Devotions, Popular

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The term "devotion" here has two related meanings.(1) It means exercises of piety (pia or sacra exercitia ): public prayers, worship services, or church ceremonies but somehow other than the official church liturgy in the strictest sense. Thus, for example, the Way of the Cross is considered a popular devotion; but the veneration of the cross on Good Friday is part of the official liturgy. (2) "Devotion" is also the general term for themes characteristic of some of these exercises of piety, even when these have been assumed into the official liturgy. Thus, for example, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These devotions are called "popular" for several reasons. (1) They were designed for and practiced by ordinary people in the Church, and not mainly by religious professionals. (2) At some periods in history they have appealed to a relatively large proportion of church members. (3) They are capable of communal celebration and were often so celebrated: they are the prayer of structured groups of Christians and not only of individuals.

Counter-Reformation Origins. There are phenomena analogous to popular devotions in some Eastern and Reformation Churches, and some of what later came to be considered popular devotions can be traced to origins in the medieval West. But the category of popular devotion is above all a creation of the Counter Reformation in the Latin West. Popular devotions arose as a consequence of the codification of the Roman liturgy following the Council of Trent. The limits and content of the official liturgy were quite precisely prescribed, with a twofold result. (1) The spontaneous evolution of the rites now for the first time defined as part of the official liturgy was almost completely stifled. Thus much of the creative response of the Counter-Reformation Church to the needs of its worshipers had to be embodied in forms which supplemented or paralleled the official liturgy, now regarded as a given and not to be tampered with. (2) In time specific papal authorization came to be considered an indispensable element in constituting a form of worship as part of the official liturgy. Popular devotions, no matter how expressive of the actual worshiping consciousness of the Christian people, had to be something other thanand in a legal sense less thanthe official liturgy of the Church.

This left compilers and practitioners of the devotions relatively free from official control. But many of the devotions were forced to the edges of the central mysteries of Christian worship. And some of them were couched in a literary and conceptual style too tied to the religious fashions of the moment. Conversely the official liturgy tended to become more and more remote from the living religious consciousness of Catholic worshipers.

Devotions and Vatican II. Official Roman Catholic church discipline has maintained the distinction between popular devotions and the official liturgy. The Constitution on the Liturgy of Vatican II warmly recommends popular devotions that conform to church norms and laws; the devotions form part of the actual, though extraliturgical, spiritual life of the Church. They should in every way be oriented toward the official liturgy, which is said to be by its very nature superior to any of them. Devotions, especially those celebrated in common as part of the public life of the Church, should harmonize with the seasons of the liturgical year. They are in some way derived from the liturgy, and should in turn lead people to the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium 13).

In fact, at least in the U.S., the devotions, while they are still important in the individual prayer lives of many Catholics, have almost disappeared from the public life of the Church. Probably the hardiest survivor, the sta tions of the cross, has traditionally been celebrated publicly only during Lent, and thus thoroughly accords with the church year. And the actual celebration of the official Liturgy of the Eucharist and other Sacraments has assumed many of the characteristicslike the use of the vernacular language, light music, and a generally more colloquial styleformerly associated almost exclusively with the popular devotions.

Liturgical Origins of Devotions. There is general agreement that most of the popular devotions can be traced to some kind of origin in the classical liturgy. The complete rosary, for example, parallels the liturgical Psalter, with one Hail Mary for each of the 150 Psalms. Until about the middle of the 16th century, the devotions tended to be patterned directly on the existing liturgy. The little office of the blessed virgin mary, for example, until very recently the most widely used nonclerical Liturgy of the Hours, follows quite exactly the shape of the canonical Office. There are the usual hours, each with its complement of Psalms and canticles, readings, hymns, and collects. But there is only one Office, to be repeated each day of the week. Probably the next most widely distributed medieval devotion, the Hours of the Cross or Passion, is composed as a commemoration (antiphon, versicle-response, collect) to be added to each hour of the canonical Office. The commemoration relates each hour of the occurring canonical Office with a time and an event in the history of the Passion.

