Thursday, August 31, 2017

Repost: Communicatio in Sacris

[212] Qu. A Catholic young lady is employed by a concert bureau. Most of the engagements are for music halls or theatres [sic], but the bureau has accepted some engagements for Chautauqua [see] work during the coming summer. The young lady is booked for parts in a quartette, who are to sing at camp meetings. The program on some occasions is so arranged that the quartette will sing during the services. This lady is the only support of an invalid father and brothers and sisters. To give up her present work would mean hardships and privation. The young woman does not want to displease God. I would not like to advise anything that would entail suffering unless I am positively sure that such must be done. Kindly give your solution of the case.

Resp. Theologians are unanimously of the opinion that active, formal participation by Catholics in Protestant services is forbidden. On this point there is no room for discussion. Furthermore, it is positively forbidden to play the organ in a Protestant church during heretical services, even when that is the Catholic organist's means of obtaining a livelihood. For this statement we have the authority of an instruction of the S. Congregation of the Propaganda, dated 8 July, 1889 (Collectanea, n. 1854). It should, however, be noted that in the [213] decree the clause "dum ibi falsum cultum exercent" is restrictive. It would be allowed, of course, for a Catholic to practice on the organ in a Protestant church when no services are being held. Similarly, it may be urged with prudence and discretion, in particular cases, that some gatherings of non-Catholics for the sake of what they call moral culture, even when these take place regularly on Sundays, are not engaged in false religious worship in opposition to the Catholic Church. Indeed, the most severe condemnations of such gatherings is that they are not religious at all. This applies, we think, to many of the Chautauqua organizations. It applies particularly in the case propounded, when, as is evident, the young woman has no desire to do anything displeasing to God. Prudence and discretion require that Catholics be discouraged from associating themselves with any activity that may throw doubt on their loyalty to the true Church. They require also that in particular instances persons whose good faith and Catholic loyalty are beyond question should not be forbidden to carry out such a contract as is mentioned in this case.


Source: "Communicatio in Sacris," American Ecclesiastical Review 54 (February 1916): 212–213.

Repost: Catholic Singers in Protestant Churches

[524] Qu. Now that the Review is urging forward the correct interpretation of the Pope's motu proprio on Chant and the music reform, our city pastors are threatening to get the bishops into trouble by referring the indignant lady soloists hitherto in possession of the lofty organ domain, to the episcopal parlors for adjudication of their grievances. It is needless to say that explanations are out of the question, but soothings are not, and a bishop who knows his business will not fan the flame of female resentment.

But there is a serious aspect to this question. Some of our singers who have been doing their duty, and have justly earned a salary, even as the priest himself does in the exercise of the sacred functions, are being deprived of a living by being dismissed from the Catholic choir. Some of these could readily find the needed material compensation and more in accepting positions as singers in non-Catholic, that is, Protestant or Jewish churches. In a few cases no other way of earning a decent livelihood would seem to be open to such women, who for the rest are good and believing Catholics. Is there any interpretation of the prohibition of communicatio in sacris which gives these really worthy women a chance for their living? It seems to me that Protestant religious service is in large measure nothing more than a sacred concert, and no theologian would object to our Catholic lovers of music attending sacred concerts in which Protestants take a leading part, since we live in constant intercourse with such; and Catholic charity owes them undoubtedly a certain amount of respect for holding their views on religious matters in good faith, though perhaps not in a very serious way. Are we not too severe in these matters? I felt as if it were so when not long ago a lady said to me, "Priests don't realize our position; they need not look for a living, and so it is easy for them to make laws."

Resp. The Review has had occasion to express an opinion on the above subject before the present supposed urgency arose by which ladies who have been singing professionally in Catholic choirs are thrown out of positions. The question is not whether we make hard laws, but whether the laws which God made may be explained away by our circumstances and needs. Necessity dispenses from the law, but not every inconvenience or hardship implies a necessity, and no inconvenience or hardship could sanction [525] an act of disobedience implying sin. The priests in France who are deprived of their salary and in some cases of a decent support or living might do many things unbecoming their sacred calling, but they could not lawfully go into Protestant or Jewish houses of worship and take part in the same under plea of earning a living.

For the rest, we have only to repeat here what we said in a previous number of the Review upon this subject.[1]

Whilst as Catholics we are not forbidden honorably to assist Protestants, Jews or Pagans when they stand in need of our service, nor to earn our daily bread by serving them in honest employment—the positive divine law forbids all conscious and direct participation in heretical worship. This is done by playing the organ or singing in the religious service of those who deny the revealed truth of Christ as manifested through its only legitimate channel, the Catholic Church. In case of most sects the very term "Protestant," accepted by them as their religious party-name, is an unconscious admission of their denial of the Catholic teaching as emanating from God. Individual Protestants may not realize this fact; they may be, as we say, "in good faith;" [sic] nevertheless they have attached themselves to a wrong or defective system of interpreting the truth in which God commands us to worship Him. Catholics who are supposed to know and realize the fact that they are in possession of the true faith, cannot consent under any pretext to participate in such false worship without denying implicitly the faith which they are pledged to maintain uncorrupted at the risk of their lives.

What is said here of Protestants is true of Jews and of all other sects separated from the one true Church which, like an open book, is accessible to all who will approach and examine her teaching without malice or prejudice.

What the Catholic believes on this subject to-day is precisely the same as that which the early Christians believed when they shed their blood as martyrs rather than worship in the pagan faith; or which the Jews believed before the coming of Christ, as is witnessed by Eleazar and the Maccabees, who preferred to suffer torture and death sooner than participate in a religious worship [526] which they knew to be false, although there may have been men who belonged to it in good faith.

If there could be any doubt as to the duty of Catholics in this respect, it would be dispelled by the following declaration of the sacred tribunal which acts as the ordinary legitimate interpreter of Catholic disciplinary law. (Cf. Collectan., n. 1854.)
Ex Litt. S. C. de Prop. Fide 8 Jul. 1889, (ad Archiep. Marianopolit.)
"Quidam . . . istius archi-dioecensis petierat facultatem pulsandi in diebus festis organa in templis protestantium ad victum sibi procurandum. S. Congregatio super precibus, uti supra, hoc edidit decretum Fer IV. die 19 elapsi Junii:
Illicitum esse in templis haereticorum, cum ibi falsum cultum exercent, organum pulsare. . . . Quod decretum SS. D. N. Leo XIII eadem die ratum ha buit et confirmavit."
It must not be forgotten, however, that playing or singing in churches or houses which are used for Protestant worship is not quite the same as playing or singing at Protestant worship. [N.B. This is the part of the reason that early American Catholics could share the same church building with Protestants, having Mass at one time, and the Protestant service at a different time.]

Nor is every gathering of non-Catholics for purposes of moral culture, on Sundays, a religious worship in the sense that it excludes or opposes the Catholic teaching of Christ's church.

This [sic] it may be useful for confessors to remember, not because Catholics are in any way to be encouraged to associate themselves with any movement which will cast a doubt upon their thorough and sincere fidelity to the one true Church of Christ, but because circumstances may bring a Catholic unwittingly into associations which look like a denial of faith without being such in reality. In these cases prudence and discretion will counsel and lead a person out of the danger, where blind and mechanical zeal would forthwith condemn absolution under morally unchangeable conditions.



1. Vol. XV, 1896, pp. 428–430.


Source: "Catholic Singers in Protestant Churches," American Ecclesiastical Review 33 (November 1905): 524–526.

Repost: Catholic Organists and Singers in Protestant Churches

[428] Qu. Dear Rev. Sir: In a Conference lately held we disagreed as to the licity [sic], under any circumstances, of a Catholic acting as organist for any Protestant service. We agreed to submit the question to the Ecclesiastical Review.

Can a Catholic, in conscience, act as a salaried organist or as singer in a Jewish synagogue or Protestant church, i. e., as such during what they call their divine service?

It was declared that no Priest, Bishop or Pope could grant said permission under any circumstances.

Resp. Whilst as Catholics we are not forbidden honorably to assist Protestants, Jews or Pagans when they stand in need of our service, nor to earn our daily bread by serving them in honest employment—the positive divine law forbids all conscious and direct participation in heretical worship. This is done by playing the organ or singing in the religious service of those who deny the revealed truth of Christ as manifested through its only legitimate channel, the Catholic Church. In case of most sects the very term "Protestant," accepted by them as their religious party-name, is an unconscious admission of their denial of the Catholic teaching as emanating from God. Individual Protestants may not realize this fact; they may be, as we say, "in good faith;" [sic] nevertheless they have attached themselves to a wrong or defective system of interpreting the truth in which God commands us to worship Him. Catholics who are supposed to know and realize the fact that they are in possession of the true faith, cannot consent under any pretext to participate in such false worship without denying implicitly the faith which [429] they are pledged to maintain uncorrupted at the risk of their lives.

What is said here of Protestants is true of Jews and of all other sects separated from the one true Church which, like an open book, is accessible to all who will approach and examine her teaching without malice or prejudice.

