The Third Annual Catholic Congress: Addresses and Papers
Albany, New York, October 25, 26, 27, A.D. 1927
Philadelphia: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1927.
Our Lady and the Saints
THE REVEREND SPENCE BURTON, SUPERIOR
Society of S. John the Evangelist, Boston, Massachusetts
OUR Lady and the Saints, having been thrown out of our churches about four hundred years ago and the doors slammed behind them, came back through the windows. Many Christians ever since seem to have considered the Mother of our Lord and His glorious friends only useful as subject matter for expensive memorial windows. The Saints and preeminently Blessed Mary the Mother of us all, are such true Christians that they forgive us, love us still, in spite of our attacks upon them, in fact, love us the more because of our great spiritual need and humble themselves to be brought back to our attention by even the most blatant of these stained-glass pictures.
Within the desecrated churches, our forefathers in the faith still professed their belief in the Communion of Saints. They kept some saints in the Calendar, and they continued to name their churches and their children after the saints; but, generally speaking, they seem to have thought of the saints as dead Papists, whose shrines were for plunder and whose bones were for bonfires. They did not consciously or intentionally communicate with the saints. Yet all the spiritually healthy and vigorous members of the Church in Heaven were by their prayers and their merits consciously and intentionally communicating [80/81] to their misguided and debilitated fellow-members of Christ in the Church on earth the spiritual vitality of the Head of the whole Body, Christ the King of Saints.
As the life of the Vine reached the branches that had not been torn off from it, this divine sap put forth new tendrils of devotion to our Lady and the Saints.
Such love for the Mother of God and His Friends has habitually expressed itself in:
I. Imitation of their Christlike lives.
II. Veneration of their heroic loyalty to God.
III. Invocation of their mighty intercessions.
IV. Reliance on the glorious merits of these triumphant members of our Saviour.
We must express our love for our Lady and the Saints by the imitation of their Christlike lives.
"My soul doth magnify the Lord," [* St. Luke 1:46.] sings His mother. Her soul is like a spotless magnifying glass. Looking through it, we see the Lord more accurately, in more detail and with a fuller appreciation than if we looked at Him only with the naked eye, dimmed by sin. Do our souls magnify the Lord? Do men see him more clearly by looking through us? They have a right to expect that revelation of Christ through His members. They do see Him in and through His saints, whether canonized or unrecognized by the Church, whether feebly struggling in the Church Militant or shining gloriously in the Church Triumphant. If our devotion to our Lady and the Saints is to be real, vital, spiritual, it must focus in imitation of their Christlikeness. Mimicking their mannerisms or their methods of religious expression will not suffice. Mere pious antiquarianism can live peacefully wedded to [81/82] unethical self-satisfaction. This is a caricature, a lampoon of devotion to our holy Mother Mary and the Saints.
I must take care that I do not preach several All Saints' sermons here. They are due next week. This section of my paper can be brief, for its thesis is as obvious as it is difficult. We can amuse ourselves dangerously by blasphemously playing with the cult of Blessed Mary and All Saints. The true way to honor them is to imitate their Christlike lives. This involves nothing less than incorporation into the Incarnate Life of God; nothing less than the school of the Beatitudes; nothing less than the way of Christ from Bethlehem to Calvary. "Come, take up the Cross and follow me." [St. Mark 10:21.]
As we try to imitate their Christlike lives we shall increase our veneration of their heroic loyalty to God.
The Saints are the victorious athletes of the spiritual life; they are the heroic soldiers under the Captain of our Salvation; they are the loyal members of our Christian family, our brothers and sisters who have been faithful to the Father of us all. Our pride in them, our exultation over their accomplishments, impels us naturally to veneration. We rejoice to celebrate their heavenly birthdays. Does our veneration detract from our worship of God? Certainly not. By such veneration we praise His life, His love and His grace operative in His members.
The absolute worship we owe to the uncreated majesty of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which is technically known as latria, adoration, or divine worship, differs essentially from that due to any creature. When directed to any creature such adoration, latria, is rightly called idolatry.
