Chapter 10.

{420} "THIS will never do," said Charles, as he closed the door, and ran upstairs; "here is a day wasted, worse than wasted, wasted partly on strangers, partly on friends; and it's hard to say in which case a more thorough waste. I ought to have gone to the Convent at once." The thought flashed into his mind, and he stood over the fire dwelling on it. "Yes," he said, "I will delay no longer. How does time go? I declare it's past four o'clock." He then thought again: "I'll get over my dinner, and then at once betake myself to my good Passionists."

To the coffee-house then he went, and, as it was some way off, it is not wonderful that it was near six before he arrived at the Convent. It was a plain brick building; money had not been so abundant as to overflow upon the exterior, after the expense of the interior had been provided for. And it was incomplete; a large church had been enclosed, but it was scarcely more than a shell—altars, indeed, had been set up, but, for the rest, it had little more than good proportions, a broad sanctuary, a serviceable organ, and an effective choir. There was a range of buildings adjacent, capable {421} of holding about half-a-dozen fathers; but the size of the church required a larger establishment. By this time, doubtless, things are different, but we are looking back at the first efforts of the English Congregation, when it had scarcely ceased to struggle for life, and when friends and members were but beginning to flow in.

It was indeed but ten years, at that time, since the severest of modern rules had been introduced into England. Two centuries after the memorable era when St. Philip and St. Ignatius, making light of those bodily austerities of which they were personally so great masters, preached mortification of will and reason as more necessary for a civilised age—in the lukewarm and self-indulgent eighteenth century, Father Paul of the Cross was divinely moved to found a Congregation in some respects more ascetic than the primitive hermits and the orders of the middle age. It was not fast, or silence, or poverty which distinguished it, though here too it is not wanting in strictness; but in the cell of its venerable founder, on the Celian Hill, hangs an iron discipline or scourge, studded with nails, which is a memorial, not only of his own self-inflicted sufferings, but of those of his Italian family. The object of those sufferings was as remarkable as their intensity; penance, indeed, is in one respect the end of all self-chastisement, but in the instance of the Passionists the use of the scourge was specially directed to the benefit of their neighbour. They applied the pain to the benefit of the holy souls in Purgatory, or they underwent it to rouse a careless audience. On their missions, {422} when their words seemed uttered in vain, they have been known suddenly to undo their habit, and to scourge themselves with sharp knives or razors, crying out to the horrified people, that they would not show mercy to their flesh till they whom they were addressing took pity on their own perishing souls. Nor was it to their own countrymen alone that this self-consuming charity extended; how it so happened does not appear; perhaps a certain momento close to their house was the earthly cause; but so it was, that for many years the heart of Father Paul was expanded towards a northern nation, with which, humanly speaking, he had nothing to do. Over against St. John and St. Paul, the home of the Passionists on the Celian, rises the old church and monastery of San Gregorio, the womb, as it may be called, of English Christianity. There had lived that great Saint, who is named our Apostle, who was afterwards called to the chair of St. Peter; and thence went forth, in and after his pontificate, Augustine, Paulinus, Justus, and the other Saints by whom our barbarous ancestors were converted. Their names, which are now written up upon the pillars of the portico, would almost seem to have issued forth, and crossed over, and confronted the venerable Paul; for, strange to say, the thought of England came into his ordinary prayers; and in his last years, after a vision during Mass, as if he had been Augustine or Mellitus, he talked of his "Sons" in England.

It was strange enough that even one Italian in the heart of Rome should at that time have ambitious thoughts of making novices or converts in this country; {423} but, after the venerable Founder's death, his special interest in our distant isle showed itself in another member of his institute. On the Apennines, near Viterbo, there dwelt a shepherd-boy, in the first years of this century, whose mind had early been drawn heavenward; and, one day, as he prayed before an image of the Madonna, he felt a vivid intimation that he was destined to preach the Gospel under the northern sky. There appeared no means by which a Roman peasant should be turned into a missionary; nor did the prospect open, when this youth found himself, first a lay-brother, then a Father, in the Congregation of the Passion. Yet, though no external means appeared, the inward impression did not fade; on the contrary, it became more definite, and in process of time, instead of the dim north, England was engraven on his heart. And, strange to say, as years went on, without his seeking, for he was simply under obedience, our peasant found himself at length upon the very shore of the stormy northern sea, whence Cęsar of old looked out for a new world to conquer: yet that he should cross the strait was still as little likely as before. However, it was as likely as that he should ever have got so near it; and he used to eye the restless, godless, waves, and wonder with himself whether the day would ever come when he should be carried over them. And come it did, not however by any determination of his own, but by the same Providence which thirty years before had given him the anticipation of it.

At the time of our narrative, Father Domenico de Matre Dei had become familiar with England; he had {424} had many anxieties here, first from want of funds, then still more from want of men. Year passed after year, and, whether fear of the severity of the rule—though that was groundless, for it had been mitigated for England—or the claim of other religious bodies was the cause, his community did not increase, and he was tempted to despond. But every work has its season; and now for some time past that difficulty had been gradually lessening; various zealous men, some of noble birth, others of extensive acquirements, had entered the Congregation; and our friend Willis, who at this time had received the priesthood, was not the last of these accessions, though domiciled at a distance from London. And now the reader knows much more about the Passionists than did Reding at the time that he made his way to their monastery.