What the Catholic believes on this subject to-day is precisely the same as that which the early Christians believed when they shed their blood as martyrs rather than worship in the pagan faith; or which the Jews believed before the coming of Christ, as is witnessed by Eleazar and the Maccabees, who preferred to suffer torture and death sooner than participate in a religious worship which they knew to be false, although there may have been men who belonged to it in good faith.

If there could be any doubt as to the duty of Catholics in this respect, it would be dispelled by the following declaration of the sacred tribunal which acts as the ordinary legitimate interpreter of Catholic disciplinary law. (Cf. Collectan., n. 1854.)
Ex Litt. S. C. de Prop. Fide 8 Jul. 1889, (ad Archiep. Marianopolit.)
"Quidam . . . istius archi-dioecensis petierat facultatem pulsandi in diebus festis organa in templis protestantium ad victum sibi procurandum. S. Congregatio super precibus, uti supra, hoc edidit decretum Fer IV. die 19 elapsi Junii:
Illicitum esse in templis haereticorum, cum ibi falsum cultum exercent, organum pulsare. . . . Quod decretum SS. D. N. Leo XIII eadem die ratum ha buit et confirmavit."
It must not be forgotten, however, that playing or singing in churches or houses which are used for Protestant worship is not quite the same as playing or singing at Protestant worship. [N.B. This is the part of the reason that early American Catholics could share the same church building with Protestants, having Mass at one time, and the Protestant service at a different time.]

Nor is every gathering of non-Catholics for purposes of moral culture, on Sundays, a religious worship in the sense that it excludes or opposes the Catholic teaching of Christ's church.

This [sic] it may be useful for confessors to remember, not because Catholics are in any way to be encouraged to associate [430] themselves with any movement which will cast a doubt upon their thorough and sincere fidelity to the one true Church of Christ, but because circumstances may bring a Catholic unwittingly into associations which look like a denial of faith without being such in reality. In these cases prudence and discretion will counsel and lead a person out of the danger, where blind and mechanical zeal would forthwith condemn absolution under morally unchangeable conditions.

We discussed a case of this kind, not long ago, in the Review.


Source: "Catholic Organists and Singers in Protestant Churches," American Ecclesiastical Review 15 (October 1896): 428–430.

Repost: Young Preachers Careful and Careless

[180] My best sermon is the one I know the best.—Massillon.
Many a wandering discourse one hears in which the preacher aims at nothing and hits it.—Dr. Whately.
I have always noticed that the best extemporaneous speeches are those which have been carefully written out beforehand, the manuscript being conveniently within reach in the orator's waistcoat pocket.—J. R. Lowell.

How long should a young priest continue the practice of writing and memorizing his sermons? The question was recently put to a scholarly Catholic prelate and author, and his unhesitating reply was: "Ten years at least." Had the inquiry been as to the length of time during which the average young priest does continue the practice, it is probable, and regretable [sic], that the true answer might have been widely different. As a matter of justice and propriety, no other form of public discourse is entitled to so elaborate a preparation as the sermon; as a matter of fact, one is often tempted to believe that for no other is the preparation so inadequate.

No extended argument is necessary to convince even the youngest of those who have been elevated to the priestly rank that the ministry which they exercise in preaching the Word of God merits their most profound respect, and calls for the best efforts of their intellects and hearts. It is sufficient to remind them that, after the adorable Sacrifice of the altar and the administration of the sacraments, no function is so sublime in itself, or so potential in its results, as that for the performance of which their warrant is the commission of Jesus Christ: "Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature."[1] That Moses and Jeremiah proclaimed themselves unworthy and incapable of this sacerdotal function; that Isaias, to be equipped for its exercise, needed an angel to purify his lips; that St. John the Baptist prepared himself therefor [sic] by the most austere penance and solitude; that St. Teresa declared that she would willingly give her life a thousand times over for the happiness of being charged with so noble a mission—these [181] are considerations well calculated to impress us with  a due sense of its dignity, while the prime fact that preaching was the chief occupation of the Saviour [sic] during the three years of His apostolic life is not only a proof of the intrinsic excellence of the work, but an indication as well of its relative importance among those duties which the priest, "another Christ," has contracted the obligation of performing.

Were any further considerations necessary to imbue the preacher with an exalted idea of his ministry, they would be found in the magnitude of the results—the glory of God and the salvation of souls—which it is the purpose of the spoken word to accomplish, and in the tremendous responsibilities incurred by those who neglect to do what in them lies toward the achievement of those results. It has been well said that, in practical importance, the sermon scarcely yields to the sacraments; for, although these latter are the divinely ordained channels of God's grace, it commonly happens that preaching is the only means by which those who stand most in need of that grace can be brought to the tribunal of penance and to the Holy Table. There is nothing fanciful or exaggerated in the statement that, as often as the priest announces the Word of God to his people, the interests involved in his discourse, and the results dependent on its force or its feebleness, are incomparably greater than those which confront the advocate appealing to a jury on behalf of a fellow-creature's liberty or life. Theoretically, indeed, it is almost impossible for the preacher to have too lofty a conception of the dignity and importance of his office; practically, however, it is quite possible that in his hands the dignity may be compromised and the importance disregarded,—quite possible that he may come to merit not only the epithets "traitor" and "wretch" with which Quintilian brands the lawyer who fails to do his best for his client, but the terrible anathema of Holy Writ: Maledictus qui facit opus Dei negligenter.[2]

Admitting that the genius essential to the formation of a [182] pulpit orator of the highest grade is nature's dower to but very few, and that notable excellence even in lower grades is due in a considerable measure to natural faculties whose lack can be supplied by no amount of industry, there still seems to be no valid reason why the sermons of every man whom God has called to the ministry of His divine word should not be useful, effective, and, in the truest sense of the much abused term, eloquent. Whether the discourses of any given preacher merit this characterization or its opposite, will be found to depend principally on the degree of thoroughness with which he prepares himself for their delivery. And what is meant here is not the remote or general preparation, essential as that undoubtedly is, not the acquisition of an abundant store of knowledge, the leading of an exemplary and a holy life, a habit of study, the spirit of prayer, ardent zeal, purity of intention, and all those other qualities of head and heart that go to form the character of the man "behind the sermon;" [sic] but the measures taken and the means employed in the actual composition of a particular discourse. Concerning this proximate preparation of the sermon, it may be taken for granted that according as it is thorough or inadequate during the first few years of the preacher's ministry, so it will commonly continue to be throughout his career. Initial carefulness in this respect sometimes lapses into subsequent negligence; but very rarely will it be found that the contrary is the case, that a negligent young preacher makes a careful old one.

Much, then, depends on the manner in which the young priest prepares his sermons; and the remainder of this paper will be given up to a brief discussion of the several methods of preparation that are open to his choice. It may be well to premise that by a "young priest" is meant one whose ordination dates back not further than a decade; and that what follows is based on the supposition of his having, as in the majority of cases he undoubtedly has, ample time to devote to an adequate preparation.

The least complex, and one of the least commendable, of all methods of making oneself ready for the pulpit is that which [183] consists wholly and solely in an exercise of the memory, the preparation being restricted to the simple process of getting by heart the discourse of another. Viewed as a manifestation of altruistic sentiment, such a course is perhaps not absolutely indispensable, and it must further be admitted that those who adopt it follow the letter of at least one portion of St. Paul's advice[3]—they assuredly do not preach themselves; but even at the risk of sacrificing altruism to egotism, the young preacher will do well to eschew the practice. Apart from all higher considerations, it would seem that a proper self-respect should be sufficient to deter a clergyman from playing in the pulpit the rather questionable role of another man's proxy. He becomes at best only a species of improved phonograph; and, do what he will, his utterances, like those of the phonographic cylinder, will be mechanical rather than vivified or vivifying.

If there is one dictum on the subject of public speaking that may be accepted as the expression of an ultimate truth, it is this: The orator, be he of the first-rate or the fifth-rate class, must be in earnest. Earnestness in the public speaker, like charity in the Christian, is a supreme quality, supplying at need the lack of many others, but itself replaceable by none. It is, moreover, a quality that cannot be successfully feigned or counterfeited. The most illiterate, as readily as the most cultured audience, perceive when the speaker's tones ring false; and once the discovery is made, his further speech, while it may please the fancy or tickle the ear, will be radically impotent to stir the heart or persuade the will. Now it is obvious that there is a very great, if not an insuperable difficulty in the way of preaching the sermon of an another with the genuine earnestness that naturally accompanies the delivery of one's own; and hence the clergyman who adopts this first method of preparation can scarcely hope to speak effectively.

It is conceivable, of course, that form sterility of invention, barrenness of imagination, defective mental training, or other similar causes, a preacher may be really incapable of [184] composing a fit discourse; and in so extreme a case, St. Augustine and other writers on the subject say that he may avail himself of the sermons of another; but it is quite safe to assert that, of every twenty who do so avail themselves, nineteen are lacking, not in talent, but in industry. In composition, as in every other art, facility comes with practice, and inability to write is due far more frequently to the non-exertion of mental powers than to their non-existence. That the young priest finds the composition of an original sermon a hard, tedious and irksome task may possibly be his fault, or perhaps only his misfortune; but in either case the difficulty of the work certainly does not exempt him from its performance, especially as this difficulty will surely be found to decrease with each successive trial. Aversion to intellectual labor and sustained mental effort is quite intelligible to most men, but that it forms a valid reason for neglecting plain duties will hardly be urged by any.

