Priests of Meath 122 Years Ago
I came across Canon P. A. Sheehan’s fascinating account of the once widespread Association of Priest Adorers (founded by Saint Peter Julian Eymard) in the July 1894 issue of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record. It is especially noteworthy that the article affirms that “this great work of the priesthood is established in Ireland, notably in the diocese of Meath.” I rather suspect that Meath’s priest adorers of over a century ago are interceding today for Silverstream Priory and, from their place in eternity, supporting Silverstream Priory’s Confraternity of Priest Adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.
The Daily Hour of Adoration
The principle difference between the Association of Priest-Adorers and the Confraternity of Priest Adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus is that while the former obliges its members to a single continuous hour of adoration each week, the latter engages priests to a single continuous hour of adoration daily. The compelling example and preaching of the Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has, without any doubt, contributed to the willingness of many priests today to imitate him in spending one hour each day before Our Lord’s Eucharistic Face.
This article was written 122 years ago; I have added only the subtitles in boldface. It is as relevant now as when it first appeared. It has much to say about the priesthood in Ireland yesterday and today, about its challenges, and about a remedy to the crisis in priestly life that is, at once, divinely efficacious and within the reach of every priest.
THE IRISH ECCLESIASTICAL RECORD, JULY, 1894
Sacrileges in 19th Century France
Readers of French newspapers are occasionally, indeed all too frequently, horrified by such items of news as these : At Notre-Dame de Paris, on Holy Saturday, several hundred consecrated Hosts were sacrilegiously stolen at eight o’clock in the forenoon. A few days before a similar sacrilege was committed in the Church of St. Ferdinand des Ternes. The Church of St–Égrève, near Grenoble, was sacked during the night of Sunday, March 25th. The sacerdotal vestments, sacred vases, etc., were stolen, and a golden ciborium, the most precious possession of the church. The Sacred Hosts were found on the road of Fontenil. The Clarion des Alpes publishes with expressions of regret a series of horrible sacrileges against the Most Holy Sacrament. The Eclair of Montpellier gives an account of a sacrilege of a peculiarly atrocious kind in a local church. An unspeakable sacrilege was committed on Monday, the 13th of March, in the Lyceum at Douai. A student approached the holy table, secreted the sacred Host, and afterwards submitted it to the most revolting outrages, mutilating and breaking it, to see “if blood would flow.” And his companions, far from being shocked, applauded, and envied him.
It is now well known that all this outrage is systematized under a Satanic propaganda, which has for its direct object, the enthroning of Lucifer and the dethroning of Christ. Within a radius of one mile around the Panthéon in Paris no less than twenty-three altars are raised to the personal worship of Satan. He has his priests and priestesses, his ritual, his ceremonies; Friday is his Sabbath; the serpent, as in the ancient occultisms, is his emblem; and the destruction of the Christian religion, and direct insults to its divine Founder, especially in the Sacrament of His love, the object of this new and infernal system. No wonder that a priest opens this list of ghastly sacrileges by the words Parce Domine! and closes it with this appeal :
Priests- Adorers, let us close in our ranks about the tabernacle ! Let us watch with jealous care over this divine treasure committed to our charge. Let us weep and mourn before the Lord Jesus, so cruelly outraged in the Sacrament of His supreme love. May our ceaseless acts of reparation appease the divine anger, and disarm the awful vengeance of God ! Let us multiply our hours of adoration, let us bring our faithful people to the foot of the altar, and on our knees repeat : Parce Domine, parce populo tuo!
A Guard of Honour
For France, France of the saintly traditions, has called upon its magnificent reserve of holy traditions and inspirations, and, alive to the awful magnitude of this latest evil, has established a guard of honour around the tabernacles of the Christian world, by banding together in one body the Christian priesthood, the bond of unity being their unceasing adoration before the Hidden Guest on our altars. In 1856, Père Eymard founded in Paris this Association of Priests- Adorers. The spirit of this work, as explained by its saintly founder, is:
That priest-associates of the Most Holy Sacrament should live the eucharistic life of Jesus Christ, which consists, above all, in self-denial and self-sacrifice. That they should remember that it is their duty to devote themselves to propagate and defend the eucharistic reign of our Lord, they are dispersed over the world to kindle the fire of His love. They should direct their studies, zeal, and piety towards the Eucharist. They should bear in mind that their first duty is that of personal adoration, nos autem orationi instantes erimus. In one word, let them be united in all their acts, and in all their functions, to Jesus Christ, the eternal Priest, Pattern, and Glory of the Priesthood.