 The relative worship we owe to our Lady and the Saints, and which is technically known as dulia, or service, includes the conception of both honor and veneration. They are by no means synonymous, and should not be used interchangeably. God honors His saints but He does not venerate them. Veneration logically connotes an acknowledgment of the superior excellence of and humble submission to the person to whom it is offered.
The distinction between latria (the worship of adoration) and dulia (the worship of veneration) is sufficient to disprove the odious charge sometimes made against us Catholics, that we adore the Virgin Mary and the Saints. Of its very nature the worship we give to the Saints has nothing in common with idolatry. [Pohle—Preuss, Mariology, 3rd ed. p. 134-141.]
Surely God the Father rejoices to have His younger children respect, praise, venerate and love His older children who are mature and strong in the spiritual life.
The martyrs were the first saints to be venerated. The early Christians regarded martyrdom as the climax of Christian virtue.
St. Augustine vigorously defends the ancient Christian practice of venerating the martyrs. "The Christian populace celebrates the memory of the martyrs with religious solemnity," he writes, "but we rear altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs Himself, though in memory of the martyrs. For what priest, standing before the altar where the sacred bodies lie, has ever said, We offer sacrifice to thee, O Peter, or Paul or Cyprian? What is offered is offered to God, who has crowned the martyrs near the memorial places of those whom He has crowned, that a stronger affection may arise from the places themselves to intensify our love both for those whom we can imitate and for Him by [83/84] whose help we are able to imitate them. We venerate the martyrs, therefore, with that worship of love and association by which the saints of God are venerated in this life, all the more devoutly, because they have securely won their battles. But we worship God alone by that cult which in the Greek is called latreia a term for which there is no equivalent in Latin, as it means a certain servitude, which in its proper sense is due only to the Divinity." [* Contra Faustum Manich, XX]
If we owe this veneration (dulia) to the Friends of God, do we not much more owe a super-veneration (hyperdulia) to the Mother of God?
By baptism we were made members of Christ, members of His Body. The holy Mother of Christ becomes our mother, the ideal Godmother of us all. Our joys become her joys, our sorrows hers. Our sins forge another sword to pierce through her own maternal soul, even as they pierce the hearts of our own loving mothers after the flesh.
What son ever rejoiced in seeing his mother neglected, slighted, despised? Our Lord Christ is perfect man and loves His mother with the perfect love of His sinless Human nature. As she has commanded us for all time from the marriage feast at Cana, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it." [* St. John 2:5.] So He has commended her unto us from His Cross on Calvary, "Behold thy mother." [* St. John 19:27.]
Our natural love for our own mothers prompts us in our loving veneration for the Mother of our Lord. Every devotion short of divine worship we offer to her who is the climax of creation, "Our tainted nature's solitary [84/85] boast." [Wordsworth, Ecclesiastical Sonnets.] We exclaim with St. Elizabeth, "Whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to Me?" [St. Luke 1:43.] Even then the love for Mary in our hearts is not fully expressed. We must make our own the salutation of God's Archangel Gabriel, "Hail thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." [St. Luke 1:28.]
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death," springs spontaneously from the hearts and from the lips of true lovers of their Saviour and His Mother.
To imitate the Christlike lives of the Saints and to venerate their heroic loyalty to God are fundamental in the practice of the Christian religion, but to invoke their prayers is not of obligation for any Christian. It is, nevertheless, unlikely that any member of Christ's body, the Church, will neglect to do so if he is blessed with Catholic instincts or Catholic convictions.
When we were innocent children we did not ask our mothers to pray for us; our mothers taught us to pray to God and reminded us to do so. Our first and best prayers were offered to our heavenly Father at the knees of our earthly mothers. We prayed with our mothers and later with all the other members of the family. Our prayer was not the act of an isolated spiritual atom to an Absolute Monad. We prayed as members of a family to our Father. As we grew in years, but not in holiness, and thought we were too grown-up for family prayers, and as we became conscious of temptations, weaknesses, faults and sins, we probably asked our mother to pray for [85/86] us, and possibly, too, some other member of the family with whom we were intimate. This was even more likely to be true when we first went away from home to live. We were more conscious of our weakness and discovered our need of the companionship, of the joy and of the strength of the family. Hitherto we had taken the fellowship of the family as a matter of course. Just so, as we leave Home by sin, we are in more acute need of the Christian fellowship—The Holy Ghost, The Holy Catholic Church, The Communion of Saints.
