The Pastoral Letter of 1792

Author: Bish. John Carroll


Bishop John Carroll
First bishop of Baltimore

(This Pastoral Letter is the first document of this nature in the history of this Church in the United States. It was written shortly after the close of the first National Synod of Baltimore (Nov. 7-10, 1791).

John, by Divine permission and with the approbation of the Holy See, Bishop of Baltimore: To my dearly beloved Brethren, the members of the Catholic Church in this Diocese, Health and Blessing, Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The great extent of my diocese and the necessity of ordering many things concerning its government at the beginning of my episcopacy, have not yet permitted me, my dear brethren, to enjoy the consolation, for which I most earnestly pray, of seeing you all, and of leaving with you, according to the nature of my duty, some words of exhortation, by which you may be strengthened in faith and encouraged in the exercises of a Christian life Esteeming myself as a debtor to all, and knowing the rigorous account which I must render for your souls, to the Shepherd of Shepherds, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I shall have cause to tremble, while I leave anything undone, by which religion and true piety may be promoted, and the means of salvation multiplied for you.

In compliance with the obligation, resulting from the relation in which I stand to you, my endeavours have been turned towards obtaining and applying, for the preservation and extension of faith and for the sanctification of souls, means calculated to produce lasting effects, not only on the present, but on future generations. I thought that Almighty God would make the ministers of His sanctuary, and myself particularly, accountable to Him, if we did not avail ourselves of the liberty enjoyed under our equitable government and just laws, to attempt establishments, in which you, dear brethren, may find permanent resources suited to your greatest exigencies.

Knowing, therefore, that the principles instilled in the course of a Christian education, are generally preserved through life, and that a young man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it,2 I have considered the virtuous and Christian instruction of youth as a principal object of pastoral solicitude. Now who can contribute so much to lighten this burden, which weighs so heavy on the shoulders of the pastors of souls and who can have so great an interest and special duty in the forming of youthful minds to habits of virtue and religion, as their parents themselves? Especially while their children retain their native docility, and their hearts are uncorrupted by vice. How many motives of reason and religion require, that parents should be unwearied in their endeavours, to inspire in them the love and fear of God; docility and submission to His doctrines, and a careful attention to fulfill His commandments? Fathers—bring up your children in the discipline and correction of the Lord.3 If all, to whom God has given sons and daughters, were assiduous in the discharge of this important obligation, a foundation would be laid for, and great progress made in, the work of establishing a prevailing purity of manners. The same habits of obedience to the will of God; the same principles of a reverential love and fear of Him; and of continual respect for His Holy Name; the same practices of morning and evening prayer; and of the frequentation of the sacraments; the same dread of cursing and swearing; of fraud and duplicity; of lewdness and drunkenness; the same respectful and dutiful behaviour to their fathers and mothers; in a word, the remembrance and influence of the parental counsels and examples received in their youth, would continue with them during life. And if ever the frailty of nature, or worldly seduction, should cause them to offend God, they would be brought back again to His service and to true repentance by the efficacy of the religious instruction received in their early age. Wherefore, fathers and mothers, be mindful of the words of the Apostles, and bring up your children in the discipline and correction of the Lord. In doing this, you not only render an acceptable service to God, and acquit yourselves of a most important duty, but you labour for the preservation and increase of true religion, for the benefit of our common country, whose welfare depends on the morals of its citizens, and for your own happiness here as well as hereafter; since you may be assured of finding, in those sons and daughters whom you shall train up to virtue and piety, by your instructions and examples, support and consolation in sickness and old age. They will remember with gratitude, and repay with religious duty, your solicitude for them in their infancy and youth.

These being the advantages of a religious education, I was solicitous for the attainment of a blessing so desirable to that precious portion of my flock, the growing generation. A school has been instituted at George-Town, which will continue to be under the superintendence and government of some of my reverend brethren, that is, of men devoted by principle and profession to instruct all, who resort to them, in useful learning, and those of our own religion, in its principles and duties. I earnestly wish, dear brethren, that as many of you, as are able, would send your sons to this school of letters and virtue. I know and lament, that the expense will be too great for many families, and that their children must be deprived of the immediate benefit of this institution; but, indirectly, they will receive it; at least, it may be reasonably expected, that some after being educated at George-Town, and having returned into their own neighbourhood, will become, in their turn, the instructors of the youths who cannot be sent from home; and, by pursuing the same system of uniting much attention to religion with a solicitude for other improvements, the general result will be a great increase of piety, the necessary consequence of a careful instruction in the principles of faith, and Christian morality.

