Sunday, May 5, 2013


There are many in the academic world of Catholicism and rank and file Clergy and laity that mock popular devotions and will not promote them in their parishes. One such example is the Divine Mercy Novena and Chaplet and the devotions associated with Divine Mercy Sunday. We had several hundred people at our this past Divine Mercy Sunday and Fr. Dawid and I heard confessions for well over two hours! Why in the name of God and all that is holy would anyone deride a popular devotion like this that has taken off like wildfire since the 1990's in the USA?

With his South American sensibilities, Pope Francis is making the revival of popular devotions one of the hallmarks of his papacy. Many new Catholics, many younger Catholics know nothing of the power of popular devotions in the lives of almost every Catholic prior to Vatican II. Many Catholics my age and older have simply forgotten the energy that rank and file Catholics supported by their clergy and religious had for popular devotions prior to the Second Vatican Council.

Overnight after Vatican II, these popular devotions were denigrated by the academic intelligentsia of the Church of which many of these academic intellectuals Pope Francis has described in the following way: "Ideologues falsify the Gospel," "Every ideological interpretation, wherever it comes from -- from one side or the other -- is a falsification of the Gospel. And these ideologues --we have seen them in the history of the Church -- end up being intellectuals without talent, ethicists without goodness. And let's not even speak of beauty, because they understand nothing of that."

The iconoclasm of Catholic worship on the level of liturgical theologians in the post Vatican II era and of popular devotions that are the bread and butter of simple Catholics and not so simple Catholics throughout the ages comes from these "intellectuals without talent, ethicists without goodness!"

Every Catholic should read this ARTICLE BY PRESSING HERE, by Noel J. Augustyn entitled "The Suppression of Popular Devotions in Today's Catholic Church" which was written for the New Oxford Review in May of 1998.

The following are excerpts from that article but please read the full article:

We speak often of the changes in Roman Catholic worship since Vatican II: the exclusive use of the vernacular, the priest celebrating Mass facing the congregation; the ill-placed Sign of Peace; the replacement of Gregorian chant with "Kumbaya," and more. What this Catholic litany (pun intended) often omits, however, is the virtual disappearance of a major component of Catholic public prayer, commonly called "devotions." Today, when reportedly only about one of three Catholics in the United States attends obligatory Sunday Mass, it seems almost beyond belief that within recent memory great numbers would also gather in church in the evening on Wednesday and Fridays or other weekdays, and often on Sunday afternoons, for regular and seasonal devotions. Has something better replaced devotions? Or have we properly outgrown them? This essay will consider the surprising answers to these questions...

All these devotions, albeit as much popular as liturgical in nature, were led by a priest, either the pastor, assistant pastor, or a visitor. He was accompanied by acolytes and by thurifers with thuribles (that means incense-bearers bearing incense, for younger readers). An organist and at least part of the Sunday choir provided music and led the singing. Devotions, while never obligatory like Sunday Mass, were taken seriously as forms of public prayer. And they were a serious source of, a reinforcement of, and education in Catholic spirituality. Why have they now been reduced to a remnant in those places where they exist at all?...

One explanation may be the misunderstanding and mis-implementation of "ecumenism" that has so vitiated Christian life as a whole in the years since the Second Vatican Council. To promote Church unity it was thought that emphasis should be placed on what Catholics and our separated brethren have in common. That is laudable. Yet - unexpectedly - what was not held in common was needlessly de-emphasized and, indeed, actively suppressed. Every facet of Catholic public prayer was suddenly at the mercy of an argument about whether it was "essential" to the faith. There are dangers to this approach that should have been obvious. Centuries ago some Christians taking a similar approach reduced the seven sacraments to two. The effect of the more recent reductionism on Catholic life over the past three decades has been less radical, but the Catholic devotions are among its victims, much to the Church's detriment...

There appears at first glance to be a certain logic to de-emphasizing devotions for the sake of Christian unity. Protestants have no public rosary recitations, or litanies, either chanted or spoken, and there is certainly nothing akin to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, with its Thomistic hymns and its concluding Divine Praises. If the de-emphasis or abandonment of Catholic devotions would remove some barrier to Christian unity, then such abandonment might arguably be positive...