Such is the spirit of the work; the conditions for admission, and the gaining of the many indulgences attached to the Association, are few and simple :
1. To be a priest, or, at least, to have entered Holy Orders.
2. To have their names and Christian names inscribed in the registers of the Association.
3. To make every week one continuous hour of adoration before the Most Holy Sacrament, either exposed or shut up in the tabernacle. The day and hour are left to the choice of the associates, who can vary them each week according to the duties imposed upon them by their sacred ministry. They must not perform, during this hour of adoration, any other duty from another cause obligatory, such as the recital of the office. Associates enjoy the liberty of opening the sacred tabernacle during their hours of adoration, provided there be six wax tapers lighted on the altar.
4. To recite on the day of their admission an act of consecration to the Most Holy Sacrament.
5. To return regularly, at the end of each month, to the seat of Association, the monthly libellum, or ticket of adoration.
6. To celebrate every year, once only, and, if possible, during the Octave of All Saints, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the associates deceased during the past year, and anteriorly.
7. The annual contribution to defray the expenses of the work, and for the publication of the Annales, consists of two shillings for each priest-adorer.
In March, 1892, the Association of Priests–Adorers numbered 21,000 priests, spread throughout the whole world, and taking in all ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. There were then forty-eight bishops and three cardinals associated. More than one hundred bishops have approved of the work. Seventy dioceses in France have a diocesan director, nominated or accepted by the ordinary. In March of this year, 1894, the number of associates had increased to close upon 29,000 members, giving an increase of nearly 8,000 members during the past two years. In Rome, the centre of Catholicity, the Association has been approved, and canonically erected by his Eminence Cardinal Parocchi; and Pope Pius IX., and our present Sovereign Pontiff have deigned to grant the Association their pontifical sanction and blessing. In America the organization has spread so widely, that eucharistic congresses are regularly held in the large cities by priests associated in this sodality; in Australia it has taken deep root ; and even from far-away Tasmania we learn that the venerable patriarch of Australasia has established it in his diocese, and has given it the high sanction of his name and approbation. During the month of April, this year, two hundred and forty-two new associates were enrolled, thirty-six from France, seventy-six from Germany, eighty-one from Austria, four from Belgium, twelve from Canada, twelve from the United States, two from Holland, nine from Italy, three from Switzerland, three from Ireland, and one from Poland.
It will thus be seen that already this great work of the priesthood is established in Ireland, notably in the diocese of Meath. The Primate of Armagh, the Bishops of Cork, Meath, and Waterford, have written warm letters of approbation ; and it is with the view of introducing it more widely to the notice of the Irish priesthood, that these pages, thanks to the courtesy of the Editor, have been penned for the I. E. Record. For when, a month ago, the writer had the pleasure of an interview with the Director–General for Ireland, Father Charles Spieser, Wilton, Cork, and the vast importance and sublimity of this work were explained to him, he undertook, without reluctance, the task of being the humble apostle of this most sacred and salutary devotion ; and he felt the truth of what was so strongly urged upon him, that it only needed an introduction to the notice of the Irish priesthood to become a great and widespread devotion, and as strong a bond of union amongst them as their common faith. And it would seem that this devotion has a most special claim on the acceptance of Irish priests; for, unlike the priesthood of all other European countries, we have the inestimable privilege of being not only the custodians, but the very hosts and domestic companions, if we may so speak, of the Incarnate Word. Under our roof He dwells ; a bare partition separates His room from ours ; we pass Him by every moment of the day ; in the watches of the night, when we slumber, from our little oratories, where He keeps His sleepless vigils, He protects us ; when at midnight we are called to the bedside of the sick, we need not go to the church, but, passing from one room to another, we bid Him rise up, and come with us ; and from the hushed silence of His little chamber a divine influence goes forth every moment of the night and day, such as melted the hearts of the disciples at Emmaus, when they knew Him in the breaking of bread.