If we suppose the preacher to be actuated, in using the discourses of another, by a motive still more ignoble than laziness, if we conceive that he is the slave of vanity and follows this course simply to acquire the fraudulent reputation of being a great preacher, we place him at once beyond the pale of every worthy man's sympathy or respect. Of all the ridiculous mortals that "play such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep," none, we take it, is so thoroughly and contemptibly ludicrous as the clerical jack-daw, strutting about the altar or the pulpit in the borrowed plumage of another man's eloquence. The discourses of such a preacher cannot well be other than nugatory in themselves and ultimately disastrous to the speaker; for, while on the one hand it can scarcely be expected that the blessing of God will sanctify the ministry of a plagiarist from vanity, on the other it is more than reasonably certain that sooner or later his plagiarism will be detected and his claims to genuine eloquence discredited. "What a grand sermon Father Blank preached to-day!" said an emotional lady to a companion, a few years ago, as they were leaving a city church after High Mass. "Yes," was the somewhat critical [185] and quite unemotional reply; "yes, I have always liked that sermon and I read it frequently; but I confess I prefer that other one of Father Baker's, on 'The Lessons of Autumn.'"

Viewed from the standpoint of effectiveness in the preacher, or of utility to the congregation, a fifth-rate original sermon is worth at least five times as much as a first-rate borrowed one.

The second method of preparation is substantially the same as the first, and is open to the same general objections. In this second method the process is still plagiarism, but it is the patchwork system of plagiarizing, the preacher borrowing from several sources instead of one. This plan commonly entails more labor than does that of appropriating a complete discourse, and is so far, perhaps, less reprehensible; but it is questionable whether the results achieved are at all preferable. It is certain, in fact, that many of the so-called sermons that are the outcome of this method, far from being coherent discourses in which there appear a natural connection of parts and a logical sequence of thought, are mere literary crazy quilts, wherein all order and unity are conspicuously wanting. In endeavoring to adjust properly to each other passages that were never intended to be so adjusted, the writer almost unavoidably encounters the difficulty that beset a certain preacher who once consulted Father Potter of All Hallows. "I have taken great pains," said he, "to write out twelve or thirteen pages from the various French sermon books, and now, after all my trouble, I can't make them fit."

While neither of the foregoing methods of preparing oneself to preach can be recommended as calculated to produce sermons instinct with the life and vigor that impresses men's minds and move their hearts; still in each there is positive preparation, and, at worst, the young preacher who adopts either will be likely to say something, to announce correct doctrine, and to speak in a style not unbecoming God's Word.

There is a third method, negative rather than positive, from which it is too much to expect even these meagre [sic] results. This is the summary process that precedes extempore preaching, whether that process be the reading up of a [186] subject for an hour or two previous to speaking upon it, or the meditation of the proposed discourse during a like period of time, with the possible determining of the main ideas to be developed. As for strictly extempore speaking, speaking absolutely on the spur of the moment, it is so difficult to imagine that any young priest can have the hardihood to tempt Providence by its practice, that it need not be here considered.

As a justification or an excuse for the cursory preparation given to the quasi-extemporaneous sermon, it is sometimes contended that this plan approaches more nearly than any other to the apostolic method. The answer, if answer be needed, suggests itself: the method may be an excellent one—for apostles, or for those favored with apostolic gifts and surrounded by apostolic conditions; but it is probably not the best method for even the most experienced ordinary preacher, and it is certainly the worst for the young one. Only long years of careful practice in speaking and writing can form such habits of orderly thought and clear, forcible expression as will enable a preacher to improvise a sermon bearing any claim to the title of good. As a rule, such improvisations show an utter want of order, unity, force and clearness; and not rarely they lack most of all the quality which most of all should characterize them, brevity. It can scarcely be doubted that to this radical evil of preaching without sufficient premeditation, are to be attributed fully nine-tenths of those interminable monologues, without pith or point, which a suffering laity have learned to deplore as "long" sermons—rambling discourses in which, straying from their particular themes, the speakers range in haphazard fashion over the whole field of morals; fall into continual digressions; recover themselves by innumerable repetitions; and, aiming at nothing, take an unconscionable time in hitting it. Who has not listened for an hour to a preacher who with adequate preparation could have said his say and said it far more effectively too, in twenty minutes? Lacking this preparation he delivered a "bald, disjointed chat" in which indeed may have appeared the crude, undigested materials of a discourse, but which no more merited the name [187] of a real sermon than a confused heap of bricks and mortar, boards and shingles deserves to be called a house.

Perhaps no greater service could be rendered to the long-winded extempore preacher than to present him on Monday with a verbatim published report of his discourse of the previous day. Could he be prevailed upon to read the faithful transcript of his "eloquent sermon," to peruse at leisure just what windy nothings and prosy platitudes he said, and remark just how wretchedly he said them, it is tolerably certain that his next effort would be briefer, pithier, and in every way worthier of his office. The rebuke which a Scotch preacher once received from a half-witted member of his flock is oftener merited than administered. The parson's soporific truisms, long drawn out, had gradually produced their legitimate effect of lulling the congregation one by one into placid slumber. Rousing the delinquents by a smart blow on the desk before him, the indignant preacher reprimanded them severely for their gracelessness and inattention, adding that the only one of his hearers who had not been asleep was "the poor fool, Sandy."—"Yes"; interjected Sandy, "and if I were not a fool, I'd have been asleep, too."

A young priest cannot well make a graver mistake in the matter of preaching than to adopt this off-hand style of announcing God's Word. He owes it to the sanctity of that Word, to himself, and to his auditors, be they ever so unlettered, to make each of his sermons as good as is compatible with the measure of talent with which God has dowered him. He is bound in honor and justice to become, in the degree that is possible to him, one

"whose weighty sense
Flows in fit words and heavenly eloquence;"

and no course will so surely prevent his attainment of that ideal as preaching without due reflection and previous study.

The fourth method of preparation, and the only one thus far considered that merits approval, is that followed by probably the great majority of conscientious preachers. Briefly it consists in thinking out the whole sermon, but in writing merely its substance. What it supposes and involves may, [188] perhaps, be best understood from Fénélon's description of the pulpit orator whom he commends for preaching without having written his discourse. He speaks "of a man who is well instructed and has great facility of expression; a man who has meditated deeply, in all their bearings, the principles of the subject which he is to treat; who has conceived that subject in his intellect and arranged his arguments in the clearest manner; who has prepared a certain number of striking figures and touching sentiments, which may render it sensible and bring it home to his hearers; who knows perfectly well all that he is to say and the precise place in which to say it, so that nothing remains, at the moment of delivery, but to find words with which to express himself." There can be no question as to the thoroughness of such a preparation as this; and for the experienced preacher who has had years of practice in his ministry, it is, every thing considered, probably the best of all plans. For the young preacher, however, who has not yet had this practice, there is a still better method, that indicated in the initial paragraph of this paper.

Whether the arguments urged in general against the delivery from memory of written sermons be solid or flimsy (and flimsy some of them assuredly are), few will deny that this writing and memorizing is by far the best plan of action that the young priest can adopt. Even St. Liguori, who inveighs so strongly against preachers that are slaves of their memory, took good care to allow none of his younger Fathers to ascend the pulpit without their having previously written all that they were to say. The inconveniences to which this method is liable may be real, but, at least in the case of the youthful preacher, they are more than compensated for by the sterling advantages which it undoubtedly possesses. And the more gradual is the transition from this full and complete preparation to the less elaborate method mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the greater is the likelihood of the priest's eventually becoming a ready, forcible and effective minister of the divine Word.

A good formula for the actual composition of the sermon [189] is: some reading, more thinking, careful writing, and no "cribbing." Once the subject has been chosen, and the particular point of view from which it is to be treated determined, it will generally be found beneficial to read what has been written on the same theme by one or several good authors, and to study with the aid of a concordance those portions of Sacred Scripture which bear a special reference to the matter in hand. Having thus acquired an abundance of ideas relative to the subject, our young priest will do well to put aside his books and meditate these ideas, turning them over in his mind, observing how they adjust themselves to his preconceived notions, dwelling on the cognate sentiments which they suggest—in a word, digesting what he has read until it assimilates with his previous knowledge and becomes his own. Whether it be carried on currently with the writing or before that is begun, meditation is the most important and should be the lengthiest process in the building up of a discourse. It is superfluous to add that the more care the writer gives to the expression of his thought, the better will be his sermon. Knowing the mental status of the congregation whom he is to address, and the general culture, or want of it, that characterizes them, he will, of course, adapt his language, figures, allusions and illustrations to their particular capacities; but no degree of illiterateness in a prospective audience justifies negligence, either in the form of the discourse as a whole, or in the structure of its component parts. There is no more pernicious mistake than to suppose that a plain, simple, "common sense" instruction is removed from the sphere of rhetoric, or is not amenable to the laws of thought and expression. Apart from Scriptural texts, quotations should not be multiplied, and those employed should be credited to their proper sources. Stripped of all euphemistic phraseology, plagiarism is theft. No man, perhaps, can be original in what he says; but every man can and should be original in his way of saying it. Let the skeleton of his thought come from where it may, the flesh and blood that clothe it should be a part of himself.

