How do I grow in the love of God and neighbor? This question should be a daily one that we ask ourselves. Most Catechists would tell you to live according to the commandments and precepts of the Church while participating in the Sacraments of the Church. Basically, allow the Sacraments of the Church to empower us to live a life of virtue .
The Church also encourages other tools that can assist us to prepare or integrate those graces and virtues into our lives. We call them devotions. Now, our separated brethernuse the term devotion as our daily discipline of prayer and Scripture reading. That is not what we are discussing. As Catholics, daily prayer and a spiritual life formed by Sacred Scripture is expected, every day. They are not devotions but how we approach them is called devotion, but still not what we are discussing. So, where do we look to find out what a devotion is and how it should be practiced?
In December 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments promulgated and published the updated version of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines (Guidelines). Notice that it shares “Principles and Guidelines.” Why? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in paragraph 1674 give us some insight by teaching that:
Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc.
This document (more like a book) governs those devotions that the Church encourages and provides the limits and guidelines on how they should be practiced. Is the Church trying to regiment our devotional practices, by no means. Any student (current or former) remembers from their history classes the excesses that have been present at different times throughout our history – well meaning albeit excessive. The Congregation promulgated these guidelines to provide limits for healthy devotion. Again the CCC 1676 teaches:
Pastoral discernment is needed to sustain and support popular piety and, if necessary, to purify and correct the religious sense which underlies these devotions so that the faithful may advance in knowledge of the mystery of Christ. Their exercise is subject to the care and judgment of the bishops and to the general norms of the Church.
- At its core the piety of the people is a storehouse of values that offers answers of Christian wisdom to the great questions of life. The Catholic wisdom of the people is capable of fashioning a vital synthesis. . . . It creatively combines the divine and the human, Christ and Mary, spirit and body, communion and institution, person and community, faith and homeland, intelligence and emotion. This wisdom is a Christian humanism that radically affirms the dignity of every person as a child of God, establishes a basic fraternity, teaches people to encounter nature and understand work, provides reasons for joy and humor even in the midst of a very hard life. For the people this wisdom is also a principle of discernment and an evangelical instinct through which they spontaneously sense when the Gospel is served in the Church and when it is emptied of its content and stifled by other interests.
The Guidelines defines devotions or popular piety stating,
4.(…)Popular piety is an expression of faith which avails of certain cultural elements proper to a specific environment which is capable of interpreting and questioning in a lively and effective manner the sensibilities of those who live in that same environment.
Genuine forms of popular piety, expressed in a multitude of different ways, derives from the faith and, therefore, must be valued and promoted. Such authentic expressions of popular piety are not at odds with the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy. Rather, in promoting the faith of the people, who regard popular piety as a natural religious expression, they predispose the people for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.
5. The correct relationship between these two expressions of faith must be based on certain firm principles, the first of which recognises that the Liturgy is the centre of the Church’s life and cannot be substituted by, or placed on a par with, any other form of religious expression. Moreover, it is important to reaffirm that popular religiosity, even if not always evident, naturally culminates in the celebration of the Liturgy towards which it should ideally be oriented. This should be made clear through suitable catechesis.
Hopefully, we are able to see that popular piety is meant to stretch our hearts to receive the grace of God that flows forth from the Liturgy(ies) of the Church (this includes the celebration of the all Sacraments). I know I definitely want to stretch my heart to receive more grace and penetrate the mysteries of the faith deeper. And these numerous and beautiful devotions are worthy of our consideration
Just for the sake of clarification I thought I would mention what are not devotions. Included among these are:
- Divine Liturgy or the Mass – it is the center of our Sacramental life
- Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours – it is second only to the Mass and is a liturgy of the Church meant to sanctify our daily lives and time, a practice that has fallen out of vogue
- Sacred Scripture – Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ (St. Jerome)
- Solemn Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament or Holy Hour – elevated after the Second Vatican Council to a liturgy
Notice that not all of these are not mandatory. Obviously, the Sacraments and Mass constitute the foundation of our spiritual lives. These additional liturgies are additional personal encounters where we come into direct contact with the Living God.
So, what are my favorite top five devotions? They include:
- The Most Holy Rosary
- Divine Praises
- Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus
- Litany of Loreto
- Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel
Maybe some of my friends would share some of their favorite five devotions: