Monday, July 18, 2005

On Popular Piety

US Catholic has a piece on popular piety -- you know, the Rosary, everything else you'd ever be able to find in a TAN book or within 50 feet of Tom Monaghan.

I'd like to get everyone's mind on this. The piece seems to advocate a return to basics, i.e. the liturgy -- which everything else was created to substitute, i.e. the "Hail Marys" of the Rosary taking the place of the Psalter of the Divine Office because people couldn't read in the 13th century, etc.

One thing I'm curious about is this: whatever happened to silence? Back at the parish, adoration time is so sucked up by these ridiculous devotions which are forced upon the people (Chaplet of the Holy Wounds, Litany of the Holy Face, Novena to the Holy Hands, Blessing on the Holy Handrails) that -- again -- the people seem to be missing the forest for the trees and it just sounds like a monotonous rabble of sycophants reading off cue cards.

The people who advocate popular piety are the same people who look at me like some kind of terrorist when I remind (or tell them for the first time) that the Liturgy of the Hours is actually the sanctioned prayer of the church and takes precedence over all other private devotions. This is not my own viewpoint, but I've been excoriated for it....

Welcome to the resurgent tridentine Catholicism -- povero catechesi, arroganza peggio ancora.



Blogger Disgusted in DC said...


I don't know any traditionalist leader who believes that devotions are higher and prior to the liturgy of the hours. I would like, for once, to see those progressives who would rip rosaries out of the hands of little old ladies during mass and shutting down the miraculous medal novena to FIRST put their money where their mouth is and RESTORE a fully fledged mattins and vespers EVERY DAY. They won't, of course.

One of the cruelest cuts of the changes in the late 60s and early 70s was the elimination of all the popular devotions. People loved the devotions, the devotions brought them closer to God, and most (though not all) were perfectly orthodox and sound, if not to everybody's liking. I, for one, am not big on most popular devotions, though I do love the Litany of the Loretto and am devoted to Our Lady of Walsingham. What is so wrong with these devotions? I say: Nothing at all! More of the same, please!

18/7/05 12:27  
Blogger KathrynTherese said...

I've got to agree with Patrick here, Rocco - you need to lighten up a bit. The stress is getting to you, man. If you're going to start railing again the Litany of the Holy Face....
There are always those people who multiply their "devotions" and think they are devoted; but I know people who eat too many doughnuts, and I don't insist the human race should stop frying carbohydrates, no matter how distasteful I find this. And I don't think we need to fret about the misuse of devotions because we see them misunderstood by the misguided.
You forget that the Church is here to help all of us misguided idiots to find our niche in the Kingdom. If someone is devoted to some Chaplet or other, that's fine. Patience "with those whose faith is weak" is a Pauline tenet. Relax. God wants us to be like children. Don't forget that behind what seems to you to be some archaic mindless repetition and a frantic clinging to some external sign is the true kernel of internal reality that keeps this whole thing going - personal devotion to the Truth, which is not a THING, but a PERSON. I'm sure you know His Name.
Let's not get so enlightened about what exactly constitutes true devotion that we start to disregard what feeds another's soul. We should put "no stumbling block" in another's way, after all.

And if we're too mature to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or we start to call the Litany of the Precious Blood "ridiculous," we're in trouble, methinks.

"Sycophants?" That's not even nice.

18/7/05 19:10  
Blogger Unknown said...

That's the thing about popular devotions, if they don't work for you, you don't have to do them.

By the same token, if they do work for someone else you shouldn't dismiss them simply because they don't work for you. I think the Church is big enough for all the devotions.

18/7/05 19:36  
Blogger Papabile said...


I love your board. However, you are going over the top here. Yes, sometimes devotions can be excessive, but I doubt many parishes even have that many anymore. But, for your edification, here are a few extracs from Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidlines, released by the CDW in December 2001.

(Please note, this directory was published by direct permission from John Paul II. As you always point out, these things always ultimately are the reponsibility of the Holy Father, both good and bad.)

Rocco, I could go on and on, but you are going much to far here. Vatican II actually commanded that these devotions be harmonized with the liturgy. In fact, the latin used the imperative in this case.

Oh, and yes, the Divine Office is the Prayer of the Church, it is an official Liturgy. I read it myself, daily, in the Editio Typica Latina. But, neither Liturgy is to be done to the exclusion of devotions. While we've talked on the phone, I've never disagreed with you publically, but I will now. This post I thought was particularly obnoxious and dismissive of the sensus fidelum.


