Dominus Noster Jesus Christus Vos Absolvat

Tuesday, October 7, AD 2008

If you travel to Gettysburg you will see a statue to a Catholic priest, and here is why this statue was erected.  One of the crack units in the Union Army during the Civil War was the Irish Brigade.  On July 2, 1863, the 530 men of the Irish Brigade, survivors of the 2500 who originally enlisted to fight under the Stars and Stripes and the green shamrock banner of the brigade, were about to be sent into the Wheat Field.  Brigade Chaplain Father William Corby addressed the troops.

Father Corby stood on a boulder in front of the brigade.  He decided, due to the certainty that many of the men of the brigade would soon die, to give a mass absolution, an application of the sacrament unknown in America. Father Corby sternly reminded the soldiers of their duties, warning that the Church would deny Christian burial to any who wavered in their duty. The members of the Brigade were instructed to confess their sins to a priest in the usual manner at their earliest opportunity. Then the entire brigade knelt, Catholics and Protestants alike.  Father Corby raised his right arm and recited the ancient words of forgiveness: “Dominus noster Jesus Christus vos absolvat”.   With their sins forgiven, the Irish Brigade plunged into battle and were met with withering fire from the Confederate soldiers. At the end of the day, 198 of the men whom Father Corby had blessed had been killed or wounded. The men of the brigade loved their priest who, at Gettysburg and many another battlefield, tended the wounded under fire and gave the last rites to the dying.  After the war they began a campaign to have Father Corby awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Gettysburg.  It was never awarded.  However, I suspect that Father Corby was much more pleased by a gift from the men of the brigade than he ever could have been by any medal:  a chalice to hold the sacred blood.

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