After three decades, we can fairly ask: Has the abandonment of devotions advanced the cause of Christian unity? No. Catholics and the "mainline" Protestants with whom greater unity was sought are separated today by issues far more serious than forms of popular religious expression. Dropping rosaries and litanies and processions has certainly not arrested the development of more and more grave differences between Protestants and Catholics in both dogmatic and moral theology, ranging from the ordination of priestesses to the endorsement of abortion. Instead, what has happened is that the power and beauty and richness of centuries of Catholic devotions have been denied to an entire generation - now adults - born after the Council, and the spirituality of those of us old enough to have experienced devotions as part of our Catholic heritage has been parched...

A second cause of devotional de-emphasis in the years since the Council must be faced - a phenomenon perhaps best called "the exclusivity of the official." With respect to public prayer, this has meant total emphasis on the Eucharistic liturgy, and for nearly all Catholics nearly all the time this translates into the Mass and nothing else. Just as their is a hierarchy in Holy Orders, so there is a hierarchy in public prayer, and the summit of public prayer is the Mass, where God is present in a unique way not only in His assembled people but also in His word, sacrament, and priest. With now practically no restrictions on the time and place of its celebration, and with the Eucharistic fasting discipline reduced to a bare minimum, the Mass has effectively nullified every other form of Catholic common prayer. (We have daily Mass - but we've had that for centuries...)

It must be said that with this emphasis on the official has come a certain clerical condescension. The de-emphasis of devotions correlates with a kind of "correctness" that has pastors asserting intellectual or cultural dominance over their flocks. One example comes from a local parish in connection with the practice of perhaps the strongest remnant of the old devotions, Lenten Friday evening Stations of the Cross. Until recently, the Stations, led by a priest, were concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Benediction was suddenly dropped without explanation. When the associate pastor who led the Stations was asked why he quit celebrating Benediction, he replied that liturgical ceremonies such as Benediction could not be commingled with nonliturgical, popular practices such as the Stations...

To those who would assert that a restoration of devotional life would be a regression in Catholic intelectual sophistication or a blow against ecumenism, an apt response is the motto of John Paul II and the title of a popular post-Vatican II hymn: "Be Not Afraid." The fear that devotions will supplant official worship or that the laity cannot distinguish between the two is baseless, and the notion that devotions are an obstacle to Christian unity is simply nonsense. God's people should be encouraged to pray and sing and process publicly, led by their bishops, priests, and deacons. The glory of the Church's customs should be celebrated, not suppressed...

More devotions on Tuesday evening or Friday afternoon might well mean more people at Mass on Sunday, and more candidates for seminaries and convents, so that many more will be participating in, celebrating, and leading the official prayer life of the Church. Popular public prayer and official worship are complements, not contradictions, and we should hope that our children and grandchildren will experience to the full the rich spiritual life derived from both...


WSquared said...

What Pope Francis has been saying about a certain academic intellectualism that produces "intellectuals without talent and ethicists without goodness" is all the more reason both for why there needs to be a revival of popular devotion and also why anti-intellectual attitudes in the Church are inexcusable.

"Or have we properly outgrown them?"

While Augustyn's article is not saying that we've "outgrown" popular devotions, two things here (and I'm going to be blunt): one, if those devotions are about opening the heart to live more fully in Christ, the Incarnation (and alpha and omega, beginning and end, past, present, and future), how precisely can any of us "outgrow" them if we know Who He is? And two, for that very reason-- please: grow up. We don't need any more "beyond Jesus" nonsense or any more infantile coloring-book Catholicism that simply propagates more incoherent drivel, which encapsulates everything that Pope Francis criticizes here.

Again, there's a certain shifting of the goalposts on both an intellectual and spiritual level (not inconsequently horizontal and vertical) going on that's just viscerally repulsive, because of the way it strikes at "you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul, and all of your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself" all at once.

It's very true that Catholic spirituality concerns itself with the heart, the primary instrument for seeking God. But the insufficiency of the intellect only begs the question of what we allow our hearts to be open to. That's the question that not enough people-- including, and perhaps especially, those who like to claim that "God doesn't care about all that doctrine and dogma and stuff; He cares only about what's truly in my heart!"-- are asking. It's probably not an exaggeration to say that the fruit of separating faith from reason is essentially various forms of spiritual and intellectual abuse.

"When the associate pastor who led the Stations was asked why he quit celebrating Benediction, he replied that liturgical ceremonies such as Benediction could not be commingled with nonliturgical, popular practices such as the Stations..."

