Advice from 1801 on Priestless Life in France


Catholics Without a Priest

God’s Providence Will Provide


Fr. Demaris
Professor of Theology
Missionary of St. Joseph, at Lyon, France

Priest Fading Away

Editor’s Preface

During the French Revolution very many Bishops and priests were martyred for their faith as were many outstanding laymen also martyred. Church property was seized by the Masonic government. That left the people without their priests and without a place to go to Mass and receive the sacraments. It was during that period that a Father Demaris wrote the following letter to the concerned Catholics of his day. At the present time (the year 2004), the Church is in a situation which is EXACTLY parallel to the time of Fr. Demaris. If he were writing this letter today, he would in all probability write exactly the same words. Hence, Fr. Demaris’ letter is given below in its entirety. Read it with an eye to history and an eye to the present. May it bring you courage and consolation.

Letter from Fr. Demaris to Catholics
Who Have Been Deprived of a Priest

Dear Children,

1. In the midst of human vicissitudes and the havoc of shock to the feeling, you voice your fears to your Father and ask for a rule of conduct. I’m going to show you and try to instill into your souls the consolation you need.

2. Jesus Christ, the Model of Christians, teaches us by his conduct, what we must do in the painful situation in which we find ourselves, and St. Luke tells us (Chapter 13:31) that some Pharisees, coming to Our Lord, said “Go away from here, Herod wants to have you put to death.” He answered, ‘Go tell that fox that I have yet to chase out demons and give health to the sick, today and tomorrow and the third day my life shall be finished. Anyway, I must carry on today and tomorrow and the next day and a prophet must die only at Jerusalem.”

3. You are frightened, my children, at what you see: all that you hear is frightening, but be consoled that it is the will of God being accomplished. Your days are numbered. His Providence watches over us.

4. Cherish those men who appear to you as savages. They are the means which Heaven uses in its plans, and like a tempestuous sea, they will not pass the prescribed line against the countering and menacing waves. The stormy turbulence of revolution which strikes right and left, and the sounds which alarm you are the threats of Herod. Let it not deter you from good works, nor change your trust, nor wither the shower of virtues which tie you to Jesus Christ. He is your model, The threats of Herod do not change the course of his destiny.

5. I know you can be deprived of your freedom that one can even seek to kill you. I would say to them what St. Peter said to the first faithful, What pleases God is that with a view to pleasing Him, we should endure all the pain and suffering given to us unjustly. What glory would you have if it were for your sins you endured maltreatment? But if in doing good, you suffer with patience that is pleasing to God. For this is why you have been called, since Jesus Christ has suffered for us, leaving you an example to follow … He, who had committed no sin; Whose mouth no wrong had spoken: When heaped with curses gave none in return; when ill-treated made no threats, but gave Himself into the hands of one who judged Him unjustly.” (1 Peter 2: 19-23).

6. The disciples of Jesus Christ in their fidelity to God are faithful to their country and full of submission and respect for all authority – adoring the will of God, they must not coward-like flee persecution. When one loves the Cross, one is fearless to kiss it and even enjoy death. It is necessary for our intimate union with Jesus Christ. It could happen any instant but it is not always so meritorious or glorious. If God does not call you to it, you shall be like those illustrious confessors of who St. Cyprian said, That without dying by the executioner, they have gained the merits of martyrdom, because they were prepared for it.

7. The conduct of St. Paul mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, tells us how one must model oneself on Jesus Christ. “Going to Jerusalem, he learnt at Caesarea that he would be persecuted there. The faithful besought him to avoid going, but he believed himself called to be crucified with Jesus Christ if such was His wish. His only reply to them was, “Stop softening my heart with your tears. I tell you, I am prepared to suffer at Jerusalem, not only prison, but even death for Jesus Christ.”

8. There, my children, such must be your dispositions. The shield of faith must arm you, hope must sustain you and charity guide you in everything. If, in all and always we must be simple as the doves and prudent as the serpents. I will recall for you here a maxim of St. Cyprian which in these times must be the rule of your faith and piety: “Do not seek too much,” said this illustrious martyr, the chance of a fight, and do not dodge it either. Let us await God’s command, and let us hope for His mercy alone. If God asks of us a humble confession rather than a fierce protestation, then humility is our greatest strength.”