On the degree of originality, thus understood, that a sermon [190] possesses, depends in a great measure the facility or difficulty of committing it to memory. The more of one's own and the fewer of other men's sentences it contains, the more readily will it be committed. And here it is to be remarked that the stereotyped criticism, "the preacher who delivers his sermon from memory has the appearance of a schoolboy reciting his task," if applicable at all, applies to those only who follow the first or second method of preparation which we have discussed, those who preach the sermons of others. Between the man who delivers his own sentiments and the schoolboy who recites the words of his text-book, there is no parallel, deadly or otherwise. The difficulty of learning a sermon after one has composed it has been a good deal exaggerated. Not a few preachers experience no difficulty whatever; they know their sermon as soon as they have completed its revision. These, perhaps, are exceptional cases; but, given a discourse of ordinary length, representing the outcome of a man's own earnest thought and studied composition, and a very few hours will suffice to memorize it so thoroughly that its delivery may be characterized by all the grace, ease and apparent spontaneity that mark the best extemporaneous speaking, so thoroughly, indeed, that the preacher may interpolate any striking thought that occurs to him on the spur of the moment, and then resume the thread of the original discourse without trouble or hesitation.

In any case, however great the difficulty experienced, either in writing or memorizing his sermon, the young priest will be amply rewarded therefor [sic] by the consciousness that, in ascending the pulpit to acquit himself of one of the most august of sacerdotal functions, he is free from the irreverence that cannot but attach to careless preparation, and is doing his best to promote the glory of God and secure the salvation of souls. True, after all is said and done, it is God alone who fructifies the sermon; but it is to be remembered that, if God gives the increase, the planting and watering is the work of the preacher. Fac tua, Deus sua faciet.

A. B. O'Neill, C.S.C.



1. Mark xvi, 15.

2. Jerem. xlviii, 10.

3. II Cor. iv, 5.


Source: Arthur Barry O'Neill, "Young Preachers Careful and Careless," American Ecclesiastical Review 8 (March 1893): 180–190.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Repost: Organization and Maintenance of Parish Societies, Part 2

[498] The Question Box.

We have said that the question box should be a feature of the societies, especially for the young, as long as interest in it is manifested. Have it in the church, in a secluded spot, so that anyone may ask a question without his identity being known. Here is a batch of questions from a recent question box:
"What prayers must we say to gain the indulgence of the Scapular?"
"Is it wrong to pray for a husband?"
"Why can't I go to a fortune-teller?"
"Why can some be married without calls, and others can't?"
"How can a person excommunicated return to the Church?"
"Why do we have Forty Hours' Prayer?"
"Is it a sin to flirt?"
[499] "Please explain at Sodality meeting, how to make a general confession."
"Could I eat meat on Friday if it would be inconvenient for the people at whose house I am to procure other food?"
"Is it wrong to go to a Protestant church for fun?"
"Is it true that everyone going to a theatre [sic] commits a sin?"
"Must one have a regular confessor?"
"Why is it sinful to repeat what the priest says to you in the confessional?"
"Can I wash my mouth with Sozodont [] before going to Holy Communion?"
"Is perfumery the sign of a proud person?"
"Is baptism in any church, true baptism?"
You may postpone the answering of part of the questions, if you desire time to post yourself.

The Talk.

The society should be considered as a family circle, where a father speaks plainly of abuses, and commends good. Correction given to a society should always be general. It should never go out of the hall, and never degenerate into personal remarks. Words of encouragement must be spoken at every meeting. Let your talk be sharp and bright. Write it for the society. Deliver it sitting, if need be even from manuscript. Make it spicy. It should be plainer than a public address. Your object is to better your hearers. Have it so that they will understand you. The addresses should not exceed twenty minutes for a grown society, and ten minutes for children's societies. A great deal of the success of the society will depend on the discourses you give them. There is no better way of driving nails into the coffin of a society than to have a priest read a chapter of a good book at society meetings. The priest should ordinarily leave the hall as soon as the meeting ends, so that the members may have an opportunity to discuss the instruction. If the Director remains, he will be the centre [sic] of attraction to the detriment of much good. Have the hall closed one-half hour after the termination of the meeting.

The objection to this line of action is, that at this time a priest can meet his people best. This is a mistake. Let [500] him find some other time and means to meet them, rather than take away from the members of the society the means of meeting one another and forming acquaintances. The priest must remember that he was made for the people, not the people for him.


A very essential thing to the success of a society is that the members attend all meetings. Insist on this. Your society will never amount to anything, no matter how many you have on the roll, if they fail to attend the meetings. In nearly every parish we have some who want the benefit, but are too proud, or too indolent, to attend the meetings. They will pay their dues in advance, and they think that they have done all that is required. Have no such members in your society; they will be but stumbling blocks. For this reason encourage the system of having the dues paid at each meeting, and not in advance. Dues should not be received except at business meetings. Have members wear badges at meetings. Let there be a record of attendance kept.


It is a mistake to insist too strongly on men, particularly young men, going to Communion in a body, where there are not many confessors. Priests of experience know the reason of this. Many approach poorly prepared, and some even unworthily, because "they had to." While urging all to go as often as the rule prescribes, ever be ready to accept excuses without a question. If one should deliberately remain away from the Sacraments for a long time, see him, or her, privately, and if no promises can be obtained, drop such members quietly from the roll, without, however, losing sight of them.

Never sanction the action of a society that would force a person to receive the Sacraments at a specified time. We must never use force in obliging anyone to receive the Sacraments.

No society should have in its rules a clause requiring [501] members to approach the Holy Table more than once a month. If the devotion of the individual prompts more, let it be individual work. There should be a short public act of thanksgiving after each society has received Holy Communion, in a body. It may not be more than the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, but there should be some such prayer. By all means have the members of societies wear full regalia when approaching Holy Communion. It is a wise rule to offer the mass at which they receive, for their intention; and they should be made aware of this, so that each society furnish the proper stipend from their treasury.


Strangers should bring credentials. On the presentation of such, admit them at once to the society with which they were affiliated elsewhere. Have the credentials read at the next meeting of the society. This will be an introduction for them. The prefect, or some other officer, should then deem it a duty and a pleasure to introduce the newcomer to the individual members. Catholics are often slow in giving a hearty welcome to strangers. Treat them under all circumstances as you would like to be treated. On the other hand, it is a mistake to lionize newcomers who are without recommendations. Especially is this the case when the attempt is made to elect an unknown quantity to office. If they have real merit, it will come to the surface. Priests must be careful about this if they desire to escape blame.


The most successful way of managing what is ordinarily the greatest source of dissension in societies, is to have each member write at his home, and place in a sealed envelope, the names of as many persons as there are officers to be elected. Say there are seven officers in a society. Let the electors write the names of seven members who, in their judgment, are qualified to hold office. When the time of election arrives, let the teller gather up the ballots and give them to the Reverend Director. This shortens the usual [502] lengthy and unsatisfactory election meetings. The officers elected will be notified of their election, so that they may be ready to fill their positions at the next meeting. Have some trustworthy persons count the ballot, or do so yourself in their presence. Follow the ballot as a guide. The member receiving the highest number of votes will be president, the second vice-president, and so on. However, always choose from the number elected, the most capable for secretary, even if the member has enough votes to make him, or her, president. The secretary is the most important officer, the president second, the treasurer third. The election of one dishonest treasurer is enough to bring the society into discredit. Practically, the Director has it in his own hands to select the various officers. This is as it should be. An officer once elected, cannot be excused from accepting the office. Better expel him, or her, from the society, than have him refuse to accept. Let this be understood and there will be few refusals. This should also be clearly understood from the beginning, so as to avoid trouble. The retiring officers should form the council for one year. They, with the active officers, should hold a meeting once a month to discuss applications for membership, and such other matters as may be brought before them. Encourage all the members to render a prompt and cheerful obedience to officers. Maintaining this respect for officers is maintaining your own.

The Accounts.

The accounts should be audited once a year. Do it yourself, or select a prudent person to do it. You can seldom expect perfect exactness. If there should be a trifling error, pass it by without noticing it. Never expect an absolutely correct balance from roll book marking, and receipts of treasurer. The better way is to count receipts after the meeting, and enter the results at the time. It is unwise to question the accounts of a good, honest person. The shortage, if any, can be accounted for without imputing dishonesty [503]. Being too exacting will turn members away from the society. If a member is out-and-out dishonest, he will soon, of his own accord, cease to trouble you. Never have any wrangling about accounts in a public meeting.

In the children's societies, let the treasurer deposit the funds either with the priest or with the sister. It is not prudent to expose children to temptation by allowing them to keep the money in their possession.

The members of the Altar Society are likely to prefer paying their dues to the priest. When this can be done, let the priest in charge act as financial secretary.


