Signs and Ceremonies

I just finished reading Teaching Truths by Signs and Ceremonies or The
Church, Its Rites and Services Explained for the People
by Rev. Jas. L. Meagher
(1882, New York: Russel Brothers). I acquired a second edition copy from my grandfather’s
estate in 1998. He was one of the very few Catholics in my family. It’s too bad
I didn’t convert until two years after his death. I’d love to have a family member
to fully share my faith with.

This book is full of nuggets of wisdom and I’ll be posting some of them for the
next few days. Some of them are eternal Truths, others are sad reminders of the
damage done by “progress”.

“In this Ritual [of the Mass], every sign recalls a doctrine, every movement has its meaning,
and every action breathes of mystery.” (Preface)

“Thus all in the Church, the plan, the foundation, the music, the ornaments,
the style, all point to the altar, telling of the unchanging faith, the belief of
past ages in the Real Presence, of God in the Sacrament of the altar.” (Ch.
1, p. 9)

“[S]how me a religion without rites and ceremonies, and I will show you a people
drifting rapidly toward infidelity and the denial of all religion.” (Ch. 1,

“Sometimes you will see the Church as a great building on a rock in the sea.
That is the true Church built by Christ on the rock, that is on the Papacy, in the
sea, in the midst of the changing governments and institutions and peoples of this
world, who are ever fluctuating like the waves of the sea, but the Church is on
an impregnable rock, for the Church never changes. You see the waves dashing against
the rock-bound shores, but beaten back. Thus the Church built on Peter and his successors
stands alone in the world; it never changes; it remains the same; it is attacked
on all sides by the waves of error, the storms of persecution, the roar of the elements
of passion, of governments, of politics around it; it is attacked by these, but
they are driven back; they go down. Governments may change, nations may rise and
fall, people may change their forms of laws, their idea, their manners, but the
Church alone, as an institution founded by Jesus Christ, stands to-day and ever
will, a thing that can never be destroyed. “And the gates of hell shall not
prevail against it.” (Ch. 3, p. 51, quote from Matthew

Comments 7

  1. Funky Dung wrote:

    “The ceremonies have by no means held constant throughout time.”

    From what little I’ve read and what I’ve learned from the Oratorians, you might be quite surprised at just how similar the ancient Mass was to ours.

    Posted 08 Sep 2004 at 6:01 am
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    “You can’t ask people to give the Church credibility while simultaneoulsy refusing to admit that it is responsible for its wrongdoings.”

    I’m doing no such thing. There is a distinct difference between doctrines and the sinful acts of man. Acknowledging wrongdoings by the Church or her representatives is not one in the same with challenging the Deposit of Faith. To give a secular example, one could take Bush to task for his misdeeds without blaming the works of the founding fathers, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights (It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s good enough for spur of the moment.)

    Posted 08 Sep 2004 at 5:57 am
  3. John Thompson wrote:

    Another shining monument to the fact that, no matter how patently absurd an idea is, if you simply repeat it over and over and over again, eventually even otherwise perceptive people will eventually fall for it.

    Posted 07 Sep 2004 at 11:24 pm
  4. Funky Dung wrote:

    Care to clarify?

    Posted 07 Sep 2004 at 11:52 pm
  5. John Thompson wrote:

    The most pious mass that you can imagine would have been dismissed as heretical at one point or another. The ceremonies have by no means held constant throughout time.

    Also, enough of this nonsense argument aobut “the pope saying we should burn peope alive for disagreeing with him isn’t really the church doing somehting because…”. No. That’s garbage. You can’t ask people to give the Church credibility while simultaneoulsy refusing to admit that it is responsible for its wrongdoings.

    Posted 08 Sep 2004 at 5:30 am
  6. John Thompson wrote:

    The notion that the Church is unchanging is not at all accurate. It has been in a constant state of change. What’s more, the vast majority of the changes have been very good. It’s certainly nice that we no longer have a pope who swears that if his own parents spoke against him that he would “carry the faggots to their pyre”

    It’s good that the Church no longer decides whether a person is moral by scalding their hands and seeing if the burns getting infected.

    The Church has been slowly but surely casting off the vestiges of savageness with were left over from the dark times when it rose as an institution.

    These changes in no way limit its ability to o’erwhelm the gates of hell. (although to be fair, that’s really a poorly selected metonomy. Gates by their nature not threatening. They could only prevail against us if our goal was to get into hell.)

    Posted 08 Sep 2004 at 2:50 am
  7. Funky Dung wrote:

    What you address is not what the author or Joe Theologian means by “unchanging”. The atrocities you describe are not issues of dogma, doctrine, or devotion. Meagher is referring to unchanging and unwavering faith. Since in his time the Mass was chock full of symbolism of dogma, doctrine, and devotion, he thought that it was immune to change as well. Sadly, he was wrong. The vernacular is fine; clown “Masses” are not.

    Posted 08 Sep 2004 at 3:03 am

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