The essentially social character of Christianity is the real basis for invoking the prayers of the Saints. God is social in His Essence; He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In His Unity is Trinity. We, His children, as the many, are made one in Him. We pray not as isolated units to a Unitarian god, but as members one of another in Christ, to our Father, by unifying power of His Holy Spirit.
To illustrate and confirm this thesis let me quote from our beloved scholar, Dr. Hall, "The terminus ad quem of all prayer is the triune God. But this law does not at all shut out the antiphonal or mutually responsive aspect of the prayers of the Church. Our relations to God are not private, in the individualistic sense, but corporate and social, determined to a vital degree by the fact that by His ordering we come before Him as members of the mystical Body of Christ. So it is that our prayers gain their appointed unity and power by being related to the corporate worship and intercessions of the whole Church. And in that worship all the members of the Body share, those in the other world as well as ourselves. All gather according to their several states around the great throne of the Lamb, with the elders and the holy angels. The Church on earth unites with the heavenly chorus in the 'one, true, pure, immortal sacrifice,' saying, [86/87] 'with Angels and Archangels and all the company of Heaven. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts; Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory; glory be to Thee, O Lord, Most High. Amen.'
But the antiphonal aspect is found not only in the fact that there is a united chorus in the prayers and praises of the saints. The saints also responsively challenge each other, in their psalms and versicles, and they not only pray for each other, but also call upon each other for help in their praises and petitions for each other's intercessions. In so far as they address each other in relation to prayer, they may be said to pray to each other, but the Godward reference of all is clear, and the exclusive honor of God is not impugned, but rather co-operatively celebrated. For the whole burden is this, that God shall be prayed to, and had recourse to, for the welfare of His saints and for the advancement of His kingdom. This antiphonal and mutually responsive aspect of the prayers of the saints is not nullified by the fact that death draws a veil between the living and the departed. The mystical body remains one on both sides of the grave. Prayer resounds throughout the Body, and its interacting unity and power cannot be nullified by the veil of death." [* Hall, Eschatology, pp. 112, 113.]
The Holy Orthodox Church teaches its children to invoke not only the members of the Church Triumphant, but also the faithful departed generally. To the Eastern, the reason why a departed Christian may be invoked appears to be that he is in union with the Church.
"If any one believes," wrote Khomiakoff, "he is in the communion of faith; if he loves, he is in the communion of love; if he prays, he is in the communion of prayer, and everyone who prays asks the whole Church [87/88] for intercession, not as if he had doubts of the intercession of Christ, the one Advocate, but in the assurance that the whole Church ever prays for all her members. All the angels pray for us, the apostles, martyrs, and patriarchs, and above them all, the Mother of our Lord, and this Holy Unity is the true life of the Church." [* Birkbeck, Russia and the English Church, p. 216.]
Theologians have discussed at length how that "great cloud of witnesses" [* Heb. 12:1.] which we on earth, "are compassed about," know our needs as we call on them for their intercessions.
Dr. Darwell Stone sums up this discussion thus: "On the supposition that the great saints have attained to the Vision of God, there is a reasonable ground for the belief that in the Vision of God they behold all things which He wills to make known to them and that they are thus cognizant of the requests for their prayers made by Christians on earth. On the contrary supposition that even the great saints are still in a waiting state without the Vision of God, there is no reasonable ground for denying that God may reveal to them the requests for their prayers made by Christians on earth. Similarly such requests may also be revealed by God to the faithful departed generally." [* Darwell Stone, Outlines of Christian Dogma, p. 265.]
Having quoted learned theologians for the Catholic rationale and authority for invoking the Saints, may I suggest some homely methods of putting this pious theory into practice? Most parishes in our Episcopal Church have become "advanced" enough to "introduce a bit of color" in the form of a window, a picture or, "very advanced," a graven image. May I suggest that we clergy quit the enervating occupation of the clerical interior decorator [88/89] and become vigorous leaders of our people in devotion to the heroic servants of God? Let us frankly turn our "spots of color" into shrines, and at them lead our people in prayer to God, together with the prayers of Blessed Mary and the whole Company of Heaven. I suggest that at these shrines there shall be tapers and votive candles for people to light, that there be alms-boxes for offerings, so that our prayers and our alms may be a memorial before God. The tapers and the candles will burn as a memorial of the prayers said, and the alms will unite with the prayers for the blessing of men.