A triduum, or three days' retreat, should be provided each year for the men's and women's societies. The retreat for the women should be in Advent, for the men in Lent. Have the society make the offering to the missionary. Instructing them, by this means, in their duty regarding the honorarium, is an excellent way of making them place a proper valuation on the services of their Reverend Director.

A pastor needs to exercise some care in discriminating between the religious who may be sent to him by superiors for giving such retreats. Do not allow them to send whomsoever they please; that is, anyone who wears the habit. Know your man. An imprudent missionary frequently does more harm than good. The habit does not make the successful missionary. At the conclusion of the retreat, all should renew their Act of Consecration.


There should be a specified time set for the reception of new members, and that twice a year for all the societies except those of the married men and women. Make a great deal of such occasions. Invite a stranger to preach, if you can conveniently do so, and carry out the ceremony with all [504] possible solemnity. Have it before the entire congregation. Let the candidates approach the rail holding lighted tapers in their hands. They should be induced to make an offering of these, after the services, for the use of the altar. Have them repeat the Act of Consecration after you, in a loud tone of voice. Speak a few words of encouragement. Close the services with Benediction.


Always use the funds for the object for which they were intended; never divert them from the proper channel. You will have little if you do. There is an Altar Society account book in existence which contains the following entry among others: "Credit: By collection for Vestments, $48.00; Debit: To a new lounge for pastor's room, $48.00." It is to be feared there are many such account books. No wonder that the vestments are in a ragged condition where such a state of affairs exists. Money is not the real object of the society, yet without it there is no activity. A non-paying church member is a poor stick. A non-paying society is like it. The pastor will manage to care for the real poor, so that their feelings may not be hurt. Never permit a poor person to suffer for non-payment of dues. As a rule, it is the wealthier portion of the flock who are the most penurious. It is well for us to instruct the members of societies in the art of giving. Often it is not the lack of generosity which makes people niggardly, but the lack of the knowledge of what to do. The knack of giving at the proper time, and in the proper manner, is a real art. Let the people know where and for what the money is used. Make financial statements at least once a year. Account for the pennies, and you will not be lacking in having them. Make our people feel that everything that is done for the Church is done for "Our Good God."

It is never well to have a society solicit funds for a society's benefit, i. e., banner, uniforms, etc. This should never be tolerated. A public solicitation from any society, no matter [505] by what means, must be for some general benefit of the congregation.


Cards[1] something like the following are of great help for the prompt payment of dues. They should be used in all societies where fixed dues are required.


These cards must be renewed each year. The old ones should be called in. This will make members careful of them, as well as settle all disputes about dues. We would suggest that all such cards, and all donation cards, be carefully assorted and placed under the Altar steps of the High Altar, at the end of each year. Let the members of societies know this. Have them know also that every Sacrifice you offer on that Altar, the names on those cards will be included in your memento for benefactors. If you have never used this means of encouraging contributions, you will be astonished [507] at its results. The cards will be kept clean, and be paid up in full. Never make light of old cards. Don't throw them on the floor or tear them up before a member. The cards lose all their value with such actions. Never permit the owner of the cards to write the dues for themselves. Get a rubber stamp about the size of the head of a pencil, have on it the letter X within a circle. Use this stamp for cards. With it you can accomplish rapid, neat work, and it cannot be so easily counterfeited. Insist on members bringing their own cards. Discourage sending them with children. The payment of dues at any other time than at meetings should be discouraged. The donation columns are for sums above the dues paid at each meeting. Those who are prompted to donate in this way do not care for further notice of it. Hence the X stamp, in the donation column, is sufficient receipt for same. Change the color and style of card each year.


should be encouraged in all of the societies. Do not allow this great means of good to go into disuse.

Troublesome Characters.

There are to be found in church societies, as in every other body, members who by their conduct become an annoyance, and frequently do harm to others.

In children's societies you will find those who endeavor to keep others form regular attendance at meetings, and entice them to spend their due money for candy, etc. As soon as you discover these mischief-makers, dismiss them at once.

Children of older growth become jealous. They will sow the seed of discord, and use their little endeavors to "break up" the society. As a rule, they are double-faced and always use tools for their ends. Hence, the evils of cliques. Petty [508] and mean characters will not leave the society when they are dissatisfied, but remain to give trouble. As a rule, they want to appear as being friends of the priest. They misconstrue his words, and retell, as his, sayings that he never thought of uttering. They make use of all their endeavors to inveigle others into mischief. They coax and promise. They are fond of newspaper notoriety, and glory in a victory over the priest. They claim credit for everything that is being done in the society, as though it proceeded from them.

These petty individuals delight in getting others into trouble.

A wholesale dismissal of all connected with such persons, or cliques, even if it takes every officer, is the only measure for effecting the safety of the society. Do this gently if you can. Harshly if you must.

In women's societies it is the talker that does the harm. Be careful of anyone who will bring you a story. As a rule, you will have a dozen about yourself circulating for the one that is brought to you. Silence is the powerful armor of the priest. The warning of the Gospel in regard to the "yea" and "nay" applies eminently in his case. As a rule, any attempt at explaining the things you may have been foolish enough to say will only complicate matters.

Men's Societies.

We must acknowledge that our influence with men has been much weakened by the disposition on the part of the poorly instructed to confound the meaning of the words liberty and license. We find that this is taken advantage of by evil-minded men, and there is a disposition on the part of many to listen to the voice of disorder, and follow in its wake. A politician usually takes advantage of this weakness among his Catholic brethren, and will seek to give himself importance by opposing the priest, whom he finds to be the only obstacle in his way. Keep politicians out of church societies. They are not a help to the church, and simply join for their own ends. When they fail in the [509] accomplishment of their designs, they will resort to all sorts of measures to stir up opposition. Put such a one in his place when he begins to find fault with the method of electing officers. This will be the starting point. Then is the time to "nip such in the bud." The plan we have proposed will prevent electioneering. But the disgruntled will find some opportunity to condemn what they are apt to call priestly tyranny. They fail to have their own way, and this is the source of their discontent. Hence, I would say: Avoid the chronic office-seeker; classify him with the fault-finder and intemperate. It is hard to guard against such. They neither practice nor respect candor and truthfulness, and in general they have no regard for holy things.

It is these who delight in uncovering the sores of the parish. Woe to the priest, if his life has not been blameless, when such men have been his bosom friends, as is too often the case. They worm their way into the confidence of the priest, only to strike him a death blow at their own pleasure. There are few unfortunate outcasts in the priesthood who may not trace their misfortune to such members, or ex-members, of a church society. In the same category with the above must be classed certain characters who, attaching themselves to a society, pretend to be everyone's friend. A true man must have oppositions, therefore enemies. Beware of liberal Catholics! Beware of nationalism! It has caused more sorrow for the Church in this country than all other sources combined. Malcontents will revenge their littleness by trying to bring about discord.

How are we to stop this evil? Pray. Keep quiet. Remove members who show the dispositions which I have mentioned, before they become a malignant growth. Bishops have a sacred duty to be slow in listening to reports against priests from members of societies. A priest who has deserved the confidence of being placed in charge of a parish, must be trusted as a man who knows enough to care for his flock in a manner which makes the interference of the Bishop in every petty squabble unnecessary. We have known of societies boldly asserting that their influence [510] was paramount with the Bishop. They may not be church societies, yet they call themselves by the Catholic name. If you think any good can be accomplished, send for the discontented party and talk straight to him. Where there is any Catholic feeling left, it will be well to induce him to approach the Sacraments frequently, say, every two weeks for three months. Our Lord may change his disposition, and bring him in the end to become a useful member. But do not place any confidence in expressions of regret until your man by his actions shows true signs of amendment.

If we ourselves have made mistakes, let us not fail to rectify them. Let us apologize. It is the Christian way. Humility always brings its blessing. We are not infallible. A gracious "giving in" when there is nothing of importance at stake will often effect much good.

There is no wisdom in insisting upon your own views with societies. If there appears to be any fault, don't speak of it until you are sure you have reason. Be quite certain that you are right before you act; hence, never follow the momentary suggestions of impulse. When you are right, stand firm. If you go down in the storm, you will soon float. God takes care of His priests, when His priests let Him carry the burden. The divine promise, "I will protect thee as the apple of Mine eye," is not a mere phrase. When you want satisfaction, and make up your mind you are going to have it, and use worldly means to obtain it, you plainly declare that you will get along without God. On the other hand, when our burdens are cast on Him, we shall recognize that "revenge is mine, saith the Lord."

In order to uphold God's kingdom on earth we shall need the co-operation of every true man and woman in the parish. But while we have the right and duty to seek that co-operation, we should never forget that we are the leaders under God, so that our intercourse may not degenerate into familiarity, or mere human attraction. While proud of our dignity as priests, the humility of the creature should help balance the honor of the Creator. Honest, open, manly friendship is all that we should ever seek. Friendships which shun the [511] light of day are means of destruction. There should be no distinctions, no personal preferences in our converse with the people under our care. Treat all alike. Treat all fairly. Making your spiritual children your brethren will dispel disturbing elements, and unite all your parish in working solidly for the honor of God in His Church.

