In case you haven’t noticed, Pope Francis is really into what he calls “popular devotions.” In fact, the idea of popular devotions echoes throughout his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel”).
Popular devotions are those para-liturgical acts of piety performed by those some deem as “poor” or “less educated.” The Holy Father writes:
I think of the steadfast faith for those mothers tending their sick children who, tough perhaps barely familiar with the articles of the creed, cling to a rosary; or of all the hope poured into a candle lighted in a humble home with prayer for help from Mary, or in the gaze of tender love directed to Christ crucified.”
My fear is that we Americans will read that quote by Pope Francis above, and then fall into one of two camps:
The 2 Popular Devotion Camps:
1) Sophisticated theological Catholic: Shrugs and thinks to himself, “How sentimental. This Latin American Pope has a quaint love for the poor and destitute. Anyway, I’ve got to get back to reading Saint Irenaeus before I listen to Catholic Answers at 5pm.”
2) Sophisticated non-Catholic: Shakes his head and thinks to himself, “This Pope doesn’t get. This isn’t the Gospel of Jesus Christ! This is shanty town syncretism at best, or ignorant magic at worse.”
Those of us accustomed to reading the theological tomes of Pope Benedict XVI might not fully appreciate the teaching of Pope Francis here. So what is Pope Francis trying to express?
What about Popular Devotions?
Pope Francis writes that popular devotions are a form of theology centered more on “ideas” and less on a “train of thought.” Popular devotions, then, differ from reading a book about apologetics. Rather devotions are more about a communal celebration centered around an idea. My friend Father Juan Diego Sutherland in Nicaragua speaks glowingly of this communal joy during public processions and celebrations.
Why don’t we “sophisticated Catholics” partake in “folk devotions” anymore?
Pope Francis lists the following popular devotions and I add a few extra:
- group Rosary
- group Chaplet of Divine Mercy
- Eucharistic processions
- Marian processions
- outdoor Stations of the Cross
- group pilgrimages
One might say, “Yes, if a person is illiterate, the Rosary or Stations are perfect because they teach the poor about the story of the Gospel, but if a person is educated, he should just read the Bible.” This is a typical Protestant response.
Here’s the problem with that perspective. Faith in Christ is more than a discursive path to truth (A to B and then B to C and then C to D). Rather, it is an experience of Christ and a communal experience.
My sense is that the Latin American Catholic has so much more joy and hope because he has an experiential idea of his Christianity. God is there. This is the kind of faith that Pope Francis constantly speaks about and this is why His Holiness is reminding the white-collar Catholics about these devotions.
Question: How do you foster popular devotions again? How do we re-establish public processions and acts of faith in the public square? How does your parish make this happen. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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