The church door came first, and, as it was open, he entered it. It apparently was filling for service. When he got inside, the person who immediately preceded him dipped his finger into a vessel of water which stood at the entrance, and offered it to Charles. Charles ignorant what it meant, and awkward from his consciousness of it, did nothing but slink aside, and look for some place of refuge; but the whole space was open, and there seemed no corner to retreat into. Every one, however, seemed about his own business; no one minded him and so far he felt at his ease. He stood near the door, and began to look about him. A profusion of candles was lighting at the High Altar, which stood in the centre of a semicircular apse. There were side-altars—perhaps half-a-dozen; most of them without {425} lights, but, even here, solitary worshippers might be seen. Over one was a large old Crucifix with a lamp, and this had a succession of visitors. They came each for five minutes, said some prayers which were attached in a glazed frame to the rail, and passed away. At another, which was in a chapel at the farther end of one of the aisles, six long candles were burning, and over it was an image. On looking attentively, Charles made out at last that it was an image of Our Lady, and the Child held out a rosary. Here a congregation had already assembled, or rather was in the middle of some service, to him unknown. It was rapid, alternate, and monotonous; and, as it seemed interminable, Reding turned his eyes elsewhere. They fell first on one, then on another confessional, round each of which was a little crowd, kneeling, waiting every one his own turn for presenting himself for the sacrament—the men on the one side, the women on the other. At the lower end of the church were about three ranges of moveable benches with backs and kneelers; the rest of the large space was open, and filled with chairs. The growing object of attention at present was the High Altar; and each person, as he entered, took a chair, and, kneeling down behind it, began his prayers. At length the church got very full; rich and poor were mixed together—artisans, well-dressed youths, Irish labourers, mothers with two or three children—the only division being that of men from women. A set of boys and children, mixed with some old crones, had got possession of the altar-rail, and were hugging it with restless motions, as if in expectation. {426}

Though Reding had continued standing, no one would have noticed him; but he saw the time was come for him to kneel, and accordingly he moved into a corner seat on the bench nearest him. He had hardly done so, when a procession with lights passed from the sacristy to the altar; something went on which he did not understand, and then suddenly began what, by the Miserere and Ora pro nobis, he perceived to be a litany; a hymn followed. Reding thought he never had been present at worship before, so absorbed was the attention, so intense was the devotion of the congregation. What particularly struck him was, that whereas in the Church of England the clergyman or the organ was everything and the people nothing, except so far as the clerk is their representative, here it was just reversed. The priest hardly spoke, or at least audibly; but the whole congregation was as though one vast instrument or Panharmonicon, moving all together, and what was most remarkable, as if self-moved. They did not seem to require any one to prompt or direct them, though in the Litany the choir took the alternate parts. The words were Latin, but every one seemed to understand them thoroughly, and to be offering up his prayers to the Blessed Trinity, and the Incarnate Saviour, and the great Mother of God, and the glorified Saints, with hearts full in proportion to the energy of the sounds they uttered. There was a little boy near him, and a poor woman, singing at the pitch of their voices. There was no mistaking it; Reding said to himself, "This is a popular religion". He looked round at the building; it was, as we have said, very plain, and bore the marks {427} of being unfinished; but the Living Temple which was manifested in it needed no curious carving or rich marble to complete it, "for the glory of God had enlightened it, and the Lamb was the lamp thereof". "How wonderful," said Charles to himself, "that people call this worship formal and external; it seems to possess all classes, young and old, polished and vulgar, men and women indiscriminately; it is the working of one Spirit in all, making many one."

While he was thus thinking, a change came over the worship. A priest, or at least an assistant, had mounted for a moment above the altar, and removed a chalice or vessel which stood there; he could not see distinctly. A cloud of incense was rising on high; the people suddenly all bowed low; what could it mean? the truth flashed on him, fearfully yet sweetly; it was the Blessed Sacrament—it was the Lord Incarnate who was on the altar, who had come to visit and to bless His people. It was the Great Presence, which makes a Catholic Church different from every other place in the world; which makes it, as no other place can be, holy. The Breviary offices were by this time not unknown to Reding; and as he threw himself on the pavement, in sudden self-abasement and joy, some words of those great Antiphons came into his mouth, from which Willis had formerly quoted: "O Adonai, et Dux domūs Israel, qui Moysi in rubo apparuisti; O Emmanuel, Exspectatio Gentium et Salvator earum, veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster".

The function did not last very long after this; Reding, on looking up, found the congregation rapidly {428} diminishing, and the lights in course of extinction. He saw he must be quick in his motions. He made his way to a lay-brother who was waiting till the doors could be closed, and begged to be conducted to the Superior. The lay-brother feared he might be busy at the moment, but conducted him through the sacristy to a small neat room, where, being left to himself, he had time to collect his thoughts. At length the Superior appeared; he was a man past the middle age, and had a grave yet familiar manner. Charles's feelings were indescribable, but all pleasurable. His heart beat, not with fear or anxiety, but with the thrill of delight with which he realised that he was beneath the shadow of a Catholic community, and face to face with one of its priests. His trouble went in a moment, and he could have laughed for joy. He could hardly keep his countenance, and almost feared to be taken for a fool. He presented the card of his railroad companion. The good Father smiled when he saw the name, nor did the few words which were written with pencil on the card diminish his satisfaction. Charles and he soon came to an understanding; he found himself already known in the community by means of Willis; and it was arranged that he should take up his lodgings with his new friends forthwith, and remain there as long as it suited him. He was to prepare for confession at once; and it was hoped that on the following Sunday he might be received into Catholic communion. After that, he was, at a convenient interval, to present himself to the Bishop, from whom he would seek the sacrament of confirmation. Not much time was necessary for removing {429} his luggage from his lodgings; and in the course of an hour from the time of his interview with the Father Superior, he was sitting by himself, with pen and paper and his books, and with a cheerful fire, in a small cell of his new home.

Chapter 3-11

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