...if everything that we do as Catholics are meant to point to and ultimately be grounded in the Source and Summit of the Christian Life, the Eucharist, just how do these kinds of false dichotomies and separations make any real sense? Devotions get us keyed into the Mass.

WSquared said...

While I am no triumphalist, I have to say that I find "ecumenism" that really boils down to Protestant tradition being sacrosanct, but Catholic tradition being always and everywhere negotiable more than simply off-putting. It is likewise repulsive, because it suggests that I'm not allowed to know who I am as a Catholic, and also that I shouldn't be bothered.

Any genuine understanding and respect has to go both ways. It is also an abject lie to think that any sort of Christian unity can be sought or achieved without Jesus Christ as He truly is.

Here again, "without Me, you can do nothing" is paramount. Also, anyone who attempts to pray the Mass on Sunday has run into the words, "grant us Your peace in accordance with Your will. Well-meaning "ecumenism" that does not take this into account only ever fosters (or is the best term "brokers"?) a false peace and an artificial unity, which is ultimately no peace and unity at all. And I think we've also all heard the phrase that "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

There are ways of respecting Protestants and admiring the love that so many of them have for Christ that do not have to amount to our adopting their theology or praxis and jettisoning our own, or bending over backwards "so that they, like, don't hate us, or something." Also, Protestants will ask well-meaning questions that we should answer with patience and charity, but which we should not be afraid to answer truthfully, and with a sober joy. Some may not "like" the answer we give them, but we have to be prepared for that, too.

That "we don't want people to get the wrong idea" so we have to suppress what makes us Catholic is nonsense, especially coming from those who claim to "celebrate diversity." It is also pernicious, because it is disingenuous: others most certainly WILL get "the wrong idea" when we can't be bothered. And a "Catholicism" that insists on shaping itself in the image of various forms of American Protestantism will be ineffective, because it begs the question of why anyone should even bother to become Catholic.

Furthermore, let's not ignore that rather interesting linguistic sleight of hand that separates out Catholicism from Christianity. While it is true that "forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do," it is also equally true that this is problematic. Misunderstanding and ignorance are one thing, but they also deserve correction.

Protestants have every reason to not do things that don't comport with their beliefs and theology. But Catholics have equal reason to do those things that comport with ours. What we pray is what we believe, and how we pray and comport ourselves in prayer reflect that.

"The fear that devotions will supplant official worship or that the laity cannot distinguish between the two is baseless, and the notion that devotions are an obstacle to Christian unity is simply nonsense."

Especially if the teaching of the Catholic Church is that Protestants have some of the truth, but not all of it, but the Catholic Church has the fullness of the truth. Authentic Catholicism has the breadth and depth to meet non-Catholics where they are without compromising itself, because Jesus truly is That Big, and as a result, Catholic orthodoxy is just bigger because it allows us to see that bigness. The awesome thing about popular devotions is that since they complement the Mass by keying us into it and pointing toward it, then it's one of the ways in which the reality of the Mass extends itself into the mundane.

Gene said...

Very nicely put, WSquared. There is really nothing to add to what you have said. Thanks.

Pater Ignotus said...

I none of the ecumenical discussions I have had have I ever stepped away from any element the Catholic faith.

While some, on both sides, may want to achieve a "lowest common denominator" Christinaity, none of the official dialogues of our Church have given up that which is constitutive of the Faith.

Too often people misrepresent ecumenism due to the fact that they are 1) unaware of the official dialogues, 2) that they harbor antipathy to the denominations they left behind when they became Catholics, or 3) they have a mistaken notion of what the Catholic Church actually teaches on this or that matter.

Yes, the fullness of Faith subsists in the Catholic Church and yes, God uses other Christian denominations and even non-Christian religions as means of salvific grace.

In any event, we are saved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In no other name are we saved.

Gene said...


rcg said...

W2, sounds right to me. I think the strangeness of many devotions, and there are some strange ones, caused some discomfort among Catholics along ethnic lines. What seems to have happened is the devotions were replaced with aberrations in the Liturgy to be more inclusive. Music is only one example, "Liturgical Dance" is another.