A Bishop Speaks
Apart, therefore, from the general reasons that should make this devotion so attractive to priests, there are very special reasons why we should take particular interest in practising and propagating this devout system of adoration and reparation. And lest these feeble words of mine should detract from the importance which I should desire to attach to this great spiritual work, I shall keep silent, and let a gifted and saintly prelate, whose name is not unknown in Ireland, speak. Writing to one of the directors of this Association on Christmas Day, 1887, Mgr. Perraud, Bishop of Autun, says :
Bishops, as judges and guardians of the faith, are often asked to testify to the dogmatic and moral worth of a book by writing to the author a letter which will enable him to appear with confidence before the public. You have asked of me, Reverend Father, a like favour on behalf of the pious association of which you are the zealous director. I could very lawfully have made you answer that it is quite superfluous to recommend a work that bears on the face of it the highest titles of recommendation, and of whose excellence no one can doubt. Does not this especially hold of the Confraternity of Priest–Adorers of the Most Holy Sacrament ? And does it not suffice to make its existence known to the clergy, to be assured of finding in their ranks numerous adherents ? I cannot, however, refrain from citing some of the motives which have made it for me a labour of love to promote its propagation amongst the priests of the diocese of Autun during the ecclesiastical Retreats in the month of September. Priests, enrolled in this Association, undertake the obligation of passing every week, on a day that suits their own convenience, one continuous hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. At first sight, this practice seems, perhaps, of little account; and it may be asked if it is worth the trouble of making it the object of a special association. But after a little reflection one is not long in perceiving that the weekly visit during a continuous hour can easily become in the life of a good priest the grain of mustard-seed, which rapidly shooting up, extends its branches and fruits on every side. To begin with, is not our fidelity in discharging this hour of adoration a guarantee of the exactness with which the daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament will be made, at least within the limits of the time devoted to it by the pious customs of our ecclesiastical colleges ? For my own part, I feel firmly convinced, that many associates after having experienced ‘the joys and blessings of the complete hour of adoration, shall find very short the visits of a quarter of an hour assigned to the other days of the week. If they cannot always by reason of the duties of the sacred ministry prolong the duration of those visits, they will ingeniously devise means of multiplying them ; they will feel the necessity, the habit will grow upon them, of profiting by certain spare moments to hasten and present themselves anew, were it only for a few minutes, before the Divine Guest of our Tabernacles, in order to greet Him, and to recommend to Him in a more direct way such a work, such an undertaking, or some other anxious care of our pastoral labour. It is told of St. Thomas of Aquin, that despite his mighty genius, finding himself at a loss to solve certain theological difficulties, he betook himself to the Church, and addressing our Divine Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, humbly implored of Him the light desired. A similar incident is narrated in the life of St. Vincent de Paul, that he was in the habit of treating directly with Jesus Christ, hidden under the veil of the Eucharist, about the many details of his charitable creations.
Up to the present I have considered this devotional exercise only in its relations with the other practices of sacerdotal piety : it is now time to study it in itself, and weigh its intrinsic excellence. I shall endeavour to do so by setting forth some reflections suggested to me by the text from Ecclesiastes : ‘ It is a great depth, who shall find it out ? ‘ (Eccl. vii. 25.) Is it not too often true that after having read such and such a spiritual book, or heard such or such a sermon, we feel constrained to confess that the subject has not been sufficiently treated. Hence, the reason why so many writings and discourses only produce a superficial and passive impression. From their nature they are able for a moment to dazzle the intellect or move the heart ; but to-morrow these emotions will be half effaced, and totally forgotten the day after. The thoughts which they called forth did not flow from the inmost depths of the soul, into which a profound meditation alone can penetrate. Following this train of thought, I come upon the kernel of our subject ; it is quite a different thing to spend before the Blessed Sacrament four quarters of an hour, separated from one another by studies, by occupations, by pastoral cares, however legitimate in themselves, and from uniting them without a break, so as to secure an uninterrupted hour during which the thoughts, desires, affections, and resolutions can, under the action of the immediate presence of Jesus Christ, be concentrated in a single point, and penetrate the soul to its most profound depths. I confess I would be very much surprised if on the day on which he passed his entire hour before the Holy Sacrament, the priest who would be called either to ascend the pulpit, or to hear confessions, or to visit the sick or dying, did not, as if in spite of himself, betray the secret of a closer intimacy with Jesus Christ, by accents more persuasive, by a charity more abounding, by a more decisive and lasting influence upon souls. If such be the case, what priest desirous of exercising a faithful, a useful and truly regenerative and sanctifying ministry, would not desire to avail himself of a means which its facility renders universally accessible ?
