The Mass, Lesson I – Religion

Rosary1 – Religion

In the beginning of the Catechism we are asked a very practical question: “What must we do to save our souls?” The answer is: “To save our souls we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our hearts.” In the chapter on the First Commandment we find two other answers which enlarge and define the meaning of that introductory statement. As you know, Our Lord summed up the whole law in what is called the great Commandment of charity. Now, the Catechism asks us: “How does the First Commandment help us to keep the great Commandment of the love of God?” We reply: “The First Commandment helps us to keep the great Commandment of the love of God because it commands us to adore God alone.” Naturally, we inquire: “How do we adore God?” and we are told, “We adore God by faith, hope, and charity, by prayer and sacrifice.” From this answer we conclude that, besides the great theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, there is another virtue which manifests itself chiefly in prayer and sacrifice. The name of this virtue is “Religion,” and it is defined as “a supernatural virtue which inclines the human will to give God the worship due Him on account of His infinite worth and excellence.”

2 – Worship

The word “Worship” is formed from “worth,” as “friendship” is formed from “friend.” Worth means value or superiority, and worship is the natural tribute we pay to such qualities. When, as in the case of God, that superiority is infinite, then worship is the highest form of human respect, and is due to the Supreme Being alone. It is commonly known as “Divine Worship.” But worship may also be paid to beings of limited degrees of worth or excellence. We may worship the Blessed Virgin, the angels, the saints. We may speak of worship in a purely civil sense. The President of the United States is called “Your Excellency.” We address a judge as “Your Honor.” In some countries they call a magistrate “Your Worship.” There are certain societies among us that refer to their officers as “Most Worshipful.”

3 – Adoration

Another word for worship is “Adoration.” It comes to us from the Latin, and, though used also for the love and respect we pay to human beings, or even inanimate objects, it is chiefly applied to that supreme reverence and homage which is due to God alone. “The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve.” In Catholic usage, however, we often speak of that form of religious worship we pay the saints and sacred objects as adoration. For instance, the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday is called in the Mass Book the “Adoration of the Cross.” It may be well to note here that Church writers, in order to guard against all ambiguity, give the name of “Latria” to that supreme worship which is due to God alone and cannot be given to creatures without incurring the guilt of idolatry. To the secondary veneration we pay the angels and saints they give the term “Dulia”. The special kind of dulia which is due the Blessed Virgin as the most exalted of creatures is called “Hyperdulia”.

4 – The Elements of Worship

When God gave the Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai, they were written on two tables of stone. The Commandments on the first table were the first three; the rest were on the second table. The reason of the division is that the Commandments of the first table deal with the worship of God; the Commandments of the second table deal with our duties to ourselves and to our neighbor. In the preface to the Commandments, God recalls the revelation of Himself He had made to the Patriarchs of old and to Moses at the burning bush. He renews that revelation now to the Jewish people at the moment their national existence begins: “I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.” If we had been at the foot of the mountain when Moses went up to speak with God, and the lightning flashed through the cloud, and the thunder shook the earth, and the trumpet sounded exceeding loud, no doubt we should have shared the feelings of the people who, as the old Douai Bible quaintly puts it, were “frighted and stroken with feare.” Even when we retire into the silence of our own hearts and contemplate the greatness of God as taught us by our faith, we are filled with awe and veneration and love. The words of praise and thanksgiving spring spontaneously to our lips. Our needs impel us to beg His help, and our sinfulness extorts from us the cry for mercy, and, had we the whole world, we would think it little to offer for the ransom of our souls. All these natural feelings are summed up under the two chief heads of prayer and sacrifice, and are the principal elements of the worship of Almighty God.

5 – Devotion

Religion is the chief of the moral virtues. Faith, hope, and charity derive their dignity from the fact that they have God Himself for their object and their motive. Religion is not a theological virtue, because it has for its object not God directly, but the worship due to God. But, as the worship due to God is, after faith, hope, and charity, the closest human relation with the Divinity, we call religion the chief of the moral virtues. The other moral virtues lead us to honor God indirectly by performing the duties we owe ourselves and our neighbors, but religion leads us to honor God directly by giving Him that worship which is His sovereign prerogative. Moreover, the driving force of religion is none other than the greatest of all virtues, namely, charity. We often speak of a mother being devoted to her children, or of a man being devoted to his business, or of a student being devoted to his books. We mean thereby that such persons are wrapped up in the objects of their devotion. They concentrate their thoughts and energies on them. They magnify their importance. They have little or no taste for pursuits that engross others, and everything else in the world has to take a second place in their estimation and interest. In a word, they are in love with their work. Now, every Christian will acknowledge that the greatest thing in the world for him is the salvation of his soul, and, as was said before, the salvation of his soul is attained by the worship and service of God. Hence, it is evident that religion should be the all-engrossing object of the Christian’s devotion. No man can attain real success in any walk of life without genuine devotion to his work. Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. The exhortation of our Lord is, “Be ye perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” and without true religious devotion no Christian can expect to reach that high ideal. Saint Francis de Sales says: “True devotion presupposes, not a partial, but a thorough love of God. For, inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, making us pleasing to the Divine Majesty; inasmuch as it gives us the strength to do good, it is called charity; but when it has arrived at that degree of perfection by which it not only makes us do well but also work diligently, frequently and readily, then it is called devotion Charity and devotion differ no more from each other than fire does from flame, for charity is a spiritual fire which, when it bursts into flame, is called devotion.”