Frank A. O'Brien.

St. Augustine's Church, Kalamazoo, Mich.



1. They can be had from any printing-office at about $1.50 per hundred.


Source: Francis A. O'Brien, "Organization and Maintenance of Parish Societies," American Ecclesiastical Review 14 (June 1896): 498–511.

Repost: Organization and Maintenance of Parish Societies, Part 1

[481] In the union of forces there is addition of strength. But in order that the increased energy resulting from concentration may effect any defined purpose, it is necessary that it be directed by intelligent methods.

This is eminently true in the pastoral work. The priest gathers around him the army of the faithful; he unites their various energies, and organizes them in such wise that one supports the other, while all move toward the same end, with a common purpose in view. That purpose is the defense of the interests of Christ, the perpetuation and growth of truth and virtue.

In an Encyclical addressed to the Italian Bishops, Leo XIII writes as follows: Do you, therefore, Venerable Brethren, by your example and authority train your people to fulfil [sic] with consistency and courage the duties of an active Christian life. And in order to develop and maintain this activity, it will be necessary to promote the growth, multiplication, mutual harmony and fruitful activity of societies the principal object of which should be to stimulate each other to zeal for the increase of Christian faith and of virtue. Such are separate associations of young men, of the laboring classes, of organizations meeting at stated times for the promotion of charity to the poor, the sanctification of holidays, [482] for the propagation and teaching of Christian doctrine, and other unions like these. (Litt. Encycl. Feb. 15, 1882.)

Exactly ten years before Pius IX, in a Brief in which he points out the methods of warfare to be adopted by the clergy in union with their people against anarchy and infidelity, speaks as follows: We also recommend, as pleasing to God, those most effective unions which, selecting for themselves, each some special province for defending the interests of the Church, stand together in well-organized array to fight the battles of the Lord, to repel and overturn by their noble works the malicious attempts of those impious men who, being slaves of the devil, carry on their opposition in the dark. (Breve, 23 Feb. 1872.)

Every zealous pastor of souls will realize the truth of the above words.

But the formation of societies in a parish has even a more definite purpose than the general, albeit organized, warfare against error and sin. The bridge that leads from the temporal to the eternal is in part of earthly material; otherwise we should never attempt to cross it. This part we are to furnish from our resources of mind and body. Hence follows the necessity and duty of the individual to aid in the material upbuilding of the Church on earth. This duty of the individual is facilitated by mutual co-operation, and its fruitful accomplishment becomes one of the leading aims of parish societies according to their special field of operation.

In brief, therefore, the work of a parish society consists in the interchange of sentiment and mutual encouragement, for the double purpose,

a. Of keeping alive in the parish an active spirit of faith,
b. Of assisting in parochial works of charity, which, whatever their peculiar nature, are the sustaining elements of that faith.

The Motive Power.

The clergy of the parish are the guardians of faith and of that charity which enlivens it. The priest must, accordingly, become the motive power which animates the various [483] organs of parish activity, and he must so direct that activity as to accomplish, without friction and waste, the building up of the kingdom of Christ. It follows as an essential requisite to the proper organization and successful maintenance of a parish society, that

(1) The priest be personally interested in the work; that he form the central figure of all enterprises and movements which aim at the promotion of the interests of the Church and parish as such.

(2) That no element be tolerated, whatever its secondary advantages, which does not harmoniously co-operate with the fundamental aim of the society in the spirit of Christian charity. Anything which threatens to create dissension of a more or less persevering or permanent character is sure to paralyze in the long run every effort for good.

As to the first point, I would suggest that every priest who is about to organize a church society consult some brother priest who has actual and practical experience. There are some things which cannot be learnt from books; they require personal intercourse with those who have gained them at cost and who alone can impress us with the conviction of their truth. Other things cannot even be thus acquired, they must be learnt in the midst of those difficulties which create a certain instinct and tact in him who strives to avoid or overcome them.

One thing is quite certain, as confirmed by the experience of those who attain the best results from parish societies, and that is, that a society intended to promote the interests of the parish will surely prove a failure if not a positive obstacle to good, unless the priest is the ever-present and active soul of the organization. I am not speaking here of benevolent societies, or such others as have personal or private interests for their specific aim, although they may be composed wholly of Catholics. There is a difference between a Catholic Society and a Society of Catholics. The latter may be excellent, and it is well to let them manage their own affairs of profit and amusement, so long as they do not trespass upon sacred ground. If they make use of the Catholic [484] name, they should, however, be made to honor it by their practice; for every respectable corporation has the right to discard members from its rank who disgrace its name. This is eminently true of the Church of Christ.

But in all distinctly parochial organizations such as shall be specified in general hereafter, the presence of the priest is absolutely necessary. This means attendance at every meeting; it means earnest interest in the work of the society; it means real labor, and plenty of it. Be slow, therefore, in attempting too much. Measure time. Let only such be organized as can be cared for. Societies cannot be dealt with lightly. It is a great mistake to think that all that is required is organization; that thereafter they will run themselves, or that a Sister or Prefect can manage them.

The societies required for a parish that would provide for all its members are: Organizations for the married men and women, the young men and women, the youths and misses, the boys and girls. These four general divisions should, if possible, be maintained. Societies for boys and girls should comprise children from the age of eight until after first Communion. The youths and misses should be cared for from their first Communion until they have completed their sixteenth year. From that age until marriage, or settlement in life, they come under the third classification. The fourth would include all married people. In these divisions the sexes should be separated, thus giving eight societies to a parish. This work would be too much for any one priest to carry on successfully, but it can very easily be accomplished where there are two or more priests.

Where all the societies mentioned cannot be established, let the priest elect such as he thinks he can best sustain. Having formulated his plan, let him begin with the

Altar Society.

It is the most easily organized and managed. It is usually made up of the married women of the parish. The proposed organization should be talked about some weeks beforehand. Having settled upon establishing it, the time [485] for a meeting should be announced at least twice at Sunday services. While it is well to invite all without distinction, the first move should be entirely voluntary on the part of members who propose to join; let there be no urging. In the meantime the purpose and efforts of the society should be kept before the public. Talk the society whenever an opportunity offers. Have others talk it. Have the local papers notice it. In other words, seek to create enthusiasm.

The state of the Sanctuary, or the Vestments, or the Altar will afford you ample matter. Start out with the idea that it must be a success. Impress this, if you can, upon those with whom you come in contact. It is probably best to have the first meeting on a week-day, toward the end of the week. Friday is a good day, as the heavy work of the household is, as a rule, over by that time. The hour must be convenient, hence do not choose the morning. Select a time when no thought of some waiting duty will embarrass you or your members. It is very important that a priest meet his people pleasantly, particularly when, as on occasions like this, he would persuade them to some good work. This is another reason why the meeting should take place when he himself has sufficient leisure to devote his whole mind to it. You cannot easily be kind and agreeable when you are all fagged out. The Ordinary will readily give permission to terminate your society meeting, on week days, with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, if this privilege be asked. The meeting should always open with a short prayer. It is also a good practice to have the members sing some hymn. It may be but one verse of some old tune; it may not be fine music, but it will be devotional. You will be astonished to realize how older people like to sing. The priest then addresses the members on the objects and aims of the society. No priest need be told what to say when he pleads the cause of the presence of the Eucharistic God, and the care and homage that should be given Him. If the church be poor in vestments, exhibit the poorest. Ask them how they would fancy wearing garments of such age and state of cleanliness to a party of friends. Picture the shame Catholics [486] should have in permitting anything but the best to be used in God's service. Explain the benefit of the association; the prayers and masses in which all will become participators.

The next step is to take the names of all desiring to become members. Circulate slips of paper and pencils, and have the proposed members write their names and addresses. Mention that if any have forgotten their glasses, they can come to you after the meeting.

Elect your officers. Then, in a few words, thank them for their attendance, and encourage them for the future. Point out the certainty of God's blessing to them, and give it, if feasible, in the Church, with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. At the first meeting it is well to abstain from collecting dues; instead, have some of the members take up a collection and place it to the credit of the society. Announce the time of the next meeting, which should be on a fixed day, say the second Friday of each month. Request them to tell their neighbors, who are not there, to come to the next meeting. The dues for the Altar Society should not exceed ten cents a month. Encourage those who are able and desire to pay more, but receive it only as a donation. Be very particular about the due cards with the Altar Society.

The means of keeping up the interest in this society may be summed up as follows: Interest on the part of the pastor in all that the society undertakes. Encouraging words for it from the pulpit. Frequent social gatherings. Practical addresses. Showing the society at its meeting whatever new objects for church service it has purchased, explaining the merits of the articles. Explain the different pieces, such as albs, corporals, etc., made of linen for the sanctuary service, and encourage those who have the time to give some of their own handiwork to the service of the Altar. It is not good policy to have the sanctuary cared for by members of the Altar Society, where Religious can be had. The washing of the church linen may be a means of interest, provided it is permitted to each member of the society; otherwise, it would be better to pay for it from the Altar Society fund. There should be a low mass offered once a [487] month for all the living members and their families. A Requiem Mass should be chanted for deceased members. The Altar Society should not be required to receive Holy Communion in a body, except at the Requiem Mass for deceased members, which should be a month's-mind Mass, on a week-day morning.

