Skip to main content.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Being Easter Sunday, this excerpt from a letter written by Benjamin F. De Costa, an Episcopalian Priest who served as Chaplain of the 18th Massachusetts from January 1862 to July 1862, is being offered for perusal. There’s an irony to De Costa’s judgments of and biases against Catholicism as he converted to that faith very late in life, disillusioned by the Episcopal Church he served for close to forty years. The 18th Massachusetts Infantry, as part of the Army of Potomac, was encamped near Yorktown, Virginia.


Porter’s Division, Camp Winfield Scott, Va.
Easter Monday, [April 21] 1862


About the middle of the forenoon my Regiment [18th Massachusetts] came in from twenty-four hours’ picket duty, the men being wet, and weary, and more or less drowsy after the fatigues of the night-watch. It was therefore deemed impolitic to attempt any religious services under these circumstances, and many of us who had been looking forward to this day with great interest were somewhat disappointed. But our Roman Catholic neighbors in the Ninth Massachusetts Regiment, happening to be off duty, celebrated the day notwithstanding the condition of the weather. At eight o’clock in the morning Mass was said by their Chaplain, who afterwards delivered a discourse, founded on a text taken from the Gospel for the day. A rude box, open at the side and top, and elevated upon a stout stake, served as an altar. Over this was stretched a small awning, which afforded shelter for the Priest and his choir. In front was planted a rude cross nearly twenty feet high, fashioned from an unhewn pine. A large open space of ground was carpeted with green boughs, and here in the drizzling rain of a cold north-east storm, the congregations stood or knelt for about two hours. The prayers said in an unknown tongue, a custom “plainly repugnant to the word of God,” and evidently “not understood by the people” occupied about an hour, after which the Priest read the Gospel for the day, and it was encouraging to witness the eagerness with which these devout sons of the Emerald Isle pressed forward to catch every syllable of this portion of the Scripture. The polished Latin, chanted by the Priest, though abounding in pure sentiments and lofty Christian faith, had proved but a feast of dry bones, while the heaven-descended words of the lesson fell upon their hearts like drops of rain upon the parched earth. I saw in this eager pledge of resurrection yet to come when the Romish Church emancipated from the thralldom of superstition, shall rise from the death of sin, arranged in the glorious robes of the Redeemer’s righteousness, and go forth through all the world on missions of salvation and peace.

Comments

Thank you so much for the post and the citation. It's helped a lot.

Posted by Dr. Davis at Friday, October 02, 2009 22:45:55

Add Comment