and self-will, and these fatal passions hurried him along the downward path, for he was too proud ever to own himself in the wrong, or to retrace the steps once taken. He had threatened the Pope that if he would not yield to his wishes he would set up a schismatic church, and he was determined to keep his word, though he fully knew the heinousness of such a crime. And he pursued his course to the bitter end, though he had to shed rivers of blood — the best and purest blood in England — before he could consummate his apostasy. Unhappily he had at his side a minister, Thomas Cromwell, whose avowed aim was to satisfy in all things his master’s desires whether lawful or not. This man’s Machiavellian policy was but too faithfully imitated by the apostate archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, a man who had been raised to the chair of St. Augustine in order to assist the king in his evil work, and who never shrank from any infamy at his master’s bidding. And thus the hour of trial came on England, and alas! for the most part, found her unprepared.

In the spring of 1534 the parliament, clergy and people were called upon to take an oath by which they acknowledged the validity of the king’s marriage with Anne Boleyn, and repudiated his former marriage as unlawful. This, indirectly at least, aimed at the authority of the Roman pontiff, for it denied his right to interfere in the matter, and he had just pronounced against the king’s second marriage and commanded him to return to his lawful wife. Nevertheless, the great majority of clergy and people were so cowed by the Tudor tyranny, so terrified by the frightful vengeance taken on those who dared to withstand the royal will, that they yielded and took the oath. Most of them thought, no doubt, that this was but a passing storm, and that when the king’s passion for Anne Boleyn had been satisfied he would be reconciled once more to the Holy See and to his outraged wife; and that in the meantime they could thus preserve their property and their lives.

And so, my brethren, when God sought for faithful friends, He found but few. Yet, thank God, there were some, some to console His heart. Some there were who only longed to share the cross of their Lord, whose one desire was to bear witness to the truth, to give their lives for Him who had given His for them, to be faithful even unto death. And these brave men consoled His sacred Heart.

There was here in London a house of religious men, of whom it was commonly said that if it were possible that angels could live on earth in human flesh, they were to be found among the monks of the London Charterhouse. Of these men it might be said, as of my holy father St. Benedict, that they despised the world as a withered flower, only fit to be thrown away. Some had left great positions in the world, even the very king’s court, to consecrate themselves to a life of prayer and austerity. These men were ready; they were faithful, and in them God found His consolation.

When the commissioners came to the London Charterhouse and summoned the monks to take the oath, the holy prior expressed his astonishment that a marriage sanctioned by the Holy See and consecrated by long years of undisputed intercourse should now be called in question. He and a companion were at once sent to the Tower……..

To read the rest of this inspiring story and five other sermons about the heroic English martyrs persecuted under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, order your copy today!

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