Some of us have found it effective, in the heroic task of raising our missionary quotas, to teach our people to pray for missions at the shrines of the great missionaries, the Saints, there to make offerings for missions, and there to light candles in honor of Him Who is the Light of the World, and Who said to His Saints, "Ye are the light of the world." [* St. Matt. 5:14.]
As our Lady and the Saints shine with the communicated light of Him Who is the Uncreated Light, so they live by the Holiness of God, communicated to them through the Incarnation of His Son and by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. We, made His members by baptism, confirmed by His Holy Spirit and identified with Him by the communion of His Body and Blood, are fellow members of Christ with the glorified Saints.
As the social aspect of Christianity is the basis for our appeals to the Saints for their prayers, so much more is this corporate character of our life in Christ the ground of our reliance on the glorious merits of these triumphant members of our Saviour.
 Long dead controversies concerning works of supererogation, merits de condigno or de congruo, the Treasury of the Church, satisfaction and indulgences, still poison our feelings and still prejudice our thinking in any consideration of the merits of the Saints. A right reliance by us on the merits of the Saints is lacking, I believe, not so much because of inherited distrust of scandalous abuses of the penitential system of the Church, but primarily because of our own unsocial Christianity. If the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the sick and the suffering members of the Church Militant could rely more on us, their less unsuccessful brothers and sisters, we should in our turn rely more on our eminently successful brothers and sisters in Christ of the Church Triumphant. We are deplorably individualistic in our relations to God, and therefore we are damnably individualistic in our relations to His other children. Most of our piety can be vulgarly but accurately described as "me and God stuff." Consequently most of our applied religion can be described as "me and mine stuff."
Catholicism is the antithesis of all this. We have been taught to pray, Our Father. By God's plan we come into this world as members of a family. We find ourselves in a community, citizens of a country, as individuals inextricably attached to all the other individuals of the human race, component parts of the whole creation. Pride bids us separate ourselves from our fellow members, whether by racial, national, social, intellectual or spiritual snobbery. God, the Father of us all, saves us by a rebirth into a new, a heavenly, and eternal family, the Holy Catholic Church. This rebirth is effected by the Holy Spirit. We are born not only into a new family, but also we are thereby made integral parts of a new fellowship, the Communion of Saints.
We can become bad sons and daughters, bad brothers [90/91] and sisters, we can forsake the family, but we cannot cease being members of it. We can become weak and diseased members of the Body, but, except by its mutilation, we cannot cease being members of it. By our sins we bring shame and scandal to all the other members of the family. By even our most private and secret sins, we communicate spiritual poison, disease and debility to all the members of the Body. Sin is anti-social; forgiveness is a family affair. Just as every sin committed by one member of the Body weakens and sickens all the other members, so every virtuous thought, word or deed of a Christian invigorates and blesses every other member of His Church.
In this divine fellowship some members are stronger than others. The strong help the weak and both are saved. Did the strong remain isolated in their strength they would be lost in self-reliance; did the weak remain isolated in their weakness they would be lost in despair.
"For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." [Rom. 12:4, 5.]
This is the fellowship of the family of our Father, this is the Communion of Saints. "And all that believed were together and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." [Acts 2: 44-47.]
That is God's description of the Communion of Saints on earth. That is normal Christianity. What we live is subnormal Christianity. Our Churchmanship, compared with that of our Lady and the Saints, is so subnormal as to make us eligible for a home for the ecclesiastically feeble-minded.
We make Holy Communion together. Although we are all thereby indwelt by the indivisible Body and Blood of the Saviour of the world, we do not communicate with one another, do not even speak to each other. We say we have not been introduced! God introduced us at His own Table. Do we require a better introduction than His?