From the Directory

"The spiritual life of the faithful is also nourished by "the pious practices of the Christian people", especially those commended by the Apostolic See and practised in the particular Churches by mandate of the Bishop or by his approval. Mindful of the importance that such cultic expressions should conform to the laws and norms of the Church, the Council Fathers outlined their theological and pastoral understanding of such practices: "pious devotions are to be ordered so as to harmonize with the Sacred Liturgy and lead the Christian people to it, since in fact the Liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them" (ibidem,13)."

"1. In accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, this Congregation, in furthering and promoting the Liturgy, "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed...and the fount from which all her power flows"(1), wishes to draw attention to the need to ensure that other forms of piety among the Christian people are not overlooked, nor their useful contribution to living in unity with Christ, in the Church, be forgotten(2)."

"Following on the conciliar renewal, the situation with regard to Christian popular piety varies according to country and local traditions. Contradictory attitudes to popular piety can be noted: manifest and hasty abandonment of inherited forms of popular piety resulting in a void not easily filled; attachments to imperfect or erroneous types of devotion which are estranged from genuine Biblical revelation and compete with the economy of the sacraments; unjustified criticism of the piety of the common people in the name of a presumed "purity" of faith; a need to preserve the riches of popular piety, which is an expression of the profound and mature religious feeling of the people at a given moment in space and time; a need to purify popular piety of equivocation and of the dangers deriving from syncretism; the renewed vitality of popular religiosity in resisting, or in reaction to, a pragmatic technological culture and economic utilitarianism; decline of interest in popular piety ensuing on the rise of secularized ideologies and the aggressive activities of "sects" hostile to it."


Extract from the address of His Holiness Pope John Paul II
to the Plenary Meeting of
The Congregatiion for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments
(21 September 2001)

4. With a view to the preparation of a Directory, your Plenary has chosen popular religiosity as its main topic. 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.

18/7/05 19:56  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...

Here's a question for Papabile (and others) from someone who also prays the Liturgy of the Hours daily in Latin,

[Liturgia Horarum, editio typica altera, 4 vols. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, MM - no small commitment from a fiscal, let alone spiritual perspective, as the "editio economica" - yeah, right! - is $85/vol and the leather-bound is $208/vol!]

in Latin, I say, because, for someone like myself who studied Latin - and prayed in it - for many years, everything about the Latin version, from the treasury of Latin hymnody (restored by Vatican II and carried out by the famed Dom Anselmo Lentini, OSB of Monte Cassino), through the scriptural and patristic lectionaries of the Office of Readings (the selections nearly triple those of the previous Breviarium ), to the preces at Lauds and Vespers (real laudatory and intercessory litanies replacing the mere remnant Kyries of the former rite) - are all so much more beautiful in Latin than in the English translation.

But now tell me: If Lauds and Vespers were available for you to participate in, nearby in your parish church or rectory chapel, daily - or whenever - would you join the local assembly's vernacular celebration, thus incarnating the universal Church and joining with the choirs of heaven in carrying on the prayer of the Bride in union with her heavenly Bridegroom (Paul VI, Laudis canticum, reforming the Roman Breviary, 1971), or stay in your room to read it privately in Latin because it's so much more beautiful in Latin (and it is!)?

I think our answer to THAT question, prior to any discussion of popular devotional prayer, goes a long way toward revealing whether or not we understand - and accept - the theology formally promulgated by the Church, Pope and worldwide episcopate, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) of Vatican II. If we don't get THOSE basics right, I think it unlikely that we're going to understand the other conciliar principle that popular devotions "must accord with the spirit of the liturgy" and in some sense "derive from and tend toward" that official liturgy.

18/7/05 20:16  
Blogger Papabile said...

I would join in choir and chant Lauds or Vespers in the vernacular, if I could.

However, I have a job, where I am generally at work from 6 AM to 11 PM, or later, in DC. I have happily joined in Compline or the Office of Readings at various monasteries because of this. My kids and wife are usually in bed by the time I get home, and you can rest assured I focus on getting home to them on Fridays and Saturdays early.

With that said, the Latin is much more beautiful than the vernacular, and after studying Latin for 14 years, I am happy to be able to pray in it. It's much better than any vernacular version that I have ever read.

I guess your question strikes a raw never in me because it seems to presume that I am a locked off traditionalist. I am not.

18/7/05 20:57  
Blogger Andrew said...