The school, dear brethren, if aided by your benevolence, and favoured with your confidence, will be the foundation of an additional advantage to true religion in this our country. Many amongst us you have experienced in convenience and disadvantage from the want of spiritual assistance in your greatest necessities, in sickness, in troubles of conscience, and counsels and offices of the ministers of religion. It is notorious to you all, that the present clergymen are insufficient for the exigencies of the faithful; and that they will be more and more so, as the population of our country increases so rapidly; unless, by the providence of our good and merciful God, a constant supply of zealous and able pastors can be formed amongst ourselves; that is, of men accustomed to our climate, and acquainted with the tempers, manners, and government of the people, to whom they are to dispense the ministry of salvation. Now, may we not reasonably hope, that one of the effects of a virtuous course of education will be the preparing of the minds of some, whom providence may select, to receive and cherish a call from God to an ecclesiastical state?

Should such be the designs of infinite mercy on this portion of His flock, all of us, dear brethren, will have new cause to return God thanks for having conducted to our assistance a number of learned and exemplary clergymen, devoted by choice, and formed by experience to the important function of training young Ecclesiastics to all the duties of the ministry. This essential service is already begun by these my respectable brethren. An ecclesiastical seminary, under their immediate direction, and episcopal superintendence, has entered on the important function of raising pastors for your future consolation and improvement; and I cannot forbear recommending their undertaking to your patronage, and what a benefit will they confer on this and future generations, who shall contribute to endow it with some portion of those goods, which themselves have received from a benevolent providence, and for the use of which they must account to Him, from whom they received them? What a consolation will it be to them in this life, and a source of happiness in the next, if, through their benefactions, the seminary be enabled not only to support its directors and professors, but likewise some young men, candidates for holy orders, whose virtues and abilities may be far superior to their worldly fortunes? By endowments, such as I now recommend, great services have been rendered to religion and morality. If donations for objects of piety have ever been excessive, as some have pretended, the particular one now recommended to your charity, and the temper of our times and laws, leave no cause to apprehend the renewal of such an abuse.

Other objects, besides those already mentioned, claim our common solicitude. It will be of little use to prepare ministers for the work of the ministry, if afterwards they cannot be employed, for want of necessary maintenance, in the laborious discharge of pastoral functions. Whilst the offices of our religion were performed only in two of the United States, and even in them, the number of Catholics was much less than at present, fewer labourers were wanted; and there were funds sufficient for their subsistence, independent of any contributions from the justice or the charity of the respective congregations. But our holy faith being now spread through other States, and the number of Catholics being much increased in those, where it existed before, it is become absolutely necessary to recur to the means of supporting public worship and instruction, which are prescribed not only by natural equity, but likewise by the positive ordinances of divine wisdom, both in the Jewish and gospel dispensations. Know you not, says St. Paul,4 that they who work in the holy place . . . and they that serve the altar, partake with the altar? So also the Lord ordained that they who preach the gospel, should live by the Gospel.

In obedience to this divine ordinance, primitive Christians, when they went to the celebration of the sacred offices of religion, presented their offerings on the altar of the Lord, signifying by this act, that they were not intended so much for their pastors, as consecrated to God Himself. And, indeed, the Church regarded them in this light; and decreed in her canons, that the religious oblations of the faithful should be employed, first, for the maintenance of the ministers of the sanctuary; which being provided for, the remainder should be applied towards the relief of the poor, and the building and repairing of churches and places of worship, necessary for public convenience, and the decent ordering of divine service.

God has made it our duty to join in the solemn rites of sacrifice and prayer, and in receiving the sacraments instituted for our benefit and the improvement of our souls in piety and grace. The administration of these requires men set apart for and consecrated to so sacred a function; men not assuming of themselves, but receiving their authority from God, through His church, and their succession from the Apostles, through the Bishops, by whom they are ordained. Now it is evident, that since these are acts of religion, He requires likewise, that all should use the necessary means for acquitting themselves of that obligation; and consequently, that each one bear his proportion of common and necessary expense for the support of public worship. This duty has been insisted on so little amongst us, as long as the assistance of the faithful was unnecessary for the maintenance of their pastors, that many will often do without pastors; of course they become remiss in their religious duties, and finally regardless of them. Their offspring, uninstructed and ignorant of the principles of faith, are led astray by false doctrines, and seduced by corrupt examples. Hence, likewise, churches for the celebration of divine service, and the great Eucharistic sacrifice of the law of grace, are not built at all, or are suffered to fall into decay.