My problem is that our Catholic requirements have been reduced to near trivia status, or just the preference for decoration in our home. If it is the truth then were are bound to profess it. The differences in the Catholic Church and Protestants is far more than variations of devotions. If the reduced emphasis on devotions was in response to the real differences it seems insulting to both camps.

ostro picta said...

Isn’t this Church teaching?
1. All people (believers and non-believers) are equal before the Triune God.
2. All religions (and, therefore, all Christian denominations therein) are not equal before the Triune God.
3. The Church waits among believers (and non-believers) that the same God who founded the Church will heal wounds and move all people towards the Truth. That Truth being the fullness of God’s revelation, the Bride of Christ, the Roman Catholic Church – the Church Militant.

As someone who left another Christian denomination and joined the Church, antipathy is one of the many emotions I have toward my former denomination. We were taught, essentially, a version of the prosperity gospel. Am I wrong to find some parts of it disgusting? Sin perverts the Truth. But I was also introduced to the person of Jesus Christ in that same faith. So, I also have some warmth towards it. I suppose that is one of the reasons I still listen to the songs from the older hymnal I grew-up with. And some of them are miles better than the painful Dan Schuette hymns one is forced to listen to over and over and over.

John said...

What is the meaning of a great number of clergy, lined up on a "stage" facing the "audience?"

I am writing about the picture introducing your blog. What devotion is possible in this context when the congregation is turned in on itself: priests looking at the folks and vice versa. Is it just my hyper-critical attitude? What I see is actors receiving a well earned round of applause after a long performance.

Devotion would be inspired when the actors turn and face the "Author" to give accolade with those in the pew to the one responsible for the occasion.

I am still waiting for the reform of the reform.

Templar said...

Keep waiting John. In order to have a "reform of the reform" one has had to have experienced a "reform" in the first place. The Catholic Church never had said "reform", instead what we had was a "deform" and what many are trying to accomplish now can only truthfully be labeled a "reform of the deformed". Anything that can trace it's lineage to MR70 can only ever be deformed, since MR70 is a bastard liturgy. We can "recognize it", but it will never change the fact that it's paternity is that of a bastard child. True reform, as called for in SC, can only come if it goes back to the last real MR (62) and uses that as the starting point. Since the Church never admits her mistakes that is unlikely to happen.

WSquared said...

"I none of the ecumenical discussions I have had have I ever stepped away from any element the Catholic faith. "

I never said you did.

But the fact is that way too many Catholics on average in the U.S. are ill-formed, and some of them are even ill-formed and proud of it. You should ask yourself what kinds of "ecumenical dialogues" they're having at the grass-roots level.

American Catholics who care more about being American than being Catholic are formed more by a local, national, and nationalized Protestant ethos than they are by Rome. Granted, that's a complex historical issue, but it is nonetheless true, and something we can't ignore. All you have to do is read Kathleen Kennedy on Being Catholic Today or somesuch, and follow it up with Ross Douthat to see how we became "a nation of heretics." The more academically minded should read Brad Gregory, Unintended Reformation. I would also google the no-nonsense sermons of Fr. Noah Waldman.

The point being, absenting Catholic orthodoxy, as per the practice of Cafeteria Catholicism, one is hardly untoward in wondering what their Catholicity (or lack thereof) then cedes ground to.

Furthermore, while I'm not at all saying that Protestants as a rule hate Catholics, Protestantism is by its definition anti-Catholic, at least for the reason that what anyone who espouses it "protests" is the Catholic Church, and the fact that the Pope and the Magisterium have any authority over them at all.

So "official dialogues" notwithstanding, many of the people in the pews will step away from and have stepped away from many and any elements of the Catholic faith without your say-so. All you have to do is run into any average Catholic in the U.S. who claims that because they were "born and raised Catholic, come from a long line of Catholic families, had eight years of Catholic school, and more religion classes than the Pope," the Catholic Church has "no right" to "tell them what to do." We've also all encountered at some time or other the "devout Catholic" or the "former seminarian" who pulls out their Catholic "street cred" before they pull their dissenting B.S.

Kevin Lee said...

I've been in ministry for years now. Working with people, mentoring, prayer, teaching and counseling (Oh and working with Leadership). A lot of big talk has it value, but simple good sense is undeniable. If your there bring it. If not, then get there. There is two things at work here laziness and self-centeredness. Give the Truth in Love and boldly. God will take care of the devils. Just like Gideon's army.