Father Faber, an Outstanding 19th Century Priest, Poet, Author and Theologian with a Special Devotion to Our Lady

A Meditation by Fr. Frederick W. Faber *

“His Likeness to His Mother Was One of His Eternal Joys”

“He chose his Mother … When we reflect upon the joy which it is to ourselves to think of Mary, to brood upon her supernatural loveliness, and to study the greatness of her gifts and the surpassing purity of her virtues, we shall get such faint idea, as lies within our compass, of the unspeakable gladness which it must have been to the Word to have chosen Mary, and to have created her through that very choice.

He must choose a Mother who shall be worthy of being the Mother of God, a Mother suitable to that tremendous mystery of the Hypostatic Union, a Mother fitted to minister that marvelous Body out of her own heart’s blood, and to be herself for months the tabernacle of that most heavenly Soul. All God’s works are in proportion. When he appoints to an office, his appointment is marked by extreme fitness. He ele­vates nature to the level of his own purposes. He enables it to compass the most supernatural destinies by fulfilling it with the most incredible graces. There was no accident about his choice of Mary.

She was not merely the holiest of living women on earth at the time when he resolved to come. She was not a mere tool, an instrument for the passing necessity of the hour, to be used, and flung aside, and lie indistinguishable in the crowd, when her use was gone. This is not God’s way. He does not deal thus with the least of his elect. His whole revelation of himself renders such a supposition as impossible as it would be profane. There is nothing accidental or of mere ornament in the works of the Most High. His operations have no excrescences, no extrinsic appendages. God does not use his creatures. They enter into his purposes and are an integral part of them; and every part of a divine work is one of that work’s perfections. This is a characteristic of divine working, that everything about it is a special perfection.

Mary thus lies high up in the very fountainhead of creation. She was the choice of God himself, and he chose her to be his Mother. She was the gate by which the Creator entered into his own creation. She ministered to him in a way and for an end unlike those of any other creature whatsoever. What then must have been her beauty, what her holiness, what her privileges, what her exaltation! To depreciate them is to depreciate the wisdom and the goodness of God!

When we have said that Mary was the Word’s eternal choice, we have said that which already involves all the doctrine of the Church about her, and all the homage of Christians to her. When we consider the Word’s desire to assume a created nature, when we ponder his choice of a human nature, when we reflect on his further choice of his Soul and Body, and add to all these con­siderations the remembrance of his immense love, we can see how his goodness would exult in the choice of his Mother, whom to love exceedingly was to become one of his chief graces, one of the greatest of all his human perfections. All possible creatures were before him, out of which to choose the creature that was to come nearest him, the creature that was to love him, and to have a natural right to love him, best of all, and the creature to whom duty as well as preference was to bind him to love with the in­tensest love. Then, out of all he chose Mary.

What more can be said? She fulfilled his idea, or rather she did not so much suit his idea, but she was herself the idea, and his idea of her was the cause of her creation. The whole theology of Mary lies in this eternal and efficacious choice of her in the Bosom of the Father.”

*****

  • *Father Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), a convert to the Catholic Church in 1845 and ordination to the priesthood in 1847, became one of the most eminent Catholic priests in Northern Europe and his spiritual influence achieved through his hymns, poetry, devotional and theological books was profound. They were intended for his ‘invalid souls’ of the middle class and ‘poor Belgravians’. While his beautiful hymns have been adopted by many denominations and are sung all over the English-speaking world.

More than any other figure, Fr Faber defined the tone and learning of mid-Victorian ultramontane Catholicism. His legacy is the Brompton Oratory (London) with its continuing fusion – in music, learning, art, and architecture – of the Catholic faith and spirit of the papal Rome of the high Baroque, and of its genius, St Philip Neri. Unswerving loyalty to the Holy See was his watchword and devotion to the Mother of God was for him the safeguard of faith and source and support of true piety.

Fr Faber’s promotion of devotions to Our Lady, the saints, and the Blessed Sacrament, more common under skies of Mediterranean blue, brought them within the general orbit of Catholic worship in these British Isles and for him also represented a return to the fervour of his early evangelicalism, as did his popular vernacular hymns, which transformed Catholic worship. For many years after his death Fr Faber was a household word for many English-speaking Catholics. He is well known for hymns such as ‘Faith of Our Fathers’**, ‘There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy’, ‘Hark, Hark my Soul’ and ‘Jesus Gentlest Saviour’ among others. They represent the best of Victorian Catholic piety in their power to strengthen, to console, to warm and to delight. Their stress lies on what he called the ‘wideness of God’s mercy’, and in their teaching on purificatory suffering they widened the bounds of purgatory. He was known as well for his devotional works which encouraged Marian piety and frequent reception of the sacraments. Fr Faber’s most notable work, All for Jesus, published in 1853, was translated into several languages and sold widely throughout Europe. 

Fr Faber died at the age of 49 after a long and painful illness. His death was met by an outpouring of grief that affected the greater part of London and extended to distant parts of the country. His funeral in the newly-built Oratory Church attracted a great crowd of rich and poor of whom the second were in the ascendant; the poor loved him and he loved them. Among the clergy in attendance was another renowned convert, Cardinal (now saint) John Henry Newman.

** This hymn recalls the suffering, torture and death of thousands of Catholics in Great Britain and Ireland during the harsh centuries of Penal Times when Catholicism was outlawed from our lands.

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2 Responses to Father Faber, an Outstanding 19th Century Priest, Poet, Author and Theologian with a Special Devotion to Our Lady

  1. Pingback: Father Faber, an Outstanding 19th Century Priest, Poet, Author and Theologian with a Special Devotion to Our Lady — Catholicism Pure & Simple | Solutio Problematis Omnes (aka "The Catholic Linker")

  2. Nelson says:

    Reblogged this on Nelson MCBS.

    Liked by 1 person

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