They are without chalices, without the decent and necessary furniture of the altars, without vestments suited to the different services of the Church, in a word, without those sacred utensils, which its ordinances require, and which contribute to impress the mind with a becoming sense of the majesty of religion, and conciliate respect for its august ceremonies. Hence, finally, results the great evil, and the source of many disorders, that, by failing to make provision for the necessary support of pastors, and the maintenance of public worship, you fail likewise of fulfilling the obligation of being present at Mass on every Sunday and holiday; you lose the opportunity of receiving necessary and salutary instruction; and, finally, an habitual disregard for the sanctification of the Lord's day, and for the exercise of prayer and religion becomes prevalent.

In this matter, I recommend earnestly to you, my dear brethren, not to be too indulgent to yourselves, in forming principles, which indeed may satisfy an erroneous conscience, and suit your attachment to your case, and your worldly interest; but cannot afford you a reasonable assurance of having fulfilled your necessary and essential duty to Almighty God. Every inconvenience is not sufficient to exempt you from the obligation from attending at Mass on Sundays and other days prescribed by the Church. The obstacle must be grievous and weighty, amounting almost to an impossibility, moral or physical. Has such an obstacle or inconvenience existed with respect to all those, who hear Mass, perhaps not more than once a month, or seldomer? Are there not congregations, where now divine service is performed only once a month, which are fully competent to the expense of keeping a clergyman to reside amidst them, and to administer to them continually in all holy things? To offer every day for them, and in the presence of some at least of them the great sacrifice of the law of grace? To teach, to admonish and reprove them? To instruct their children and servants in the doctrines and exercises of religion? And thus to make lighter the burden, which rests on parents and heads of families? To watch perpetually over the morals of all, and prevent the contagion of error or evil example? To be ready, and have at hand, to administer to all, in times of sickness, the spiritual succours committed to his dispensation? I cannot, dear brethren, enumerate the advantages, which will result from so desirable a situation, as that of having constantly amongst you, your pastor and spiritual guide; and I exhort you with great earnestness to use much industry, and with thankfulness to Almighty God, for the temporal blessings received from His hand, generously to devote a part of them to the obtaining a benefit, from which such important consequences will be derived. The sacrifice of property, which you make, for a purpose so useful and religious, is a kind of restitution to Him, Who first gave it to you; and, besides being an act of the virtue of religion, because it is suggested by the desire of encouraging and supporting divine worship, it is moreover an act of exalted charity towards the poor and ignorant, who will be enabled to obtain essential instruction and relief in all their spiritual necessities, through the means and contributions of the rich and middle classes of life; and these will thus become partakers in the merit and rewards promised in these words of the prophet Daniel, that they that instruct many to justice, [shall shine] as stars for all eternity.5

I will venture to add, that even with respect to this world, you will find it to be no loss to concur towards the regular support of the ministry, and services of religion. Habits of temperance and frugality are generally the effects of evangelical instruction. The lessons and duty of industry are frequently inculcated by virtuous and careful pastors. Your children and servants will be admonished perpetually to shun idleness, dishonesty, dissipations, and that train of expense which always follows them. These, by their effect on domestic economy, will make abundant compensation for the charges in support of religion. Besides, you have a divine promise, that God will use a more special providence for your subsistence, when you make it your first care, to fulfill His holy law: Seek first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.6

Amongst all obstructions to the due celebration of divine service, and the regular attendance on the sacred functions of religion, this backwardness of the faithful to contribute for its support is one of the greatest, as was generally agreed and represented by my venerable brethren, the clergy of the Diocese, in a synod held some months ago. When I convoked them, I formed some statutes of general concern, which will be communicated to you, and amongst them are the following, relative to the matter, of which I have just now treated, and enforcing the same observations:

Statutes of the Diocesan Synod, held at Baltimore, from the 7th to the 10th day of November, 1791.

Statute V. That the Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice may be celebrated with all reverence and becoming respect, and that the faithful may be excited more and more to a lively devotion towards this singular pledge of divine mercy, it is decreed, that the congregations be reminded frequently, how disrespectful it is, that anything used for the Holy Sacrifice should be of the meanest materials, or not kept cleanly and entire, and that suitable vessels and utensils for the altar, as chalices, ciboriums, and cruets; decent vestments and linen for the ministry of the altar, was candles and wine fit for Mass be not provided. Let the Christian people be told, with how minute attention God Himself was pleased to ordain everything relating to His service in the Jewish law and temple. How much more care therefore should Christians use, for the decency of divine worship, since they possess, not the shadow of future blessings, as the Jews, but the substance and reality of them! Let them be admonished likewise of the offerings made by primitive Christians at the time of Mass; and let them know that such must be very regardless of the honour of God, as refuse or neglect to contribute for those things, without which the functions of religion seem to lose their dignity and authority; and the devotion and veneration for the Blessed Eucharist is greatly diminished.

