Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That little Redemptorist Mission band

One of the focuses of the Novitiate (apart from the big one -- Discernment) is learning about the Society's history. This week, we're meeting with Paulist historian Fr. Paul Robichaud CSP, who's been delving into the early history of the original Paulists. Yesterday we looked at the Redemptorist mission band that traveled around the United States for several years in the late 1840s and early 1850s, preaching missions (the charism that lead St. Alfonsus Liguori to form the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer), i.e. "Catholic revivals," in the years leading up to the events of 1857-1858, which lead to the separation of this band from the Redemptorists, the emergence of Fr. Hecker as their leader, and the formation of the Paulists.

The five members of this band were all English-speaking converts to the faith. The leader was Clarence Walworth, considered to be one of the most eloquent preachers of the 19th century. Along with him where George Deshon, Isaac Hecker, Augustine Hewitt, and towards the very end, Francis Baker.

The whole phenomenon of the mission is rather fascinating -- social gathering, entertainment, an altar call, spiritual medicine and enthusiasm, all rolled into one. The Redeptorists liked to give a 14 day mission, 7 at the very minimum, running Sunday to Sunday, or Friday to the following Sunday, or Sunday to the following Wednesday.

There would be morning instruction and evening talks and sermons, with the goal being repentance, and, starting on Day 4 (before which a sermon on heaven and hell and judgment would be preached), confessions, leading at the end of the mission, to a renewal of baptismal vows and to the reception of Holy Communion by all those who participated. The central goal was to revitalize and animate the flagging faith of ordinary Catholics.

I spent a few hours in the archives yesterday going through the papers of Fr. Walworth. I transcribed a few sermons, one from his Albany days on the Excellence of the Priesthood (he left the Paulists after they were founded, and became a Diocesan priest. He returned two years later, and then left again. It's a rather crazy story.), and a couple from his mission diary from the early 1850s.

Here's a schema, or outline of what the topics in a typical mission would be (transcribed from the cover of his mission diary, pictured above):

  1. Opening. The Word of God
  2. Salvation – something to be won, not had by nature(adv. Pelg. – out of Church – not of all good people)
  3. Mortal Sin Explained
  4. Necessity of Penance and particularly Satisfaction
  5. Death; adv. Spiritualists and Prots.
  6. Judgment adv. Doctrine of faith without works.
  7. Hell, Existence & Eternity
  8. Mercy of God, adv. Predestination
  9. Sacramental Grace [S. Catherine of Siena. Lives of early Martyrs] adv. Prots & Negligient Catholics.
  10. B.V. Mary
  11. Unity of the Church. Moral; charity
  12. Apostolicity; Moral; Faith
  13. Sanctity of the Church = Sanctity of Life
  14. Catholicity: charity of zeal
  15. Means of perseverance.
The contents? Hellfire & Brimstone, baby! Rousing stuff! Towards the end of my time yesterday I came across two sermons on hell which argued that (contra John Calvin) hell is indeed a real, material place within the bounds of space & time. Fr. Walworth suggested that it might actually be under the earth, and (I was skimming through this part so this might not be very accurate) that volcanoes are proof of this theory! I'll have to find time to transcribe this one!

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