Friday, May 8, 2009

Forming Catholic Adults About Devotions

My experiences over the past year in facilitating the University of Dayton VLCFF course on liturgy revealed an important truth - the average Catholic often does not understand the difference between a communal recitation of a private devotion (the Rosary or Stations of the Cross, for example) and the public celebration of the liturgical rites of the Church (the Mass, sacraments, Liturgy of the Hours).

When the USCCB issued, in 2003, their document Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and Answers, it was largely ignored. The Bishops obviously had a reason to put this document out - to clarify that devotions are secondary to the liturgy. They quote the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines (December 2001), no. 50: "Since the liturgy is the center of the life of the Church, popular devotions should never be portrayed as equal to the liturgy, nor can they adequately substitute for the liturgy."

The bishops admit that we cannot always be engaged in the liturgy and there is certainly an appropriate place for piety and devotional practices outside of liturgical celebrations. They just ask for these to be put into proper perspective. They cite the example of novenas inserted into the Mass. There are indeed some parish communities that have added in devotions at some point in the Mass as kind of a customized signature in their celebration. Far from playing up the uniqueness of the community, these practices divert and diffuse the flow of the Mass. In fact, these practices may confuse and unfocus the celebration, particularly when they occur between reception of the Eucharist and the dismissal.

In a church where popular devotions and whether one participates in them has sometimes become a divisive issue (I have experienced people who believe that if you don't participate in the same devotions that they do, you are not a "real" Catholic) I am heartened that there are official guidelines. Now, how can we let people know about them?

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