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In a modern culture that is adrift, it is good to be reminded of the True, the Good & the Beautiful. Each week it is my humble privilege to offer one selection from an indispensable Canon of essays, excerpts & speeches which will light a candle in the darkness. It is a Canon I have assembled over many years that I hope will challenge & inspire each reader. But most importantly, I hope it will remind us of what is True in an age of untruth. And if we know what is True, we are more apt to do what is Right.
Hilaire Belloc was annoyed. The path ahead to Rome was desperately long. His supply of bread and wine was diminishing. And the high French sun was oppressive. But these details weren’t irksome, because they were to be expected on a pilgrimage. What bothered Belloc was that upon arriving early one morning in a charming French village, he had missed Mass.
“This just annoyed me; for what is a pilgrimage in which a man cannot hear Mass every morning.”
And so, Belloc penned his thoughts about what Mass is and why a right-minded person shouldn’t miss it.
“Of all the things I have read about St Louis which make me wish I had known him to speak to, nothing seems to me more delightful than his habit of getting Mass daily whenever he marched down south, but why this should be so delightful I cannot tell. Of course there is a grace and influence belonging to such a custom, but it is not of that I am speaking but of the pleasing sensation of order and accomplishment which attaches to a day one has opened by Mass; a purely temporal, and, for all I know, what the monks back at the ironworks would have called a carnal feeling, but a source of continual comfort to me. Let them go their way and let me go mine.
This comfort I ascribe to four causes (just above you will find it written that I could not tell why this should be so, but what of that?), and these causes are:
- That for half-an-hour just at the opening of the day you are silent and recollected, and have to put off cares, interests, and passions in the repetition of a familiar action. This must certainly be a great benefit to the body and give it tone.
- That the Mass is a careful and rapid ritual. Now it is the function of all ritual (as we see in games, social arrangements and so forth) to relieve the mind by so much of responsibility and initiative and to catch you up (as it were) into itself, leading your life for you during the time it lasts. In this way you experience a singular repose, after which fallowness I am sure one is fitter for action and judgment.
- That the surroundings incline you to good and reasonable thoughts, and for the moment deaden the rasp and jar of that busy wickedness which both working in one’s self and received from others is the true source of all human miseries. Thus the time spent at Mass is like a short repose in a deep and well-built library, into which no sounds come and where you feel yourself secure against the outer world.
- And the most important cause of this feeling of satisfaction is that you are doing what the human race has done for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years. This is a matter of such moment that I am astonished people hear of it so little. Whatever is buried right into our blood from immemorial habit that we must be certain to do if we are to be fairly happy (of course no grown man or woman can really be very happy for long – but I mean reasonably happy), and, what is more important, decent and secure of our souls… For all these things man has done since God put him into a garden and his eyes first became troubled with a soul…”
To be silent and in a singular repose which, through God’s grace, deadens the rasp and jar of that busy wickedness and secures us against the outer world. That is the experience of the Mass.
Hilaire Belloc became annoyed when he missed Mass. He needed it… and he knew it.
To read Hilaire Belloc’s The Path to Rome in its entirety, click here.