To an experienced priest no word of explanation in regard to this is required. The various household duties, which a good wife and mother should attend to, must naturally prevent such general Communions from being successful. Explain to them, if you will, that this is not required out of consideration for the home duties. Show the members every attention. Give them every facility for approaching Holy Communion on week-days. Of all places in the world a mother is needed at home Sunday mornings, hence, in her regard, be exacting in nothing else but attendance at mass on that day.

The Men.

The better all-around society for men is the Holy Name Society. The object is a taking one, the duties light, the spiritual privileges very great, and no set dues are required. Apply to your nearest Dominican convent, or send to Noonan & Co., of Boston, for a manual of the Holy Name Society. Its object is to prevent cursing and the use of improper language. Its members are supposed to receive the Sacraments in a body six times a year. On becoming members they are affiliated with the great Dominican Order. The Holy Rosary becomes familiar to them. There should be a plate offering at each meeting. Mass should be said for the living members at least six times a year, and at least once a year for the deceased members. You can have a Dominican Friar establish this society for you, on the payment of his traveling expenses and a small sum for charter, etc. This sum can easily be collected at the meeting for organization. The way the society should be introduced into the parish is as follows:

Have your date fixed with the Friar. Advertise and announce [488], so as to give it the widest circulation possible, the notice of the sermon or lecture on an important topic by a Dominican Friar, who will preach in the picturesque garb of that ancient Order of the Church. Gather as large a crowd as you can for his discourse, which ought, if possible, to be Sunday evening. Have all your parishioners come, if the church will hold them; if not, let it be for men only. Say nothing about organization. Get your parish ready to listen to the eloquent discourse on the important matter. The Friar will do the rest. To keep up interest, have the meeting purely devotional. The best time for such is undoubtedly after the mass at which the members receive Holy Communion. The meeting should be in the church. Let the priest do all the talking, with the exception of roll call, which should be done by the secretary. The instruction should be short and to the point; no scolding and not a word about money. The wearing of the button which forms the badge of the Holy Name Society should be encouraged. Such can be procured from Feely & Co., Providence, R. I., at about ten cents each. In these days of buttons, charms and pins, this device has great attraction and accomplishes much good. From the funds of the society, i. e., the offering, which should be collected and cared for by the treasurer, an additional supply of buttons may be purchased to give to non-Catholics who will wear them and pledge themselves not to swear. Have members circulate "No Swearing Allowed Here" cards. The society should attend the funerals of deceased members in a body; they should afford such comforts as they can to sick members. Don't exact too much. If we remember that it is the laboring men who carry the burdens of the parish in more ways than one, we shall do our utmost to make them feel that the society is a help, not a burden to them. They need rest on Sunday; let us ask as little as we can of them, and that in God's name. We should never impose on this society, as a society, the duty of helping at fairs, festivals, etc. Let the members feel that its whole object is to better them spiritually, and you will have a prominent body of organized men of which [489] you may well be proud. I might speak of other societies, sodalities, etc., but I have not found an equal to the Holy Name Society for beneficial results.

Young Women.

The Sodality is the society best suited for eliciting the helpful activity of the young women in the parish. It may be organized in a manner similar to that suggested for establishing the Altar Society. A proper diploma and other pertinent directions can be easily obtained through the Jesuit Fathers, which should never be neglected. It depends on the locality whether you can have the meeting on a week-day. If you can, do so. In many places this is not possible, as the young people are obliged to work on week-days. They are tired enough at night, without attending protracted meetings. Under such circumstances, the better time for the young women's meeting is probably Sunday afternoon at about four o'clock. The society should be organized at the end of a three days' retreat given by some member of the Jesuit Order, the first to organize Sodalities of the Blessed Virgin such as we have them now. The expense will be met by the Sodalists. If you cannot have a Jesuit Father, get a neighboring priest to organize your Young Ladies' Sodality. Here, too, it is important to arouse as much enthusiasm in the undertaking as is possible. The entrance fee should be made sufficiently large to pay for a manual, ribbon and medal. These can be bought at wholesale for about fifty cents, and should be given to members at their profession. It is well to oblige all members to wear ribbon and medal at meetings, and when receiving Holy Communion. Follow the rules of the manual as far as you can. There are certain requirements laid down in the manual which cannot be fulfilled in every parish. Dispense with all regulations which cannot properly and conveniently be complied with, and outline a brief rule in the spirit of the Sodality Manual Rule, which, once made, should be followed as strictly as possible. Being strict, while kind, is one of the best means of prolonging the life of a Young Ladies' Sodality. Impress [490] on the members the necessity of doing something special, in token of gratitude for the glorious title of "A Child of Mary." Public dances and round dancing should be prohibited, as well as all amusements that are discountenanced by the Church. The short "Office of the Bl. Virgin Mary" should be recited in public at least once a month by the entire body. In some places both Sodalities, young men's and young women's, meet together in the church to recite the Office. This is an excellent way. The Director should always be present. It might be well to have the Little Office, and a few hymns, printed on a four-page pamphlet, on heavy paper, to distribute for Office meetings, thus doing away with the excuse, "I have forgotten my manual." The order for Office meetings, which should be in a chapel, or the church, may be:

1. Veni Creator. 2. Hymn in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 3. Office said alternately by the Prefect and the entire body of the Sodality, or by the Young Men's and Young Ladies' Sodalities forming opposite choirs. 4. Announcement of the monthly patron, with the virtue to practice and the vice to overcome, to which may be joined such other announcements as are necessary. 5. Litany of the Blessed Virgin. 6. Closing hymn.

The Consultors and Officers should have a meeting immediately after these devotional exercises, but in some place where they can talk freely of the condition of the Sodality, and of the means of bettering it. It is preferable that the Director should not attend this meeting, as his presence hinders free expression of thought. In all cases it is wise to lend a patient ear to the result of such meetings. Give a fair trial to any means suggested, if it can be adopted. The Director makes no address at the meeting in which the Office is recited.

The business meeting should be held once a month. The order usually observed is—

1. Prayer and hymn.
2. Roll call and payment of dues.
3. Proposing new members.
4. Special business.
5. Question box.
6. Director's instructions.
7. Litany of the Blessed Virgin, and adjournment.
The names of candidates should always be referred to the Consultors.

The meetings should not be drawn out too long. If possible, have the treasurer collect dues during roll call. Absentees should be noted. A slight fine—not more than five cents—might be imposed for absence when not excused. The dues should not exceed five cents a month. It is the treasurer's business to take care of all sodality money. The address made by the priest at the meeting should be well prepared; indeed, I venture to assert that, if he bestow on this work less time and care than he gives to the preparation of his Sunday sermon, he would do better to say nothing. Carefully thought out and fixed in the mind, it should be short, and treat mainly such topics as are of interest to the young ladies. The evils of mixed marriages, and the necessity of asking God to point out a distinct vocation, are themes of supreme importance in the lives of these young women, and should, therefore, be frequently touched upon. There is no association existing that can afford more real consolation to a pastor than a good Young Ladies' Sodality. None that can give more annoyance and pain than the same society, if the devil enters into it. Take great care of the young women. On them depends in the main the future of your parish. Encourage them in their endeavors toward betterment. It is a mistake to think that because they are docile, they may be slighted. They require your best attention.

Encourage any gathering where they can all come together. Make their meeting places as pleasant as possible. Plan literary gatherings and festivals—encourage anything of a social character that is permissible. Reading circle work, studies, Bible class, sewing for the poor, entertainments, properly managed card parties—anything to keep them busy, amused, and away from evil influences.

Make a great deal of the marriage of a Sodalist. Have the [492] sanctuary furniture, such as chairs, prie-dieus, and a mat of a special kind and of the richest quality, to be used exclusively on the occasion of the marriage of a Sodalist. No other marriage should have anything like it. The same solemnity, in the way of decorations, etc., should be observed at the funerals of deceased members of the Sodality. Have special altar ornaments, special pall, special candlesticks for the catafalque. All these things are of weight in helping to keep up interest in the work of the Sodality.

The Young Men.

The priest who can build up successfully a Young Men's Sodality, or Society, is gifted above the ordinary. Let him cultivate the great gift by all means. How can we reach our young men? Few priests, comparatively, have been able to solve the problem. The fault may exist on both sides. Anyway, it exists. There is, it seems, a natural timidity on the part of the youth as he grows into manhood to meet a priest; with many there is a shyness which makes them feel reluctant to be seen in the company of a priest. On the other hand, the priest, especially if he be young himself, feels this restraint, this shyness which causes the young men to avoid him, most keenly. He finds it difficult to attract them, and meeting in his first efforts with failure is apt to be discouraged and to leave the young men to themselves. This is an error. They can be gained. Let the priest visit personally every young man in the parish, invite them one after another to come to the meeting. Be plain with them. Explain to each his duty, as a Catholic man, of doing what he can to oppose error, and to do it systematically. Establish a sodality, if possible, after the manner of the Young Ladies' Sodality. Make the members feel that you know them and want to help them. In many cases pastors may have to confess that the majority of their young men are not known to them. Let this not be said of you. Get acquainted. Make them feel that you are made of the same material that they are. Greet them cordially. Make them feel at home. Talk baseball, billiards, and even prize [493] fighting if necessary. Keep yourself posted for their benefit—but rarely, if ever, join their sports. By so doing you lessen your influence.