It's also important to remember that, while the monastics who strung beads on a string to pray 150 Our Fathers did so in imitation of the Divine Office, the Rosary as it is today serves a markedly different purpose. No one who prays the Rosary would tell you they do so as a substitute for the Office, regardless of what the first purpose of strung prayer beads was: the modern Rosary is, quite differently, a form of ritualized mental prayer.

18/7/05 22:59  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...

FIRST: APOLOGIES to PAPABILE for any misunderstanding. My question was directed to all of us (I kept using we/us, I think, or I meant to). I did NOT mean the question as a criticism of you personally. I suggested that for all of US who love Latin and appreciate the (old or new) rites in Latin, the challenge is to accept a liturgical theology that may indeed call upon us to sacrifice our personal preferences at times.

Your answer is, in fact, the proper ecclesial response (in light of Sacrosanctum Concilium) and the one we should all make unhesitatingly. So: high praise to you for manifesting what I think the mind of the Church is vis a vis public celebration and private recitation of the Office.

You're fortunate to have places to go where the Office is publically available. Around Boston, at least in terms of publically advertised and well-known for liturgical hospitality at the Divine Office, about the ONLY place most people would think of is the Episcopal monastery of the Cowley Community (Society of Saint John the Evangelist) on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Sung vernacular Office in Gregorian Chant, with books provided for the guests, who are invited past the grille to seats in a guest section of the monastic choir. The Episcopal bishop of this area is a monk of that Community.

19/7/05 08:29  
Blogger CrankyProfessor said...

Hmm -

The Liturgy of the Hours (and public matins and vespers) are about as monastico-clericalist as it comes; all the pronouncements on them as the Prayer of the Church won't make a set of practices which require the use of books to carry out 'popular.' Ever. Yes, in the middle ages all good monks and nuns memorized the psalter first of all, but this isn't the middle ages, and for all the talk of monastic life as a lay vocation those of us who didn't ever attend seminary see through that one pretty quickly -- they may not be priests, but they're sure specialists.

Oh - and in terms of priority, there's good reason to see the rosary as a 13th century lay replacement for the hours, but it was a repetition of Our Fathers (not Hail Marys) that replaced the psalter for lay brothers in high medieval monasteries. Repetition, rather than the prayer itself, was the part emulating the Liturgy of the Hours.

19/7/05 13:35  
Blogger Gyrovagus said...


Don't look now - but lots of people buy and use books . . . popular books, even . . . and in three different parishes (urban, suburban, rural), with the help of a very inexpensive "Shorter Christian Prayer", the morning (and evening) Mass community learned very quickly and easily the basics of praying Lauds and Vespers. Many asked to buy their own copies to have at home to say Night Prayer from every day and to use for their own Morning and Evening prayers when they weren't in church.

A frequent comment was that they liked the psalms (and the parish staff provided simple, basic catechesis on the psalms over the course of Advent-Christmas, Lent-Easter), the liked being able to chant Psalm 95, the Benedictus and Magnificat, and they liked the opportunity for spontaneous and silent prayer during the intercessions after those two canticles.

The books just aren't all that challenging, especially if you have a community to socialize you to it. And it isn't long before a good portion of what you first have "to read upon the Book" (to quote Archbishop Cranmer, the great "popularizer" of the Hours through the Book of Common Prayer) becomes prayer you know and can say "by heart."

Moreover, a significant percentage of these parish Hours-pray-ers are senior citizens. And they have no trouble at all with the Book of Hours - most of them having figured out e-mail and digital camera photography to keep in touch with far-flung children and grandchildren.

You're right: this ISN'T the middle ages and the Liturgy of the Hours is not rocket science.

19/7/05 15:00  
Blogger Paul Goings said...

If Lauds and Vespers were available for you to participate in, nearby in your parish church or rectory chapel, daily...


Seriously, I live in Philadelphia, and this is the primary reason why I have remained an Anglican up to this point.

If you wish to go to Sunday vespers here (see Dies Domini) your choices are (to the best of my knowledge) the Norbertines in Paoli, the Franciscans on 13th Str (secundum quid) or the Pink Sisters in Fairmount.

But wait, surely the offices are celebrated publicly at the cathedral?

Well, some of them are... at the Episcopalian cathedral! At the Minor Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, not so much. In fact, my parish had a solemn mass for the feast of the Holy Apostles--across the Parkway, nada!

Sure I have my favorite devotions, but if they could just get Sunday vespers in place I'd probably sign on pretty quickly.

Until then I'll continue reciting the Breviarium Romanum in an English translation with all of my "fellow travellers," waiting for the promised day of the Lord.

4/8/05 17:46  

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