VI. It is decreed, therefore, that in every congregation, two or three persons of approved virtue and respectability be chosen by the congregation, or appointed by the pastor, to be Church-wardens or guardians; and that the persons so appointed, on Sundays and other festivals, after the reading of the 1st gospel at Mass, or after the sermon, shall collect the offerings of the faithful.

VII. The offerings, according to the practice of the church, are to be divided into three parts; so that one be applied to the maintenance of the pastor, another to the relief of the poor; and a third to the procuring of all things requisite for divine worship, and for building and repairing the church. But if provision be made otherwise for the maintenance of the pastor and the poor, all offerings are to be appropriated to the fabric of the church, or to furnishing it with proper utensils and ornaments for the more dignified celebration of divine worship.

VIII. The offerings made by the faithful, to render God propitious to themselves or others, through the efficacy of the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, should be accepted by the ministers of the altar in such manner, as to afford no room for suspicions of avarice or simony; let them be contented, therefore, with such an acknowledgment of their services as cannot be burdensome to the bestowers of it; nor yet so insignificant, as to render the priestly ministry despicable in the opinion of inconsiderate men.

XXIII. The number of Catholics having increased, and being dispersed through the different States, and at great distances from each other, it is become necessary to have likewise a greater number of spiritual labourers; but these cannot be brought from foreign countries or maintained, unless the faithful concur towards bearing that expense, as they are bound by the law of God, and according to the testimony of St. Paul, who says, if we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we reap your carnal things?7 The faithful therefore are to be reminded often of this duty, with which, if they neglect to comply, they will omit, through their own fault, hearing Mass on Sundays and festivals, and receiving the Sacraments at those seasons, in which they need them most, the seasons of sickness, of Easter; and when through the prevalence of sinful passions, or long habits of vice a speedy reconciliation with God becomes indispensably necessary. Wherefore, as long as they refuse to contribute for the ministry of salvation, according to the measure of worldly fortune given to them by a beneficent God, and thus violate the divine and ecclesiastical laws, they are to know that they are in a state of sin, unworthy of obtaining forgiveness in the tribunal of confession; and that they will be answerable to God, not only for their own non- compliance with duties so sacred, but likewise for the ignorance and vices of the poor people, who remain destitute of Christian instruction on account of the sordid avarice of those, who are more favoured with the gifts of fortune. To begin then, in this Diocese, that which is practised in other Christian countries, the preceding regulations were formed, relative to the oblations of the faithful; and others will be added hereafter."

I trust, that you, my dear brethren, will consider these statutes with the same candour and in the same spirit in which they were formed. It was not in the spirit of avarice, but of real solicitude for the preservation of faith, and for your increase in godliness and heavenly knowledge. They were suggested by the desire of seeing you assisted, with the same means of salvation, as your Catholic brethren in all other countries; and with the hope, that you would use the same endeavours as they to appropriate to yourselves the blessings of a regular instruction, and uninterrupted ministration of divine worship. To accomplish this salutary purpose more effectually, and render more certain the subsistence of the ministers of religion, they are directed to require at marriages, burials and funeral services, a certain very moderate compensation, to which they, whom God has blessed with abundance, may add according to their benevolence; and which my reverend brethren are hereby charged not to require from those, to whom, on account of their great poverty, any compensation would be burdensome.

On this occasion, I cannot forbear mentioning an abuse, or rather a prevalent neglect and indifference with respect to your departed parents and relations.

When death has removed them from your sight, you seem to forget that doctrine of your divine religion which ought to call forth all your tenderness: I mean the doctrine, that it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.8 How different is your behaviour, when such events happen, from that of your Catholic brethren all over the world? Their sensibility is not confined to the unprofitable tears and lamentations of a few days, their faith follows their deceased friends into the mansions of another life, and enkindles all their charity. They procure prayers and sacrifices to be offered to God for the repose of their souls. The exercises of charity to the poor, and all the works of mercy and religion are employed for their relief, as long as there remains a reasonable ground to fear, that they may want it. Thus St. Augustine testified his sensibility, after the death of his holy mother Monica; thus, as Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and other primitive fathers teach us, children expressed their duty and veneration for their parents; and surviving Christian spouses for them, to whom they had been united by the ties and duties of a virtuous marriage.

