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NECESSITY OF PRAYER.
Tis of faith, (writes the pious author of "Anima Divota,") that man, without the grace of God, cannot do the least thing towards his eternal salvation. In the natural order, man can, by his natural faculties and powers, acquire a certain proficiency, and even arrive at some degree of perfection. But not so in the supernatural order; for every thing bearing reference to eternal life is above his natural power, and consequently requires the aid of divine grace. "Without me," says our blessed Lord, "you can do nothing." Let the action be ever so insignificant, says St. Augustine, it is impossible to perform it without the help of Him without whom nothing can be done.
Now, if it be certain that the help of divine grace is absolutely necessary to enable a man to perform any good work towards obtaining eternal life, it is equally certain that the ordinary means by which the grace of God is to be attained is that of prayer; for prayer is the key, as the holy fathers call it, of the divine treasures, and, generally speaking, God confers his supernatural blessings only on those who pray for them. The earth gives its fruits only when tilled and cultivated according to the appointment of Providence; and, that we may succeed in human arts and sciences, it is requisite to employ
such means as are ordained by God for the attainment of that end; and so, that we may obtain from Almighty God that aid and assistance which we stand in need of to secure our eternal salvation, we must have recourse to prayer, that means which he has appointed for us to obtain his supernatural blessings. "Ask," says your blessed Lord," and you shal' receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it sha' be opened unto you." He, therefore, says St. Teres "who does not ask shall not receive; he who d not seek shall not find; and to him who does. knock it shall not be opened." This saint compare the man who neglects the important duty of prayer to a paralytic, who has hands, but cannot use them, and feet, but cannot move them. So the person who neglects prayer is afflicted with a spiritual palsy; for, although he has a will and understanding, yet he cannot make use of them, nor guide them towards the attainment of eternal life.
The necessity of prayer is so great that nothing else can supply its omission. The want of actual baptism may be supplied by martyrdom, as it was in case of the holy innocents; the want of the sacrament of penance may be supplied by perfect contrition; those who are unable to fast may make up for this by almsdeeds; and those whose poverty prevents them from relieving the poor may supply this deficiency by bearing patiently the crosses and afflictions which God sends them; but the omission of prayer can be supplied by nothing else, because the person who neglects prayer thereby cuts away the channel of divine blessing; for prayer is, in the ordinary course of Providence, the means through which they are bestowed. "You have not," says St. James, "because you ask not." Hence the angelic doctor, St. Thomas, writes thus: " Every man is bound to pray, by the very reason of his being obliged to
procure for himself spiritual blessings, which can only be obtained from God by the means of prayer." This doctrine is confirmed by the teaching and practice of all the saints, who evince in the strongest terms their belief in the necessity of prayer. Some compare the man who neglects prayer to a tree without roots, which quickly withers and dies, and is only fit to be cast into the fire; others compare him to a fortress without walls, which is continually exposed to the attacks of the enemy. Some say that a man without prayer is like a fish out of water, that dies immediately; others say that he is like a body without a soul- a corpse, deprived of life and motion.
Since, then, prayer is absolutely necessary for the attainment of eternal life, apply yourself with all diligence, O Christian soul, to this holy exercise, and take all possible care to perform it with fervor and devotion. Whatever your condition may be, whether you are in honor or abjection, in abundance or poverty, "Let nothing hinder you from praying always; and be not afraid to be justified even to death."* "Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God concerning you." "Take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, by all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the Spirit." +
Eccles. xviii. 22.
+1 Thess. v. 17, 18.
Ephes. vi. 17, 18.
DECORUM IN CHURCH.
HEN you enter the church, go to your place as quietly as possible. Some people make a great deal of noise in getting to their seats. This is calculated to disturb the congregation, and is exceedingly unbecoming. The church is the temple of the living God, not merely because it is dedicated to his service, but because he dwells therein. The very walls of it are sanctified. It is at all times holy, and is therefore always to be entered with the respect due to the house of God. "The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him." Do not walk up the aisles with an air of pride, such as the people of the world may put on in a ballroom. You may be regarded by the world as rich, intelligent, and accomplished; in the church, you are a poor, blind, and sinful being, and should come in all humility to implore the grace and mercy of God.
It is still more necessary to observe these rules, if you enter the church after Mass has commenced. If you happen to enter during the elevation or communion, kneel by the door, and remain there during those more solemn parts of the Mass; you can afterwards retire quietly to your place.
You should assist with attention at the holy Sacrifice. When you are not reading your prayer-book, keep your eyes fixed on the altar on which that adorable Sacrifice is offered, and never gaze around in the church.
Do not leave the church until the priest is retiring from the altar to the sacristy. Those who are the last to come to it, and the first to rush out of the church, seldom derive any benefit from Mass, and often do not hear it properly. The practice of all pious Catholics is, to spend some time after Mass in thanksgiving.
Do not remain standing before the church, as if you had no other object in coming than to see and be seen. If you have time before Mass, say the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross; employ the time in spiritual reading, or in adoring Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Remember what those who have gone before you in the faith endured that they might be present at the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and reflect with what attention and piety they must have assisted at it. During the early persecutions, no churches could be built. The divine mysteries could not be celebrated anywhere in public. The faithful were compelled to go into subterranean vaults, called catacombs, where Mass was offered on the tombs of the martyrs. The candles we burn on our altars remind us of those days, and of the brightness of faith that made them days, not of mourning, but of joy.
To assist properly at Mass is one of the most important acts of the Christian life; and hence the Church declares it to be a mortal sin to neglect to hear Mass on Sundays or Holydays.