in the Church of Rome
by Charles Chiniquy
For the Roman Catholic child, how beautiful and yet how sad is the day of his first communion! How many joys and anxieties by turn rise in his soul when for the first time he is about to eat what he has been taught to believe to be his God! How many efforts has he to make, in order to destroy the manifest teachings of his own rational faculties! I confess with deep regret that I had almost destroyed my reason, in order to prepare myself for my first communion. Yes, I was almost exhausted when the day came that I had to eat what the priest has assured us was the true body, the true blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. I was about to eat Him, not in a symbolical or commemorative, but in a literal way. I was to eat His flesh, His bones, His hands, His feet, His head, His whole body! I had to believe this or be cast for ever into hell, while, all the time, my eyes, my hands, my mouth, my tongue, my reason told me that what I was eating was only bread!
Has there ever been, or will there ever be, a priest or a layman to believe what the Church of Rome teaches on this dreadful mystery of the Real Presence? Shall I say that I believed in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the communion? I believed in it as all those who are good Roman Catholics believe. I believed as a perfect idiot or a corpse believes. Whatever is essential to a reasonable act of faith had been destroyed in me on that point, as it is destroyed in every priest and layman in the Church of Rome. My reason as well as my external senses had been, as much as possible, sacrificed at the feet of that terrible modern god, the Pope! I had been guilty of the incredibility foolish act, of which all good Roman Catholics are guilty I had said to my intellectual faculties, and to all my senses, "Hush, you are liars! I had believed to this day that you had been given to me by God in order to enable me to walk in the dark paths of life, but, behold! the holy Pope teaches me that you are only instruments of the devil to deceive me!"
What is a man who resigns his intellectual liberty, and who cares not to believe in the testimony of his senses? Is he not acting the part of one who has no gift or power of intelligence? A good Roman Catholic must reach that point! That was my own condition on the day of my first communion.
When Jesus said, "If I had not come and spoken unto them they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin....If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father" (John xv.22,24). He showed that the sin of the Jews consisted in not having believed in what their eyes had seen and their ears had heard. But behold, the Pope says to Roman Catholics that they must not believe in what their hands undoubtedly handle and their eyes most clearly see! The Pope sets aside the testimony most approved by Jesus. The very witnesses invoked by the Son of God are ignominiously turned out of court by the Pope as false witnesses!
As the moment of taking the communion drew near, two feelings were at war in my mind, each struggling for victory. I rejoiced in the thought that I would soon have full possession of Jesus Christ, but at the same time I was troubled and humbled by the absurdity which I had to believe before receiving that sacrament. Though scarcely twelve years old, I had sufficiently accustomed myself to reflect on the profound darkness which covered that dogma. I had been also greatly in the habit of trusting my eyes, and I thought that I could easily distinguish between a small piece of bread and a full-grown man!
Besides, I extremely abhorred the idea of eating human flesh and drinking human blood, even when they assured me that they were the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ Himself. But what troubled me most was the idea of that God, who was represented to me as being so great, so glorious, so holy, being eaten by me like a piece of common bread! Terrible then was the struggle in my young heart, were joy and dread, trust and fear, faith and unbelief by turns had the upper hand.
While that secret struggle, known only to God and to myself, was going on, I had often to wipe off the cold perspiration which came on my brow. With all the strength of my soul I prayed to God and the Holy Virgin to be merciful unto me, to help, and give me sufficient strength and light to pass over these hours of anguish.
The Church of Rome is evidently the most skillful human machine the world has ever seen. Those who guide her in the dark paths which she follows are often men of deep thought. They understand how difficult it would be to get calm, honest and thinking minds to receive that monstrous dogma of the real corporal presence of Jesus Christ in the communion. They well foresaw the struggle which would take place even in the minds of children at the supreme moment when they would have to sacrifice their reason on the altar of Rome. In order to prevent those struggles, always so dangerous to the Church, nothing has been neglected to distract the mind and draw the attention to other subjects than that of the communion itself.
First, at the request of the parish priest, helped by the vanity of the parents themselves, the children are dressed as elegantly as possible. They young communicant is clothed in every way best calculated to flatter his own vanity also. The church building is pompously decorated. The charms of choice vocal and instrumental music form a part of the fete. The most odorous incense burns around the altar and ascends in a sweetsmelling cloud towards heaven. The whole parish is invited, and people come from every direction to enjoy a most beautiful spectacle. Priests from the neighbouring churches are called, in order to add to the solemnity of the day. The officiating priest is dressed in the most costly attire. This is the day on which silver and gold altar cloths are displayed before the eyes of the wondering spectators. Often a lighted wax taper is placed in the hand of each young communicant, which itself would be sufficient to draw his whole attention; for a single false motion would be sufficient to set fire to the clothes of his neighbour, or his own, a misfortune which has happened more than once in my presence.
Now, in the midst of that new and wonderful spectacle of singing Latin Psalms, not a word of which he understands; in view of gold and silver ornaments, which glitter everywhere before his dazzled eyes; busy with the holding of the lighted taper, which keeps him constantly in fear of being burned alive can the young communicant think for a moment of what he is about to do?
Poor child! his mind, ears, eyes, nostrils are so much taken up with those new, striking and wonderful things that, while his imagination is wandering from one object to another, the moment of communion arrives, without leaving him time to think of what he is about to do! He opens his mouth, and the priest puts upon his tongue a flat thin cake of unleavened bread, which either firmly sticks to his palate or otherwise melts in his mouth, soon to go down into his stomach just like the food he takes three times a day!
The first feeling of the child, then, is that of surprise at the thought that the Creator of heaven and earth, the upholder of the universe, the Saviour of the world, could so easily pass down his throat!
Now, follow those children to their homes after that great and monstrous comedy. See their gait! Listen to their conversation and their bursts of laughter! Study their manners, their coming in, their going out, their glances of satisfaction on their fine clothes, and the vanity which they manifest in return for the congratulations they receive on their fine dresses. Notice the lightness of their actions and conversation immediately after their communion, and tell me if you find anything indicating that they believed in the terrible dogma they have been taught.
No, they have not believed in it, neither will they ever do so with the firmness of faith which is accomplished by intelligence. The poor child thinks he believes, and he sincerely tries to do so. He believes in it as much as it is possible to believe in a most monstrous and ridiculous story, opposed to the simplest notions of truth and common sense. He believes as Roman Catholics believe. He believes as an idiot believes!!
That first communion has made of him, for the rest of his life, a real machine in the hands of the Pope. It is the first but most powerful link of that long chain of slavery which the priest and the Church pass around his neck. The Pope holds the end of that chain, and with it he will make his victim go right or left at his pleasure, in the same way that we govern the lower animals. If those children have made a good first communion they will be submissive to the Pope, according to the energetic word of Loyola. They will be in the hands of the traveler they will have no will, no thought of their own!
And if God does not work a miracle to bring them out from that bondage which is a thousand times worse than the Egyptian, they will remain in that state during the rest of their lives.
My soul has known the weight of those chains. It has felt the ignominy of that slavery! But the great Conqueror of souls has cast down a merciful eye upon me. He has broken my chains, and with His holy Word He has made me free.
May His name be for ever blessed.
Continue to Chapter Nine
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