Make few rules, but be sure to observe those that you have made. Nothing disgusts young men quicker than to see the rules, which they were taught to respect, disregarded with impunity and by the quasi-sanction of their superiors. Have them receive the Sacraments at least four times a year. Make it your business to go after them if they miss their Communion Sunday. They require great attention. A Young Men's Sodality properly maintained requires all the extra time of one priest. No matter how zealous he may be, he will find room for all his energy in this one organization. Let him provide for dramatic entertainments, courses of lectures, literary unions, debates, anything to keep the members interested in their efforts to promote union and co-operation in fostering solidly Catholic life. They should also have a gymnasium, or guild-hall annex, if possible. Encourage athletic exercises, never forgetting, however, when with them, the lofty dignity of a priest. They must respect you if they are to profit by your advice and experience.

The young men can thus be made to feel that your only ambition is to see them prosper. Nearly all the means of encouragement that have been mentioned for the Young Ladies' Sodality may be used for the young men. Encourage sociability among Catholic young people. Doing this prevents in large measure the temptation to contract mixed marriages. Praise publicly what you find good in the young men. Condemn, privately, their faults. It is much better not to have a Young Men's Sodality than to have one which, through want of care and interest on the part of the clergy, runs the risk of becoming a failure.

The task of organizing a Young Men's Sodality should not be committed to a priest advanced in years. Men over forty rarely possess that elasticity and power of attraction which is essential to inspire active interest in such work among the youth. We lose with age much of that sympathy that binds the young to their kind.

[494] The Children of Mary.

A separate society should be formed, where possible, for girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen. For them no better organizations can be introduced than that of the Children of Mary, as prescribed in the excellent little book called the Children of Mary's Manual,[1] with modifications to suit the locality. It is the best book we know of for girls, and we might say for every woman, although we should advocate an edition in better form and larger type. Place it in the hands of every girl when she makes her First Communion. A suitable time to organize this society is the Sunday after First Communion. Model it after the Young Ladies' Sodality. The dues may be even less. The question box is an important item and has a peculiar attraction for children. We have had it for nearly twelve years, and it still maintains its popularity. One of the reasons of this may be that the society is continually changing, members not remaining longer than their sixteenth year. The strain, therefore, in this society, is not as great as in the sodalities. If we prepare our discourses for four years, and keep them, we have all the addresses that are required. Speak plainly to children. Tell them their faults. Make them understand you. Always have a story with a moral for them. Keep them engaged in some special work for the church.

During vacation, have them make fancy work for a sale to take place later on in the season. We may have such in connection with Halloweve, or the Thanksgiving festival. In this way will our real workers of the future be trained. Encourage them in having a good time, making them mindful that a good time must never exist with sin. After the Altar Society, comes this society as the easiest to manage. The pastor will find great consolation, and less trouble with it, than with others. It must, however, have encouragement and attention.

The Boys.

A society, corresponding to the Children of Mary, for boys,  [495] should be established wherever possible. Boys should enter it at First Communion time and remain members until their sixteenth year. Let it be a total abstinence society. Members should be pledged against the use of tobacco as well. It may prove an advantage to have it affiliated with the Temperance Union of America. The bulletins, etc., from that society encourage them, while the term "Cadet" has for boys a certain fascination. They will be proud of their pins or badges.[2]  Boys are fond of show. These things are not expensive and are easily procured. Get the boys in line whenever you can. Have them march around a square on Communion Sunday. They must have a banner. They should wear white gloves. Arouse enthusiasm, and the parents of the lads will furnish the funds. If you have an old soldier in the parish who will interest himself, form them into a military company on a small scale. Get wooden guns. Have a drum corps. Permit them to take part in public parades. Let them have military plays, dramas, etc. It is surprising how much enthusiasm a company of boys can work up in a parish. Back of all this display is the object—Monthly Communion. Meetings should be held where the priest can get down to boy level, and caution boys against boys' sins. Here, too, may be the moulding-room for Young Men's sodalities. It is easy to keep the boys in line, because a set goes out and a set comes in each year. Make the boys take charge of their business meetings. Have them learn parliamentary usages, which will be of great service to them in the future. This can easily be done by having them repeat motions, etc., after you. A few lessons will give them a start. After that the only trouble will be, not to have them all want to make motions at the same time.

Next, you must outline some plan of work for them. You have a poor old lady in the parish; get your boys to her house for a "wood-splitting bee," or a "carrying-in-coal bee," or any work of that description. They will enjoy it, [496] and without their being conscious of it, you will have planted the seeds of charity. An active working boys' society makes earnest working men. Let them have the question box, debates, or anything else that you can tolerate at their meetings. If you have the Cadets, get up a monthly contest—a picture, or some trifle as a prize to the one who will give the military salute the greatest number of times. Let them tell of their efforts to help others. Have an outing with them once or twice a year. Be all to all with them. You will have to cure them by patiently listening to their discussions of the sports of the day, or their snatches of low songs, or their slang; correct all plainly and gently. Boys like plain talk.

A priest who has his boys swear by him (to use a common phrase) is a king. Do all you can to achieve this distinction. However, never forget you are a priest while with them. Boys are led, not driven. Have them agree at each meeting to practice some resolution that they will adopt—for instance, "keep from answering back," "perform some specified act of kindness each day for a month," etc. Never inquire how they have kept their resolutions; let that be a matter between God and themselves. The business meeting should not be more than once a month. Have it brief. The address should be your best.

Holy Angels' Society.

Little girls between the age of eight years and First Communion should have a society of their own. The Children of Mary's Manual outlines a society known as the Holy Angels' Society.

This is just the thing for little ones. Mould it after the Children of Mary's Sodality, so as to prepare them for that society when they are fitted for it. Have the dues but one or two cents a month. Have the meeting once a month. While a Sister may do all the work for this society, the priest must "look in" and tell a story at each meeting. Have them honor and love their Guardian Angel. For this reason encourage them to recite nine Glorias each day in honor of [497] the nine choirs of Angels. They should have songs at their meetings. Interest them in the lives of their patron saints. Encourage them to do something, according to their ability, for the Church. The spirit of self-sacrifice, and doing for the Church, must be instilled in their little hearts. Have the Sisters care for the money; that is, receive it from the treasurer after each meeting. Let the older ones be taught the duties of secretary, treasurer and prefect. Get medals for them. Let them have a banner. Children like fuss. Make them happy. They should have a feast at least once a year. There would be no use for a society, according to their notions, unless this feast was exclusive. Therefore, whatever is done in that way, let it be "just for ourselves."

Our Little Boys.

Our little boys are like their seniors, and require all the attention we can give them. Place them under the protection of some boy saint, Saint Pancratius, for instance. Let them pledge themselves for some special work, one of the following being suggested: "Never tell a lie," "Love their mother better than anyone else in the world," "Never give her pain," "Tell all they do to their father or mother," "Never to pass an old person without lifting their hat," etc. Encourage them to keep their pledge. Their dues should be but one cent a month. Let them organize at the beginning of the school year. Their meetings should be once a month. The order of exercises at each meeting should be somewhat similar to that of the Holy Angels Society. They will want badges and a banner—make them work for them. Instill into their minds that no debts should be contracted. Let them have some special object to work for after the banner and badges are paid for—something definite, and not too expensive, for example, a set of cruets for the altar, an altar bell, etc. They need praise, give it prudently. The priest should have a story for them at each meeting. Make them think themselves better than others of their own age who do not belong to the society. Such pride is commendable and not at all dangerous, for it is pride in their society or work, [498] not a personal thing. Care must, however, be taken that this sort of thing will not prevent others from joining. Let all the little boys of the parish know that they will be ever welcome to the meetings, and that they can join this society.

Have all meetings short. Children should not be kept longer than one-half hour, while for grown people the limit should be one hour. Always begin on time. The prayers at business meetings should be short, and one verse of a hymn is sufficient. Have the dues collected, if possible, while the secretary is calling the roll. Where the society is very large, ask members to enclose their dues in an envelope bearing their name, and place it on the collection plate. The treasurer can credit it afterward. This method cannot, of course, be used with the card system. Give plenty of opportunity at business meetings for the discussion of matters of interest to the whole society. No member should be allowed to speak longer than three minutes, or more than once on the same topic.

The minutes of each society must be written with great care. They should be read well. The secretary is the most important officer for the success of a society. Good secretaries are rare. Like poets, they are born, not made.



1. This manual may be obtained from P. J. Kenedy [sic], New York.

2. These can be obtained in silver form Feely & Co., at about twenty-five cents each.


Source: Francis A. O'Brien, "Organization and Maintenance of Parish Societies," American Ecclesiastical Review 14 (June 1896): 481–498.