But are there not some priestly lives that are consumed by a multiplicity of the most pressing cares ? During these days that are devoted almost interruptedly to the service of our neighbour, there can be no difficulty in finding one continuous hour during which priests can be sure of not, being called, and during which they can obtain the advantages of the lengthened time of recol- lection, silence, and prayer, without detriment to the duties of their state, and plunge themselves at leisure into the abysses of the Eucharistic Mystery. Moreover, is it not a matter of experience that the more one is obliged to devote himself to others, the more need he has of taking heed to himself, and to speak as our Lord, of refreshing himself and being refreshed Ego reficiam vos, that he may ever be prepared to perform the duties of his Apostolic ministry ? The more a priest devotes himself to the service of the Church and of souls, the more he has need of the graces of meditation and interior recollection attached to this hour of adoration.
But, you will show me your daily distribution of time, and you have no trouble in persuading me that from your thanksgiving after Holy Mass until evening, you are just able to secure the indispensable quarter of an hour to visit the Blessed Sacrament after midday. I am convinced: I do not mean to discuss it. But, unhesitatingly, tell you: Select some day in the week on which you will rise an hour earlier; this hour you will spend before the Blessed Sacrament ; and you will even be able to employ it in making your meditation. I assure you, your work not only that day, but even during the rest of the week, will betray the influence of this blessed hour. Because of it you shall do more, and you shall do better.
I wish to all my brethren in the priesthood, as well as to myself, that fulness of faith, of conviction, of charity, and zeal, which will be for us the blessed fruit of our visits during the hour with Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament ; a fulness, which, in its turn, will overflow on the souls of those with whom our ministry will put us in contact, and in all the undertakings confided to our care.
Such is the language of this great prelate concerning this sacred priestly work language which anticipates and answers every possible objection that may be launched against it.
Priesthood Ordered to the Eucharist
But I hear someone say : Why multiply devotions ? Already they are almost innumerable, and we are bewildered in the choice we ought to make, and weary in the undertaking of responsibilities which were almost forced upon us. That objection might hold for the laity ; but we think it hardly applies to priests. And even if it did, the one simple answer is, that for every reason devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament must be the great, central, all-absorbing interest of the priest’s life, to which every other exercise of piety must be regarded as complemental and ancillary. The whole sacerdotal ministry converges directly or indirectly towards the Holy Eucharist : Ordo, says St. Thomas, prout est sacramentum imprimens characterem, ordinatur specialiter ad Sacramentum Eucharistiae, in quo ipse Christus continetur, quia per characterem ipsi Christo configuramur. And again: Ordinis Sacramentum ad Sacramentum Eucharistiae ordinatur quod est Sacramentum Sacramentorum . . . Quia potestas ordinis aut est ad consecration em ipsius Eucharistiae aut ad aliquod ministerium ordinatum ad hoc Sacramentum Eucharistiae.
Priests Adoring With the Faithful
The question is hardly debatable, and so we leave it, with the remark, that long before modern confraternities and sodalities were introduced for the edification and spiritual succour of the faithful, the Confraternity of the Most Blessed Sacrament was, fifty years back, well known to the Irish hierarchy, and strongly recommended to the faithful, and even its erection in each parish ordered and enforced, as a glance at our statutes will testify. It is quite possible that even in our day, we may have the privilege of witnessing a grand revival of devotion to the great hidden mystery of our faith. Already, in some dioceses in Ireland, priests– adorers have gathered around them in their weekly adoration large numbers of the faithful who can also be associated. And we feel confident that this great work will go on from day to day, animating the fervour of our Catholic people, and calling down from the throne of grace incalculable blessings on the Irish Church. Behind the daily labour of our priests, a secret power will be working for their success, and the hearts of all will be turned towards the silent tabernacle where dwells that God-Man whose presence constitutes our strength here and our hope hereafter. (P. A. SHEEHAN)