Popular Devotions Promoted as Way to Shape the Culture

U.S. Bishops Encourage Everyday Forms of Piety

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WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 9, 2003 (Zenit.org).- At a time when New York City schools are allowing Jewish menorahs and Islamic crescents but trying to ban Christian nativity scenes, U.S. bishops asre encouraging the faithful to practice popular devotions and transform the culture.

«In genuine forms of popular piety, the Gospel message assimilates expressive forms particular to a given culture while also permeating the consciousness of that culture with the content of the Gospel,» the bishops’ conference recently wrote in a statement, quoting from the «Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.»

The bishops’ conference issued «Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and Answers» following its fall meeting for two reasons.

First was to encourage the faithful to make use of sound devotional practices, so that their faith might permeate more thoroughly in their lives and culture. Second was to give the faithful a fuller understanding of the proper role of popular piety, to help them avoid misapplications of it.

Examples of devotions given in the document include pilgrimages, novenas, processions and celebrations in honor of Mary and the other saints, the rosary, the Angelus, the Stations of the Cross, the veneration of relics and the use of sacramentals.

The bishops asserted that an increase of popular piety is evidence of the Church’s influence on society. «First of all, by introducing the Catholic faith, the Church transforms the culture, leaving the imprint of the faith on the culture,» they said.

«At the same time, however, the Church assimilates certain aspects of the culture, as some elements of the culture become absorbed and integrated into the life of the Church,» they added. «This twofold process can be seen in the development of popular devotional practices.»

Both the liturgy and popular piety have a role in this transformation, the bishops wrote.

«While this inculturation of the faith takes place in the liturgy, popular devotions carry the faith a step deeper into the everyday life of a particular culture,» they said. «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.»

Though the bishops expounded on the importance of popular devotions, they were sure to emphasize the primacy of the liturgy in their document.

«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,» they wrote. «What is crucial is that popular devotions be in harmony with the liturgy, drawing inspiration from it and ultimately leading back to it.»

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