We must learn to communicate to each other, "as every man has need," our friendliness, our sympathy, our time, and our money, if we are ever to grasp the idea of the Saints in glory communicating to us in our weakness their own spiritual vitality, that is their merits.
All that we have, even our virtues, belong to God. He gives them to us, not that we may possess them as our own and use them selfishly for our own spiritual comfort and luxury. He gives us whatever strength we please to call our own to use for the welfare of all His children.
The physically powerful Christian bears the burdens of the weary and the weak; he finds he has become another St. Christopher, that he has borne Christ.
The economically powerful Christian knows his money is not his own, but God's. He acts as God's steward, God's almoner to aid the poor by gifts. He does more than that, he devises ways and means to alter industrial conditions so that his fellow saints may become his economic equals or even possibly his economic benefactors.
The intellectually powerful Christian knows that his learning, his knowledge, his wisdom is not of his own [92/93] manufacture, but the gift of the Eternal Wisdom. He does not use his mental gifts for his own exploitation as an intellectual snob; he "suffers fools gladly" [II Cor. 11:19.] and uses all his learning to enlighten, to instruct and to bless God's other children.
The spiritually powerful Christian, the Saint, knows that he lives and moves and has his being in God. His "life is hid with Christ in God." [Col. 3:3.] He has lost his life for God's sake. He does not hoard for his own spiritual advancement God's gifts of grace to him. He is not a reservoir of grace, but a channel. The Life of God, communicated to him by God the Holy Spirit, flows through him to his fellow members of Christ. The spiritual vitality of our Lady and the Saints, which God has given them not for their own spiritual luxury and eminence, but for the welfare of the whole Body, is what has been technically described by theologians as the merits of the Saints. It is on these glorious merits of the Saints, this triumphant, exuberant, spiritual strength of our glorified fellow members of Christ, that we here in our weakness rely.
This is the spiritual communism of the Catholic Life. Communism is as respectable a form of government as autocracy, monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy or democracy. The only essentially unchristian form of government is what we have, plutocracy. None of these forms of government is good until it is Christian, until Christ reigns in it and by it.
The trouble with contemporary communism is that it is imposed involuntarily on others. It is usually anti-Christian. It is Red. The White communism of Christianity is voluntary. The non-Christian communist proclaims, [93/94] All thine is mine, and proceeds to confiscate. The Christian communist says nothing on the subject, but he acts on the belief that, All mine is thine. As the poor widow cast her all into the alms box of the Temple, "Jesus sat over against the treasury." [St. Mark 12:41.]
The Treasury of the Church is not located at 281 Fourth Avenue. We are bid to lay up treasures in Heaven. The Treasury of the Church is there, centered in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His Mother and all His Saints are pouring "all their living" into that universal Trust Company. Our spiritual inheritances, our spiritual earnings, all of them the gifts of God to us, are safe there. We trust Him to use them as He deems best for the welfare of all His children. They have always belonged to Him. He only loaned them to us to use for Him.
It matters little whether the Saints receive the merits of Christ de condigno, that is as a reward in justice for good deeds wrought by His free grace, or de congruo, as gifts in equity for a life lived in Him. We should do well to ponder the words of St. Augustine, "God crowns thy merits not as thine earnings but as His gifts." [St. Augustine, De grat. et lib. arbitrio, XV.]
It matters much that the life of God flows into them and sanctifies them for His glory and for our help.
Into this holy Treasury of the Church we, in imitation of the Saints and in veneration of them, must pour our spiritual treasures for the welfare of the whole. We must not treat our inheritance of spiritual power as if it were ours to waste in riotous living. We must use this Catholic inheritance for God's glory; we must keep it intact and add to it for future generations in our [94/95] Father's family. Are we raising our spiritual quota for 1927? What proportion of our spiritual energy are we putting into the red side of our envelopes? If I am putting any merits, that is, spiritual energy, into my envelope, is it all going into the black side, to be spent upon my own spiritual needs? That is not the method of our Lady and the Saints. They know they have received their all from God; and, while rejoicing in Christ their Saviour, they give back all to God that He, in His wise Love, may communicate to all men, as every man has need.
And now in honor of our Lady and All Saints let us pray,
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.