Part 1: See America First; Chapter 14
“I’ve often wondered,” said Fr. Maduro, as the Swerve threaded its way among the Wisconsin hills, “just why St. Christopher was chosen as the patron and protector of automobilists. He has been, for centuries, invoked by people who crossed streams on ferry boats, and that seems most appropriate, since his legend represents him as carrying the Christ Child across a flooded river on his gigantic shoulders.
But why for motor cars? St. Elias is appropriate for aeroplanes, for obvious reasons, and besides, the Church has put her quasi-approval on that invocation, although the new Rituale and approved as long ago as 1920, mention the Blessed Virgin as the special Patroness of those who navigate the air, and the Holy Angels as Guardians. St. Philip, the Deacon, is mentioned in the form for blessing a carriage (which still serves for automobiles as well). The devotion to St. Christopher as patron of motorists started in France, but can you tell me why?
“Possibly because of the old belief that those who looked upon the face of the Giant-Saint would not, that day, be struck down by sudden death,” replied the Liturgiologist. “The older St. Christopher medals, which, as you say, were all of French manufacture, had words to the effect that the motorist was to ‘look upon St. Christopher, and go his way in safety.’” In default of a better devotion, why question this one, though it has no sort of sanction from the Church aside from the fact that bishops and priests quite cheerfully bless such pious objects.”
“No one would accuse me,” replied Fr. Maduro, “of trying to start anything new, least of all a new Devotion! But why not invoke St. Peregrinus!”
“Bless my soul!” cried the Liturgiologist, swerving the Swerve dangerously towards the ditch in his excitement, “I didn’t so much as know that there was a St. Peregrinus!”
“The Antiquary could have told you that there are six of them in the Martyrology, besides two or three others who have that name as a sort of patronymic or title. An Italian saint by that name is venerated on May 1st. May 5th and 16th also display the name. June has two, one on the 13th, the other on the 17th. July 28th has one, and August 1st and 25th round out a titular list which pretty well covers the tourist season!”
“You’ve evidently been conning The Book of Saints by the Ramsgate Benedictines,” laughed the Liturgiologist. “But have any of these Blessed Ones any connection with travel, especially vehicular?”
“No more than St. Christopher has,” Fr. Maduro was forced to admit. “It’s all in the name! However, they all traveled successfully the ways of the world to the heavenly country, and doubtless are powerful to help us who are still on pilgrimage.”
“This whole matter of periapts and medals sometimes troubles me,” said the Liturgiologist, in a more serious tone. “Not that I would accuse our good people of superstition, or rob any saint of the honor due to him for any intervention in behalf of his clients in moments of physical or spiritual danger. But I have known of cases—supposedly good Catholic people, who wouldn’t think of starting off on a Sunday’s motoring without a St. Christopher medal on their car, who yet missed Mass to get an early start, and never bothered a priest to bless the medal about which they are so particular. It seems to me we might do very well to explain these matters to our people occasionally, and also have a little function of blessing medals and the like, after Mass, once in a while.”
“Surely the people can come to the priest’s house and have their ‘religious articles’ blessed,” rejoined Fr. Maduro, scenting the possibility of a discussion.
“They could, surely, but they don’t,” answered the Liturgiologist. “We blame them sometimes, for not having religious articles in their houses, medals and beads in their pockets, and the like; yet we make it unnecessarily difficult for them to get them blessed. I venture to say that if you would announce a general blessing of religious articles for next Sunday after each Mass, you’d have plenty of them there, in the pews, to be held up for sacring.”
“Well, it wouldn’t take long,” growled Fr. Maduro. “With our present faculties we can give the Apostolic Indulgence with one Sign of the Cross, and three Indulgences to beads with as many signs saying nothing.”
“The psychological effect of making a little more fuss about it might not be bad for the people,” said the Liturgiologist. “Not that I mean to criticize the Faculties. But if we made a bit more of such blessings, the people might value them more, and seek them oftener. After all, those Faculties are concessions, conveniences, and we still have the Blessings in the Rituale, which, brief as most of them are, impress the people with the value of Sacramentals.”
“The point is not badly taken,” conceded Fr. Maduro. “And I’m glad you’ve mentioned that word ‘Sacramentals.’ I sometimes fear that there are people, even in this enlightened age, who attach a greater value to medals and the like than is warranted by the teaching of the Church.”
“But,” protested the Liturgiologist, “we don’t stress the teaching of the Church on this matter. Of course, the kids learn in Catechism about Sacramentals, but later they may forget, and we’ve all of us seen adult Catholics who attached as much importance (if not more) to Sacramentals as to Sacraments. And I fancy the spiritual value of Sacramentals might be enhanced if we explained their efficacy more clearly and more often.”
“Where can I buy a medallion of St. Peregrinus?” asked Fr. Maduro, as the Swerve glided onto the pavement at the end of a bad stretch of road.
“Not at the shops, I’ll warrant you,” grinned the Liturgiologist. “But I saw an ad in a very high-class (and high-priced) magazine the other day, while waiting my turn in a doctor’s office, which showed lovely figurines for radiator caps, modeled to order, from $18 up. If you want to have a St. Peregrinus made by that firm, I’ll accept it with pleasure, bless it with the formula in the Rituale, and clamp it onto the motometer!”
“Steady, Pere,” said Fr. Maduro dryly, “but I’ll have your St. Christopher medal gold plated if you’ll let me.”
“Cum omne dilectatione in mundo,” said the Liturgiologist.
1 The Roman Martyrology can be obtained from Angelus Press.
3 A device worn as a charm.
4 Named after a German company that made vehicle dashboard display instruments, such as speedometers.
5 Latin for “with all the love in the world”.