Catholic CornucopiadCheney

The Scheme of the Book

Catholic Customs and Symbols

“Far through the memory shines a happy day” spent by the author at Amiens. While the city has of course several points of outstanding attractiveness, he nevertheless gave his attention solely to the Cathedral, doubtless glimpsing, by some subtle instinct, the thought so delightfully expressed by Richard Grant White when, having led his reader- tourists through England and France and Switzerland and elsewhere, he brings them to the frontier of Italy and then asks them to consider every moment as lost which they had hitherto spent in their voyaging. Assuredly, the remark does not apply to the great Cathedrals of France. One might, for instance, declare every moment lost which delayed a visit to Chartres or Amiens.

At all events, the author saw nothing in Amiens but its Cathedral—that wonderful “Bible of Amiens,” as Ruskin styles it. The author accordingly gazed long at the sculptured page of the exterior, and later entered and heard the Canons chanting the Divine Office. He doubtless missed many things that deserved close attention, but withal carried away with him some things that made a lasting impression on mind and heart. He could wish that experience to symbolize the attitude of his readers towards the contents of this book. They will miss much that ought to be told, but may find pleasure in some of the matters discussed.

Whatever be their normal humor, let my readers wear for the nonce the glasses of joyousness and optimism—for, the customs and symbols of Catholic piety bespeak the joy of their Christian hope—and let them feel, with James Russell Lowell, that they have set aside for themselves a day

Cloudless of care, down-shod to every sense,
And simply perfect from its own resource,
As to a bee the new campanula’s
Illuminate seclusion swung in air.

Lowell had thought to call his most ambitious poem A Day at Chartres, but as it dealt wholly with the Cathedral there, he changed the title simply to The Cathedral.

There is a suggestion of symbolic treatment in the idea of a cathedral as expressed so beautifully by Bishop Shahan in his work on The Middle Ages: “The cathedral was the workshop of the Church during the Middle Ages. It was vast because she had the whole city to train up. It was open on all sides because she was the common mother of civil society. It was high because she aimed at uplifting both mind and heart, and making for them a level just below the angelical and celestial. It was manifold in its members and elements, for she permeated all society and challenged every activity and every interest. It was all light-some and soaring because it was the spiritual mountain top whence the soul could take its flight to the unseen world of light and joy. It was long drawn out because the long journey of life ends happily only for those who rest in Jesus. It lay everywhere cruciform on the earth, for the shadow of the cross falls henceforth over all humanity, blessing, enfolding, saving.”

The Catholic customs and symbols of society, both ecclesiastical and civil, are thus fairly symbolized by a cathedral; and readers may accordingly pardon the “conceit,” as the minor poets of the Elizabethan age might call it, by which the author undertakes to view his scope —so wide and varied and not a little complicated as it necessarily is—under the symbolism of a cathedral. The “Façade” will therefore discuss, as Ruskin did with the façade of Amiens Cathedral, the subject of symbolism, with some examples added. Through the Church Door we shall enter into the Interior, glance at the symbolism of its structure, of the vestments therein used and of their colors, of the Solemn Mass with its picturesque ceremonial (touching here, however, only on “the high points,” since the subject is so large), and finally shall enter into the Lady Chapel, as it were, in order to group under that title the chapters dealing with such a varied series of pieties as ordinarily belong to the services of the chapel rather than to the solemn suggestiveness of the nave.