Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 15

There were Tenebrae on the following days, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and Lothair was present on both occasions.

“There is also a great office on Friday,” said Father Coleman to Lothair, “which perhaps you would not like to attend — the mass of the presanctified. We bring back the blessed sacrament to the desolate altar, and unveil the cross. It is one of our highest ceremonies, the adoration of the cross, which the Protestants persist in calling idolatry, though I presume they will give us leave to know the meaning of our own words and actions, and hope they will believe us when we tell them that our genuflexions and kissing of the cross are no more than exterior expressions of that love which we bear in our hearts to Jesus crucified; and that the words adoration and adore, as applied to the cross, only signify that respect and veneration due to things immediately relating to God and His service.”

“I see no idolatry in it,” said Lothair, musingly.

“No impartial person could,” rejoined Father Coleman; “but unfortunately all these prejudices were imbibed when the world was not so well informed as at present. A good deal of mischief has been done, too, by the Protestant versions of the Holy Scriptures; made in a hurry, and by men imperfectly acquainted with the Eastern tongues, and quite ignorant of Eastern manners. All the accumulated research and investigation of modern times have only illustrated and justified the offices of the Church.”

“That is very interesting,” said Lothair.

“Now, this question of idolatry,” said Father Coleman, “that is a fertile subject of misconception. The house of Israel was raised up to destroy idolatry because idolatry thou meant dark images of Moloch opening their arms by machinery, and flinging the beauteous first-born of the land into their huge forms, which were furnaces of fire; or Ashtaroth, throned in moonlit groves, and surrounded by orgies of ineffable demoralization. It required the declared will of God to redeem man from such fatal iniquity, which would have sapped the human race. But to confound such deeds with the commemoration of God’s saints, who are only pictured because their lives are perpetual incentives to purity and holiness, and to declare that the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God should be to human feeling only as a sister of charity or a gleaner in the fields, is to abuse reason and to outrage the heart.”

“We live in dark times,” said Lothair, with an air of distress.

“Not darker than before the deluge,” exclaimed Father Coleman; “not darker than before the nativity; not darker even than when the saints became martyrs. There is a Pharos in the world, and, its light will never be extinguished, however black the clouds and wild the waves. Man is on his trial now, not the Church; but in the service of the Church his highest energies may be developed, and his noblest qualities proved.”

Lothair seemed plunged in thought, and Father Coleman glided away as Lady St. Jerome entered the gallery, shawled and bonneted, accompanied by another priest, Monsignore Catesby.

Catesby was a youthful member of an ancient English house, which for many generations had without a murmur, rather in a spirit of triumph, made every worldly sacrifice for the Church and court of Rome. For that cause they had forfeited their lives, broad estates, and all the honors of a lofty station in their own land. Reginald Catesby, with considerable abilities, trained with consummate skill, inherited their determined will, and the traditionary beauty of their form and countenance. His manners were winning, and, he was as well informed in the ways of the world as he was in the works of the great casuists.

“My lord has ordered the charbanc, and is going to drive us all to Chart, where we will lunch,” said Lady St. Jerome; “’tis a curious place, and was planted, only seventy years ago, by my lord’s grandfather, entirely with spruce-firs, but with so much care and skill, giving each plant and tree ample distance, that they have risen to the noblest proportions, with all their green branches far-spreading on the ground like huge fans.”

It was only a drive of three or four miles entirely in the park. This was a district that had been added to the ancient enclosure — a striking scene. It was a forest of firs, but quite unlike such as might be met with in the north of Europe or of America. Every tree was perfect — huge and complete, and full of massy grace. Nothing else was permitted to grow there except juniper, of which there were abounding and wondrous groups, green and spiral; the whole contrasting with the tall brown fern, of which there were quantities about, cut for the deer.

The turf was dry and mossy, and the air pleasant. It was a balmy day. They sat down by the great trees, the servants opened the luncheon-baskets, which were a present from Balmoral. Lady St. Jerome was seldom seen to greater advantage than distributing her viands under such circumstances. Never was such gay and graceful hospitality. Lothair was quite fascinated as she playfully thrust a paper of lobster-sandwiches into his hand, and enjoined Monsignore Catesby to fill his tumbler with Chablis.

“I wish Father Coleman were here,” said Lothair to Miss Arundel.

“Why?” said Miss Arundel.

“Because we were in the midst of a very interesting conversation on idolatry and on worship in groves, when Lady St. Jerome summoned us to our drive. This seems a grove where one might worship.”

“Father Coleman ought to be at Rome,” said Miss Arundel. “He was to have passed Holy Week there. I know not why he changed his plans.”

“Are you angry with him for it?”

“No, not angry, but surprised; surprised that any one might be at Rome, and yet be absent from it.”

“You like Rome?”

“I have never been there. It is the wish of my life.”

“May I say to you what you said to me just now — why?”

“Naturally, because I would wish to witness the ceremonies of the Church in their most perfect form.”

“But they are fulfilled in this country, I have heard, with much splendor and precision.”

Miss Arundel shook her head.

“Oh! no,” she said; “in this country we are only just emerging from the catacombs. If the ceremonies of the Church were adequately fulfilled in England, we should hear very little of English infidelity.”

“That is saying a great deal,” observed Lothair, inquiringly.

“Had I that command of wealth of which we hear so much in the present day, and with which the possessors seem to know so little what to do, I would purchase some of those squalid streets in Westminster, which are the shame of the metropolis, and clear a great space and build a real cathedral, where the worship of heaven should be perpetually conducted in the full spirit of the ordinances of the Church. I believe, were this done, even this country might be saved.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19