When it pleases God to call your friends out of this world, do you, my dear brethren, give such proofs of your affection for them? You attend them to the grave; you shed over it a few tears; and there is the term of your care and solicitude. If a charitable priest offer up to the throne of mercy, for their sake, the blood of the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, he does it, generally unsolicited and unthanked by you. You make no sacrifices of interest or enjoyments to charity and religion, that the deceased may find speedy mercy, and an anticipated enjoyment of everlasting bliss. I earnestly beseech you, to deserve no longer this reproach on your charity and sensibility. Follow your departed brethren into the regions of eternity, with your prayers, and all the assistance, which is suggested by the principles of faith and piety. Let the great sacrifice of propitiation be offered for all, who die in the unity of the Catholic Church, and in due submission to her wholesome precepts. Where it is possible, let a funeral service be performed: and I recommend it strongly to the pastors of all congregations, and to the faithful themselves, to promote the forming of pious associations, whose special object shall be, to bestow on the dead, and especially on those who die poor and friendless, the best offices of religion, that is, to procure for them a decent interment, accompanied with the prayers and sacred rites ordained by the church.

In this, my address to you, my dear brethren, I have been chiefly solicitous to recommend to your attention those things which will be of general advantage to the preservation and increase of true religion. I have no doubt, but that your immediate pastors will give you caution frequently against the prevailing and most dangerous vices; and will instruct you, how to walk in the observance of all Christian duties. I shall only add this my earnest request, that to the exercise of the sublimest virtues, faith, hope and charity, you will join a fervent and well regulated devotion to the Holy Mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; that you will place great confidence in Her intercession; and have recourse to Her in all your necessities. Having chosen Her the special patroness of this Diocese, you are placed, of course, under Her powerful protection; and it becomes your duty to be careful to deserve its continuance by a zealous imitation of Her virtues, and reliance on Her motherly superintendence.

The Sunday immediately following the feast of Her glorious assumption into heaven; or the feast itself, whenever it happens to fall on a Sunday, is to be celebrated as a principal solemnity of this Diocese; on which we are to unite with one heart, and in one earnest supplication to the father of all mercies, and the giver of every good gift, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, that He may be graciously pleased to preserve, increase, and diffuse a sincere and well-grounded attachment to the principles of our holy religion; to advert from us the seduction of error and pestilential infidelity; to awake and renew in us the spirit of solid piety, and of watchfulness over our unruly passions; to animate us to the fulfilling of all the commandments; to pour down on our country blessings spiritual and temporal; and to receive our grateful and humble thanks for the innumerable favours, which we continually receive from a bountiful providence.

That these acts of religion may be more acceptable, by being offered with purified hearts, I earnestly exhort and recommend to all, who shall join in the celebration of this great festival, to expiate their offences by sincere compunction in the sacrament of penance, and to enrich their souls by those abundant graces, which are annexed to a worthy participation of Christ's body and blood. I have solicited, for your sake, my dear brethren, from the Holy See, special spiritual favours, for this solemnity; and have no doubt, but the fatherly solicitude, which his holiness, the vicar of Jesus Christ, has always shown hitherto for your improvement in every Christian virtue, will induce him to grant the favours requested; of which in due time you shall receive proper notice.

What may not be hoped, if to other means of salvation, such as are always to be found in the salutary institutions of the Church, you will add, every year, this likewise, that is now suggested? If you recur to God, the fountain of mercy and grace, through the intercession of the Queen of Angels? If you honour Her greatest festival with peculiar and fervent exercises of piety, and with a determined will of making the precepts of the gospel the rule of your lives? The Church bears Her this honourable testimony, that it is often owing to Her patronage, that nations preserve or recover the integrity of Christian faith and morality. Let this be exemplified in our own country. Walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called.9 Give no cause of its being said of any one of you: thou, that makest the boast of the law, by transgression of the law dishonourest God.10 On the contrary, endeavour continually, that you may declare His virtues, who has called you out of the darkness into His marvellous light;11 that they, among whom is your conversation -- considering you by your good works, may give glory to God in the day of visitation. For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, .... that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God. Now to Him, who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand .... to Him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus unto all generations, world without end. Amen.

John, Bishop of Baltimore.

Baltimore, May 28, 1792.


1 Vol. IX., pp. 297-299.

2 Prov. xxii. 6.

3 Ephes vi. 4.

4 1 Cor. ix. 13, 14.

5 Chap. xii. 3.

6 Matt. vi. 33.

7 1 Cor. ix. 11.

8 2 Mac. xii. 46.

9 Eph. iv. 1.

10 Rom. ii. 23.

11 1 Peter ii. 9.

Taken from "The National Pastorals of the American Hierarchy", edited by Rev. Peter Guilday, Ph.D. and published by the National Catholic Welfare Council, 1923.