The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39
Letter No. V
Letter No. V.
It is one of the lamentable symptoms of this age, my Orthodox brethren, that the good old features of our Faith are dying out, and many of them have already disappeared, and are no longer practised, thought of, or cared for. That glorious ceremony, the Feast of Asses, for instance, has fallen altogether into disuse, and thus the Church has been deprived of one of its principal adornments.
This age is so forgetful of the sacred and divine, that it is quite possible there may be many among even my brother clergymen who have not heard of the "Feast of the Ass," which was at one time such a sacred ceremony and revered custom in several of the churches of France. For the purpose of giving them instruction, therefore, as to its nature and object, and for the purpose of showing how much of the spirit of sanctity and veneration we have lost by the abolition of this ceremony, I will give you the account of it very nearly in the words of Robertson, the historian, in his great work on Chas. V.
The "Feast of the Ass" was held in commemoration of the Virgin Mary's flight into Egypt. A beautiful young woman, in rich attire, with a child in her arms, was sat upon an Ass superbly caparisoned. With all page 21 due solemnity the Ass was slowly led in a priestly procession to the Altar. High mass was then performed, and the Ass, throughout the pomp and ritual of this performance, knelt (being trained) at the proper places. A hymn was then sung in praise of this animal which discoursed so sensibly to Balaam. At the conclusion, the priest, instead of dismissing his congregation with the usual words, "brayed three times like an Ass," and the people, instead of their usual response of "We bless the Lord," "brayed three times in the same manner." Robertson, after giving his authorities for this says, "This ridiculous ceremony was not, like the Festival of Fools, and some other pageants of this age, a mere farsical entertainment exhibited in the Church and mingled, as was then the custom, with an imitation of some religious rites; it was an act of devotion performed by the ministers of religion and by the authorities of the Church."
The only point upon which Robertson and I disagree, is in the kind of ceremony. He says, "This ridiculous ceremony;" I say this, "This religious and therefore sublime ceremony." It is evident to every man of sense that whatsoever is religious is proper; whatsoever is instituted by the Church, and by our religious "pastors and masters," is really venerable and sublime. If this ceremony had not been divine, I admit it would have been ridiculous, (as indeed would be quite a number of others which are still retained in the Church) but being religious it cannot possibly be so.
Perhaps I may qualify this a little lest I be misunderstood. There are faiths, customs, and practices in the false religions which certainly are ridiculous, and which page 22 are fit for nothing else but to be laughed at. That Mahomet should have journeyed from Mecca to Jerusalem on the mare Borak, and from thence to heaven, then back again to Jerusalem, and from there safely be conveyed on the mare to Mecca again; and all this in the tenth part of a night, is positively absurd.
That the walls of Thebes should construct themselves to the playing of a lute is also absurd. That Esculapius should raise Hippolytus from the dead; that Appolonius of Tyanna should have worked miracles, after the manner of Jesus, or that Christna should have been a prototype of Christ, is too ridiculous to deserve discussion. These things are not found in the Bible, hence their manifest absurdity. Had they been found therein, or had they been sanctioned by the Church, I frankly admit, that had they been a thousand times more absurd I should have held them as sublime and venerable. Had the story of "Sinbad the Sailor" been substituted in the stead of the Book of Jonah, it would be my duty to believe the story true and divine, and I should have done so. This is the beauty of Faith. Let us cherish this disposition to accept and revere the traditions, books, and doctrines of our Church with humble resignation, and as soon as possible let us restore "The Feast of the Ass." The cost of the importation of the Asses need not be considered. Several congregations already subscribe towards keeping several.—I remain, yours, etc.