From a reader:
Good morning, Father. Reading your comments on the importance of revitalizing the liturgy put me in mind of the comments of John Adams, who later became the second president of the United States. Adams was rather a Puritan, I’m afraid, and did not at all like the Catholic Church. However, in a letter to his wife Abigail, he describes a visit to a “Romish Chapel” in the company of George Washington. The question that he asks in the last paragraph is astounding. Like him, I also wonder how “Luther ever broke the spell.” Part of the answer, perhaps, is that the liturgy had deteriorated in Luther’s day, like it has for us. Note that I came across this passage in the great biography of John Adams written by David McCullough. Sorry I don’t have the exact citation.
The letter, which I have read before, is online. Here is the quote from John Adams:
Phyladelphia Octr. 9, 1774
This afternoon, led by Curiosity and good Company I strolled away to Mother Church, or rather Grandmother Church, I mean the Romish Chapel. Heard a good, short, moral Essay upon the Duty of Parents to their Children, founded in justice and Charity, to take care of their Interests temporal and spiritual.
This afternoon’s entertainment was to me most awful and affecting. The poor wretches fingering their beads, chanting Latin, not a word of which they understood, their Pater Nosters and Ave Marias. Their holy water – their crossing themselves perpetually – their bowing to the name of Jesus wherever they hear it – their bowings, and kneelings, and genuflections before the altar. The dress of the priest was rich with lace– his pulpit was velvet and gold. The altar piece was very rich – little images and crucifixes about – wax candles lighted up. But how shall I describe the picture of our Saviour in a frame of marble over the altar, at full length, upon the cross in the agonies, and the blood dropping and streaming from his wounds.
The music consisting of an organ, and a Choir of singers, went all the afternoon, excepting sermon Time, and the Assembly chanted– most sweetly and exquisitely.
Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination. Everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and the ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.