WASHINGTON (November 7, 2003) -- "Popular devotions are not a matter in which 'one size fits all.' We must be aware that in our Church today in the U.S. there are various ethnic groups who are living in different cultural contexts and be sensitive to the fact that these groups often find that different devotional practices correspond better with their spiritual needs than others."
"The Church has learned from experience that authentic popular devotions are an invaluable means of promoting an increased love of God."
"Popular devotions allow the faith to pass beyond the bounds of the Church's official liturgy and to permeate more thoroughly the daily lives of people in their own culture."
"Properly used, popular devotional practices do not replace the liturgical life of the Church; rather, they extend it into daily life."
So says a proposed pastoral statement Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and Answers which the Catholic Bishops will consider at their semi-annual meeting here, Nov. 10-13.
Prepared by the Committee on Doctrine, the proposed pastoral statement owes its origin to a 2001 varium which expressed concern about the proliferation of devotional materials not fully consistent with the theological and ecumenical developments of recent decades. The committee was asked to make a study of the issue and report to the Conference. In January 2003 it sent the bishops a "Guide for Evaluating Popular Devotions," which summarized the first part of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
The new document has a different focus, a question and answer format, and is intended for a broad readership. The bishops are expected to vote on the proposed pastoral statement on Wednesday, Nov. 12. Approval will require a two-thirds vote of the body.
"Because popular devotional practices have such an important role in the spiritual life of Catholics, the bishops of the United States have decided that it would be useful to prepare a text responding to questions that commonly arise with regard to such devotions…equipped with a fuller understanding of the proper role of popular devotional practices, the faithful will be better able to avoid possible misapplications and to recognize devotions whose appropriateness is questionable," the document states.
Like the Second Vatican Council, the pastoral statement emphasizes that "the life of the Church centers on the liturgy, the official public worship of God by the Church as the Body of Christ"…because every liturgical celebration "is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church," no other form of worship can take its place; a liturgical celebration "is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy and to the same degree."
"While the liturgy is 'the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed'…it is not possible for us to fill up all of our day with participation in the liturgy. The Council pointed out that the spiritual life "is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy…according to the teaching of the apostle (the Christian) must pray without ceasing.'"
"Popular devotional practices play a crucial role in helping to foster this ceaseless prayer. The faithful have always used a variety of practices as a means of permeating life with prayer to God. Examples include: pilgrimages, novenas, processions and celebrations in honor of Mary and the saints, the Rosary, the Angelus, the Stations of the Cross, and the veneration of relics."
The proposed pastoral statement attempts to answer the following questions: What are the origins of popular devotions? What is the relationship between popular devotions and the liturgy, the Bible, popular culture? Why are there so many different forms of popular devotion? What is the role of the saints in the life of the Church? Why does Mary have a special role in helping us? How does our veneration of Mary and the saints relate to our worship of God? What is the difference between public revelation and private revelation? By what standard does the Church judge the genuineness of private revelations? Who has the responsibility to ensure that popular devotions are faithful to Church teaching? How do popular devotions relate to our responsibilities toward others in our world?
Its answers to these questions contain the following observations, among many others:
-"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 substitute for the liturgy. What is crucial is that popular devotions be in harmony with the liturgy, drawing inspiration from it and ultimately leading back to it."
-"As the Bible stands at the core of what God has revealed to the Church, sound popular devotions should naturally be strongly imbued with biblical themes, language, and imagery."
-"The Catholic faith is…able to enter into every culture and people are able to live the faith in their own cultures….When properly ordered to the liturgy, popular devotions perform an irreplaceable function of bringing worship into daily life for people of various cultures and times." In Ecclesia in America, Pope John Paul II referred to the example of Americans of African origin: "The Church recognizes that it must approach these Americans from within their own culture, taking seriously the spiritual and human riches of that culture which appear in the way they worship, their sense of joy and solidarity, their language and their traditions."
-"Proper veneration of the saints does not interfere with the worship due to God, but rather fosters it….Likewise, proper veneration of Mary does not detract from worship of God. Even as the Mother of the Savior, Mary's place is in every way subordinate to and dependent upon that of her son, who is the one mediator between God and humanity…Mary in no way replaces Christ. Rather, her role is to bring us to Christ."
The proposed pastoral statement Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and Answers also contains an Appendix on Indulgences. A number of popular devotions have indulgences attached to them.