Cleansing Fire

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“I wonder how Luther broke the spell”

June 11th, 2010, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

Building on Bernie’s post the other day, here’s a John Adam’s quote from the book the The letters of John and Abigail Adams

This afternoon, led by curiosity and good company, I strolled away to mother church, or rather to grandmother church. I mean the Romish chapel. I heard a good, short moral essay upon the duty of parents to their children, founded in justice and charity, to take care of their interests, temporal and spiritual. This afternoon’s entertainment was to me most awful and affecting; the poor wretches fingering their beads, chanting Latin not a word of which they understood; their pater nosters and ave Marias; their holy water; their crossing themsleves perpetually; their bowing to the name of Jesus, whenever they hear it; their bowings and kneelings and genuflections before the altar. The dress of the priest was rich with lace. His pulpit was velvet and gold. The altarpiece was very rich; little images and crucifixes about; wax candles lighted up. But how shall I describe the picture of our Saviour in a frame of marble over the altar, at full length, upon the cross in the agonies, and the blood dropping and streaming from his wounds! The music, consisting of an organ and a choir of singers, went all the afternoon except sermon time. And the assembly chanted most sweetly and exquisitely.

Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination – everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.

An authentic Catholic liturgy is repulsive to a protestant who is set in their protestant world view (as it should be).  Repulsive, yes; but strangely attractive.  Attractive enough that it could make the protestant curious enough to start asking questions.  And that’s the death kiss for the protestant.  For once you start asking questions and if, by the grace of God, someone gives you authentic Catholic Answers, then… well… “WELCOME HOME!”

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4 Responses to ““I wonder how Luther broke the spell””

  1. avatar Nerina says:

    Ben, I love this quote by John Adams. And frankly, after having attended my first celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (after only having been exposed to the Novus Ordo) I felt similarly. It requires a completely different mindset and one which the Novus Ordo – as frequently celebrated in our diocese (I’m not dissing the Rite itself, Mary Kay) – erodes week after week.

  2. avatar Gen says:

    The Ordinary Form is a Mass of great potentiality – the Extradorindary Form is a Mass of great actuality (when done right).

  3. avatar benanderson says:

    I agree, Nerina. Both OLV and St. Stan’s were a little scary, but also very attractive the first few times I went.

  4. avatar Anon says:

    “This afternoon’s entertainment was to me most awful and affecting” — I don’t know about calling it “entertainment” (though Adams may have seen himself as a tourist), but I think he intended “awful” in its original sense of “full of awe” or “inspiring awe.” It’s like the Latin antiphon “Terribilis est locus iste,” which means, “That place is terrible,” not in the sense that it sucks but in the sense that that it inspires the terror, or “fear of God.” “Terrific” comes from the same root.

    There’s a story (maybe apocryphal) that when Queen Anne saw Christopher Wren’s completed St. Paul’s Cathedral, she called it “awful, artificial, and amusing” — i.e., inspiring awe, a work of artifice, and thought-provoking!


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