After the middle of the 16th century, other forms began to appear. Generally they are an adaptation for communal recitation of a form of written meditation or reflection first designed for private and individual use. Probably even these more recent forms could be shown to have some connection, even if remote, with the classical liturgy.

The basic afternoon devotion in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, prominent in the public worship life of the American Church in the 19th and early 20th century, originally began as a festive conclusion to the canonical hour of vespers. In some places the final Marian antiphon (usually Salve Regina ) was enriched with additional prayers and songs, called "Salve devotions." In other places the Blessed Sacrament was sometimes exposed at Vespers; Eucharistic songs were sung, and the people were blessed with the reserved Sacrament. These two traditions combined and the splendid result began to rival canonical Vespers in importance and came to be celebrated independently.

Richness of Continental Devotion Forms. The international treasury of popular devotions is very rich. In some countries the devotions formed a local, episcopally approved supplement to the Roman liturgy. Polish and Hungarian diocesan rituals, for example, provided additional services to fill out the Roman program for Holy Week and Easter. Before the reform of the official Roman services, at a time when the Easter Vigil, for example, was anticipated very early on Holy Saturday morning, these colorful, obvious, and well-timed vigils and processions were far more prominent in the popular mind and at the parochial level than the relatively opaque and difficult liturgical services for the triduum. From some points of view these local devotions were better vehicles of Christian worship than the adjacent rites in the Roman books. In some local Churches, most notably the dioceses of Germany, a complete cycle of popular devotions has grown up to parallel the Roman liturgy throughout the whole church year. The texts of these devotions, of a kind almost unknown in the U.S., are edited and printed with great care and have enjoyed the most solemn episcopal approval. Local devotions of this sort, with deep roots in the traditions of a region or institute, are said by the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy to have a special dignity (ibid.). Postconciliar legislation directs that such devotions, provided they are in accord with the official liturgy and the liturgical seasons, are to be treated with reverence in the formation of the clergy (Inter oecumenici 17; see bibliog.).

The United States. American Catholics had to be satisfied with a plainer devotional diet. The Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. assumed much of its style from the Church in England and especially in Ireland. There during the Counter-Reformation centuries, when devotion-making flourished on the Continent, the public worship life of the Church had to be kept to the bare and unobtrusive minimum because of the English penal laws.

In America the principal devotion was to the Lord present in the reserved Sacrament. Exposition of and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament typically formed the celebrational context of other devotions. Whether directed to the Lord himself or to a saint, the devotional prayers were usually recited consciously and specifically in the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament; and most of the devotions concluded with Eucharistic benediction. In a typical American Roman Catholic parish in the second quarter of this century the regular round of public common worship consisted of Mass every morning, with some form of popular devotion for Sunday afternoon and perhaps one evening during the week. The Sunday service, which earlier American church legislation had determined ought ideally to have been canonical Vespers, might consist of a Holy Hour or the Rosary during the plain seasons, prayers to the Mother of God during May (with no reference to Eastertide) and October, to Saint Joseph during March (with no reference to Lent), and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus during June. The week-night service was often an unchanging perennial novena. Benediction would inevitably conclude all of these services. Once a year the forty hours devotion, a three-day solemnity in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, would be observed. There was little tie-in to the official church year, though Lent was and is usually marked by the public celebration of the Stations of the Cross.

In the U.S. the principal reason for the demise of the devotions, which were almost exclusively afternoon functions, was the rise of the evening Mass, a development that was made possible by the reduction of the eucharistic fast to one hour. Church legislation has constantly emphasized the importance of corporate prayer other than the Eucharist, usually in terms of a kind of Liturgy of the Hours pastorally unfeasible for nonprofessionals. But there is no popular theological conviction that would lead clergy and people to choose any nonsacramental (and thus seemingly somehow "noneffective") prayer service in preference to the Mass. Once it became possible and easy to celebrate afternoon and evening Masses, the afternoon and evening devotions disappeared from parish schedules. Other reasons for the extinction of the devotions were associated with socioeconomic or ethnic groupings which were dissolving or at least becoming unfashionable. There was more competition for leisure time. The official services could incorporate many appealing features of the devotions. Finally, the widespread Catholic charismatic movement responds to the need for warmth of expression and religious experience that was formerly met almost exclusivelyto speak of worship servicesthrough the devotions.

