The Greatness of Little Things: A Reflection on a Quote From St. Augustine

Bichon maltais blanc assis & coquin sur fond blancI have found that one of my favorite quotes from St. Augustine  is not all that well known. Here it is in Latin, followed by my own translation:

  • Quod minimum, minimum est,
  • Sed in minimo fidelem esse,
  • magnum est.
  • What is a little thing,  is (just) a little thing.
  • But to be faithful in a little thing
  • is a great thing.

(from St. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35)

I first saw this quote on the frontispiece of a book by Adrian Fortescue. Fortescue applied it to the intricate details of celebrating the Old Latin Mass. That form of the Mass has an enormous amount of detail to learn: how exactly to hold the hands, when and how to bow, what tone of voice to use, what fingers should be used to pick up the host, and on and on. Some might see these details as picky and overwhelming. But as the quote above states and  Fortescue apparently wanted us to think, love is often shown through reverence for the little things. (See the second video below.)

It’s so easy to become lazy, even about sacred things like saying Mass. I often have to remind myself about little things like the condition of my shoes. Are my vestments clean? How about the altar linens, are they properly cared for? Do I bow and pause at Mass when I should? How is my tone of voice? Do I walk reverently in the sanctuary? Am I careful to pronounce the sacred words of the liturgy with care and a prayerful spirit? Some may find such questions tedious or even too scrupulous. But when you love, little things are often important.

Married couples may also struggle to remember the little things that show love: a kind remark, a simple thank you, flowers brought home for no particular reason, a simple look, the gift of listening attentively, cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen, a simple reassurance like “I’m glad I married you” or “You’re a great father to our children,” a quick phone call saying, “I love you and was thinking about you.”

They’re just little things. But to be faithful in little things is a great thing. A gospel passage comes to mind:

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!  (Matt 25:21)

Another passage says,

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much (Luke 16:10).

Little things—who cares? God does. Little things are great things to those who love.

This song says, “You must be faithful over a few things to be ruler over many things. Be thou faithful unto death and God will give you a crown of life.” It ends in a rousing chorus: “Well done good and faithful servant, well done!”

And since I mentioned the details of the traditional Latin Mass, here is a video that illustrates how little things can mean a lot. Some unaccustomed to this form may find such details stuffy, but to those who appreciate them, these “little things” are small signs of love for God and are a way of suppressing a kind of careless informality.

14 Replies to “The Greatness of Little Things: A Reflection on a Quote From St. Augustine”

  1. How I miss this beautiful form of the Mass! Why not put effort into the celebration of the Mass. Doesn’t God deserve some formal recognition?

  2. Msgr. Pope, you made my day again. Yes, the little things in the Old Latin Mass. But it’s just as important
    in the Novus Ordo. There must be no room for carelessness in celebrating the Mass.
    You are a great example of the details.
    Thank you.

  3. Even military commanders expect their troops to be precise in their military bearing in order to present the proper image fitting of a their mission of such a higher calling. A person precise in their military bearing is seen as being disciplined and fit for instructing troops. Likewise, a priest who is disciplined in following the rubrics of the Mass could be seen as being fit for duty as an instructor in seminary – a very, very important role. Both, by their discipline and enthusiasm, demonstrate a love for their responsibilities to carry on their duties effectively and responsibly, and to be a leader.

    Here is a link to the “rubrics” of Army drill and ceremony. There is another regulation which applies to military attire.

  4. Beautiful, as usual, Msgr. Pope. Thank you for your dedication to teaching all of us who read your blog. This post speaks right to my heart at this moment, just what I needed to hear today.

  5. When I read that paragraph about marriage I thought for certain that my wife has been in touch with you. Thanks for the hints.

  6. Two things come to mind.
    1) “Take every thought captive for Christ”. It seems to me that in the two-thousand year history of the Catholic Church’s thinking about how best to adore her Lord, she has, in the Extraordinary Form, taken every thought captive.

    2) God, with a word, brought into existence what did not exist, and continuously actively keeps it in existence. The marrying couple, by their word (the exchange of vows), bring into existence a new society of themselves and the children they will bear, and have to act daily and purposefully to keep it in existence. Another way that we image God our Father.

  7. The “little” things in mass. They mean the world to me. I attend a certain church for a noon time mass during the work week. It is not my own parish. This church has no altar servers, no crucifix on the alter (but does have flying Jesus in front of- not nailed to the cross).

    This church does not do the customary after communion “cleaning” ritual. They do not finish and clean the chalice that holds the Blood of our Lord. They do not wash their fingers in holy water after giving the Blessed Sacrament. The last person to receive barely has time the kneel down and say a prayer before mass is ended. At this Church, I feel out of place.

    Contrast that with my home Church. There the Eucharistic rituals are followed closely and one can feel the reverence the priests hold for our Lord. There, Jesus is crucified large and visibly for all to see. Altar servers are usually present, and all Extraordinary Ministers wash after serving. When the Tabernacle is closed, all kneel or genuflect. It is at this Church where I feel closest to our Lord, where I feel happy and at peace.

    The little things are Humongous.

  8. Yes, be faithful in little things like teaching the truth of Jesus Christ to your family and friends, so we can fight injustices and would be murderers.

    Today’s news:
    Christian Boy Torched by Two Muslims Dies in Pakistani Hospital- Breitbart
    Please pray for his soul & family.

  9. I know we can be, and most are, just as faithful with the Novus Ordo (short for Novus Ordo Missae, which literally means the “new order of the Mass” or the “new ordinary of the Mass). It is here to stay. I know that some Catholics cannot let go of the past Ancient Rites but the central focus of the Catholic Faith, and in particular the Mass, is the EUCHARIST. I believe with all my being that the best thing that the Catholic Church has is the Holy Eucharist. To know that Jesus Christ left behind Himself for each and every one of us to nourish us continues to astound me every day of my life.

    In either form of our liturgy, God our Father re-presents to us His Son Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. This greatest gift of all should still unite us in spite of the differences in how we celebrate the sacrifice. It is not the form of the Liturgy that unites us it is The Body of Christ of which we are all a part.

    I like many of your articles, but ones such as this one from someone of your stature, seem to do great harm in sowing division in Christ’s Church. I am a reasonably well catechized Catholic and understand that we will not all march in step. Thank God for our unique gifts and how we bring them back to Him. I pray for all of our clergy every day, please remember me. God’s Peace.

  10. Re: Faithfulness in small things;

    We OWE God our best:….in liturgy, in church construction and adornment, in personal dress, personal movement and involvement…..little things
    brought forth from our BEST. We are to give God our Best. To do less puts us in peril.

    Churches were once always made beautiful, not for us, but to show God what we wish to give Him.
    As a result, our souls are lifted up when we are within these gifts.

    Thank you for the reminders, Msgr. Pope.

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