« PreviousContinue »
978, and the day was appointed to be kept as a festival in 1245, by Pope Innocent the Fourth.
Mrs. Constance. The Benedictine Monks, or Black Friars, as they were sometimes called, from the colour of their garments, received their title from the saint who is next named in the calendar. What was there remarkable in his character, William?
William. St. Benedict was an Italian by birth, and was sent to Rome to finish his studies; but being disgusted^ with the licentiousness of the youth of that city, he retired to a mountain at about forty miles distance, where he lived for three years in a cave, and received his provisions through the friendship of a monk named Romanus, which were let down to him by a rope. After this severe course of secluded study, and at the age of only eighteen, his fame for wisdom and sanctity being established, he was appointed abbot to a neighbouring monastery; but it is said that he became disgusted with the manners of the monks, and again retired to his cave and his studies. On his next appearance in public, he, with the assistance of his friend Romanus, founded and completed twelve religious establishments; and in the year 529, he converted the inhabitants of Mount Cassino to Christianity, and instituted the order already mentioned, with such regulations and virtuous principles as caused it to be known and adopted over the greater part of Europe. Subsequently, however, his liberal regulations were perverted, and the Benedictines became as notorious for their ambition and avarice as they formerly had been for their habits of industry and general usefulness.
Mr. Constance. In the ninth century this order appears to have been at its height; and the members were so obnoxious and overbearing in their exactions, as to compel the higher clergy and nobles to unite with the crown in humbling the haughty monks, which was effected by the dismemberment of the original institution; when they, of course, became less formidable as a body. St. Benedict was a man of great ability, moderation, and prudence, whence he was named Benedict the Great. The manner of his death is not recorded, though it is stated to have occurred on the 21st of March, 542. Another St. Benedict, who was abbot of Were, in Durham, is sometimes confounded with Benedict the Great.
William. We now have to notice an important and very interesting festivity. Important, as connected with one of the principal, and almost one of the last of our blessed Saviour's actions, prior to his crucifixion; and interesting with regard to the manner in which each anniversary has been kept. It is called Palm Sunday ; and is the Sunday immediately preceding Paschal or Passion Week.
Arthur. What is the meaning of these words, William?
William. Paschal is derived from the Hebrew name of the Jewish Passover, and means transition, or passing from one place to another.
Maria. But why was that name applied to the week before Easter?
William. Because the crucifixion of our Lord took place on the day appointed by the Jews to be observed as the annual feast of the Passover. Its use is very ancient, having been adopted as far back as the third century after the death of Christ.
Arthur. But you have not told us why it is also called Passion Week.
Mr. Constance. The word passion does not here mean anger, or emotion of the mind, as it does in general, but it is used in the Latin sense of violent suffering therefore, it is in remembrance of Christ's suffering or passion, that the week was first called Passion Week.
AngelinA. It is also called Holy Week; of coarse, from the particular solemnity of the acts which took place in the course of it. And Palm Sunday, which is the first day of the week, and the last day of Lent, was instituted, no doubt, in honour of our Saviour's entrance into Jerusalem.
William. It was: and it is well known, that when our Saviour no longer designed to avoid the fury of the Jews, he proceeded to Jerusalem, " meek and lowly, riding upon the foal of an ass;" and that the people who accompanied him paid the same homage and adoration to him as they were in the habit of conferring on their greatest potentates, by strewing palm branches in his path, which branches were considered as emblems of victory. In commemoration of this great event, Christians have from the earliest period held this day in the highest respect, by decorating their places of worship with evergreens: the buds of the willow, (which is one of the earliest marks of vegetation shown by the trees of this climate,) are gathered and adopted for branches of palm. There are also appropriate services for the day.
Mr. Constance. In the Church of England daily devotions are performed throughout the week, when those portions of Scripture which relate to the tragical subject of our Saviour's sufferings, are read for the pious purpose of increasing our humiliation by the consideration of that of our Saviour.
Charles. But I suppose Passion Week used formerly to be kept with greater strictness than it is at present?
Mr. Constance. Oh yes: it used to be one long week of fasting and humiliation to those who could bear it, beginning on Monday morning, and not eating any tiling again until cock-crowing on the Sunday following; while others fasted, some three, and others four days in the week. It is also recorded, that some of the Christian emperors, to show the veneration they had for this holy season, caused all lawsuits to cease, tribunals to be shut, and prisoners to be set free.
Mr. Stanley. I have hitherto paid but silent attention to your pleasing and instructive discussions; but as it is known to most of this young circle that I have passed a great portion of my time in foreign countries, in some of which the Greek, in others the Catholic church, forms the establishment, it may be expected that I should add my mite to the common stock of entertainment, by detailing to you those ceremonies connected with this important season, of which I have been an eye-witness.
Angelina. We feel extremely obliged by your condescension, Sir; for although our cousin William would readily have imparted to us that information which he has gleaned from various travellers in those countries, yet the account will be doubly interesting from one who has been himself a spectator of the different solemnities.
Mr. Stanley. Nothing in this country can compare with the festivities of the Greek church at Moscow during Easter; and although grand mass is performed here in the Catholic chapels, and more than usual parade observed, yet processions and other superstitious customs have been abolished in England as far back as the reign of Edward the Fourth. However, this is not the case with the Greek church; and the people of the city of Moscow celebrate tliis day, and the whole of Easter, with a degree of pomp and festivity unknown to the rest of Europe. Even Venice, in the midst of her Carnival, never rivalled in superstition, licentiousness, and parade, that which is displayed by the Russians during this season. No people observe Lent with more scrupulous rigour than they do. While it lasts nothing will induce them even to taste of animal food; but in proportion as this rigour has been observed, so much more excessive appear to be the gluttony and licentiousness in which they indulge when released from it. The first ceremony after Lent is on Palm Sunday; and as 1 had understood that on that day there would be something to see which would interest a stranger, I, in company with a frieud, proceeded towards the Kremlin, when we were surprised to find that the whole population of Moscow appeared to be making for the same spot: some in carriages, with most superb equipages, others on horseback, and pedestrians without number. The streets were lined with cavalry to preserve order, and clear the way for the grand procession of the governor, attended by the Maitre de Police, the commandant, and a train of nobility, mounted on fine horses richly caparisoned. When we arrived at the Kremlin, we found that this procession of nobility, and the immense concourse of spectators, had resorted there for the purchase of palm branches, and bouquets of various devices. Each person possessed something in the way of artificial fruit or flowers; and the number of boughs waving in the air, formed the novel and striking spectacle of a gay and moving forest. On our return, we found that the inhabitants had procured these palm branches for the purpose of decorating their boghs or sacred pictures. This is the first, or introductory festival to the series of rejoicings during Easter.
Maria. After which, I observe Lady-day noted in the calendar, and should be glad to understand from what ceremony it received its name.
William. Lady, or Annunciation Day, as it is more properly named, is a festival of great antiquity, having been instituted in the year 350. The annunciation of the glad tidings of the miraculous incarnation of our Lord, upon which rests the very basis of the Christian faith, naturally claimed the most ardent attention of the primi