9. This saying invites us to meditate on the strength, the patience and the joy with which the saints suffered. Look at what St. Paul said, and you will be convinced that when one is animated by faith, troubles only afflict us outside and are but an instrument of battle which victory crowns. This consoling truth can only be appreciated by the righteous, and do not be surprised if in our own time, we see that St. Cyprian saw in his – that most of the faithful succumbed.

10. To love God and fear Him alone, such is the lot of a small number of the elect. It is this love and this fear which makes martyrs by detaching the faithful from the world and attaching them to God and His holy law. To support this love and this fear, in your hearts, watch and pray. Increase your good works and join to that the edifying act of which the first faithful have given us an example. Mix with followers of the faith, and then glorify the Lord as did the first Christians whom we retrace in the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

11. This practice will be much more salutary seeing that you are deprived of ministers of the Lord who nourished your souls with the bread of the word. You weep for these men precious to your piety. I appreciate all your loss. You feel lonely by yourselves, but could not this loneliness be salutary to you in the eyes of faith? It is by faith that the faithful are united in probing this truth, we find that the absence of the body does not break this unity, since it does not break the ties of faith, but rather augments it by depriving it of all felling.

12. If you were united by those ties to the ministers of the Lord whom you regret, console yourselves; their absence purifies and enlivens the love which united us. Faith gives us eyes so piercing that we can see them wherever they are, when they are at the ends of the earth, and when death has separated them from the world. Nothing is far away in faith. It plumbs the depths of the earth as the heights of the heavens. Faith is beyond the senses, and its empire beyond the power of men. Who can prevent us loving whom we wish? Who can steal from us memory? Who can prevent us from presenting to God those we love, and asking Him for our daily bread, by prayers in union with those whom we love? It is not enough, my children, to console you on the absence of the Lord’s ministers and to dry the tears you shed on their chains. This loss deprives you of sacraments and spiritual consolation; your piety takes flight; it sees itself alone. However, through your desolation, never forget that God is your Father, and if He permits your deprivation of the dispensation of the mysteries, that does not mean that He shuts off the means of His graces and mercies. I am going to offer them to you as the only source to which you can possibly go for purification. Read what I write with the same intention that I have in writing them. Seek nothing but the truth, and our salvation is self-denial, in our love for God and a submission to His holy will.


13. You know of the efficacy of the sacraments; you know of the obligation imposed on you to have recourse to the sacrament of Penance to cleanse us of our sins. But to profit from these channels of mercy, it requires ministers of the Lord. In our position without worship, without altar, without sacrifice, without priests, we only see Heaven and no longer have mediators among men. Let this abandonment not deject us! We offer faith to Jesus Christ our Immortal Mediator. He reads our hearts. He understands our desires. He will crown our faithfulness. We are in the eyes of His all-powerful mercy. The sick one of eighty-eight years of age, whom He is said to have cured, not to get someone to put him in the bath, but to take up his bed and walk. If life’s events change the position of the faithful, the events change our obligations. Once upon a time we were the servants who received five talents, we had the peaceful exercise of our religion. Today, we have but one talent – our heart. Let us make it fruitful and our recompense will be equal to that of five. God is just. He does not ask of us the impossible. Respectful to the Divine and Ecclesiastical laws which recall us to the sacrament of Penance, I must tell you, that in these circumstances, these laws do not oblige. Listen to what I tell you. It is essential for your learning and consolation that you should know these circumstances, in order to not accept your own mind for that of God’s. The circumstances where these laws do not oblige, are those where Gods Will manifests itself to obtain Our salvation without the intermediary of man. God needs nobody but Himself to save us when He so desires. He is the source of life, and He gives to everyone the ordinary means that He has provided to effect our salvation by extraordinary means that His mercy dispenses us according to our needs. He is a loving Father Who by ineffable means helps His children, when believing themselves abandoned, they seek Him and yearn for Him. If in the course of our lives, we had in the least neglected the means which God and His Church had provided for our sanctification, we would have been ungrateful children, but if we were to believe that in the extraordinary circumstances we could not do without even greater means, we would be forgetting and insulting the Divine Wisdom Who puts us to the test, and Who, in wishing us to be deprived of it, makes up to us with His Spirit.

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One comment on “Advice from 1801 on Priestless Life in France

  1. I am not in the “apocalyptic club” that seems to be growing in leaps and bounds on various traditional fora these days. Although, thank Heaven, there’s little of it here on AQ.

    Nevertheless, it’s an edifying read.

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