The Values in Popular Devotions. Popular devotions are a powerful and authentic expression of the prayer life of the Church. It is appropriate to suggest perennial values that devotions have and that should continue in future forms of prayer intended for ordinary people in the Church.

(1) Popular devotions represent the continuance in the Latin West of the cathedral style of public prayer the style of common worship for ordinary Christians, as distinct from the monastic stylethe style developed among religious professionals (clerics, monks, religious, laity with a special religious interest). The cathedral style of worship did not find a place in the post-Tridentine Roman Liturgy of the Hours, which is a thoroughly monastic prayer form. Since ordinary Christians could not accommodate themselves to the official Liturgy of the Hours, their style of public prayer had to appear in other less official and seemingly peripheral forms. Though the devotions are legally less than liturgical, they embody a tradition of popular liturgical prayer that dates back to the patristic age and is a precious, if not essential, part of the patrimony of the praying Church.

(2) The devotions tend to be an expression of religious experience rather than a statement about religious experience. The deep-seated bias of the Roman liturgy is to conceive and experience public worship as a concise, abstract, external, and relatively superficial statement about the way things are between God and human beings. The devotions do not suffer from that impoverishment: they are an embodiment or a way of experiencing the relationship between God and his people.

(3) The devotions are conceived as a way of enabling the worshiper to do something rather than as a way of something being done to the worshiper. They are expression rather than education: they regard the Christian as a privileged person rather than as an object of instruction.

(4) The devotions, relative to the standard official liturgy of their time, are highly ceremonialized. They are thus simultaneously available to people of a wide range in age, educational background, and degree of religious interest.

(5) The devotions are almost unvarying in form and repetition of parts is frequent even within a given service. Although they were rightly criticized for not reflecting the seasons of the liturgical year, the devotions bear witness to the principleso fundamental in the tradition of individual, private prayerthat variety is not the spice of prayer. The devotions are a reminder that rhythm of public and private prayer is similar and that norms for the composition of public prayers are appropriately found within the experience of those who pray.

See Also: popular piety, hispanic, in the united states; popular piety, polish, in the united states.

Bibliography: Congregation of Rites, Inter oecumenici, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964) 877900; tr. Instruction for the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Washington, D.C. 1964), c. dehne, "Roman Catholic Popular Devotions," Worship 49 (1975) 446460. This article includes a basic bibliography on the subject of popular devotions, esp. notable are the works on "cathedral" and "monastic" forms of liturgy, 447. r. w. scribner, "Ritual and Popular Religion in Catholic Germany at the Time of the Reformation," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 35 (1984) 4777. t. matovina, "Liturgy, Popular Rites, and Popular Spirituality," Worship 63 (1989) 351361. o. o. espÍn, "Popular Catholicism among Latinos," in Hispanic Catholic Culture in the US, eds. j. p. dolan and a. f. deck (Notre Dame, Ind. 1994) 308359. v. elizondo, "Popular Religions as Support of IdentityBased on the Mexican-American Experience in the United States," in Spirituality of the Third World, eds. k. c. abraham and b. mbuybeya (Maryknoll, NY 1994) 5563. m. e. engh, "Companion of the Immigrants: Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe among Mexicans in the Los Angeles Area, 19001940," Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology 5 (1997) 3747. p. l. malloy, "The Re-Emergence of Popular Religion Among Non-Hispanic American Catholics," Worship 72 (Ja 1998), p. 225.

[c. dehne/eds.]