Saturday, May 19, 2018

Devotionalism: Its Relation to Religion

Proper devotion, as noted by the Thomistic reference in the previous installment, is tied intrinsically to the practice of religion. While a particular devotion might have grass roots it must have a close relation to the religious practice of the Church if it can be considered a Catholic devotion. There is little necessary in the way of a formal process of ecclesiastical approval; indeed, aside from recognition in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum or outright condemnation there is little to stand in the way of a devotion from developing however its devotees wish.

In an age when the faithful were more attuned to the movements and rhythms of Tradition, one could more easily trust the common instinct as sensus fidelium. The iconoclastic movement of the Counter-Reformation shifted devotionalism to a clergy-approved process, but the modern age has seen even priests turning skeptic. Devotionals tend to be split between extreme populist practices (consecrations to St. Joseph, various novenas, private revelations) and those safely approved and promulgated (Divine Mercy chaplets, miraculous medals).

The practices of religious orders were the source of most popular devotions. From the formal prayer of the psalter or breviary has sprung the Rosary, books of hours, little offices, parochial vespers, and many more. Every popular form of scapular comes from a religious habit. Consecrations to Christ and Mary take the form of quasi-religious vows. The admonition to have a “rule of life” is a derivation of the strict order of monastic living.

The ancient practice of pilgrimage developed in a multitude of ways from its roots in the Jewish Passover, and devotions like the Stations of the Cross and “round-the-block” processions are simplified extrapolations from its basic principles. So too are derived the various labyrinths of medieval cathedrals.

The kalendar found popular expression in the dedication of months to saints and Christological aspects, usually tied into a particular feast found in that month. The same is often applied to the days of the week, but to far more questionable effect.

When devotions move away from their roots they begin to take on lives of their own. The Rosary gains a fourth set of mysteries and loses all symbolic connection to the 150 psalms. The brown scapular is handed out like candy by everyone but the Carmelites and becomes a garment of superstition. The vigil is disconnected from its complex roots in the Roman Rite and Breviary, and becomes a way to escape going to Mass on Sunday mornings. Unless it maintains strong roots in Tradition, devotionalism slips into rigid atomization and restless novelty.


  1. One of the sad results in ignoring the venerable and ancient Roman liturgy, devotionalizing and mutilating it as well, hurting not only the adherents of Paul VI's liturgy but also typical traditionalists who fall back only to the era of the 40s and 50s, as if everything in that period was great!

    1. Paul,

      I’m not sure that that tendency is as strong as it once was, but it’s legacy is definitely still there. We are in a transitional state where in younger traditionalists will have a sung Mass while 90% of the congregants cling to their scapulars. It is what it is for now.

    2. I might have been a little too harsh here, but I've still seen it strong in most, if not all, of the TLM parishes I've been to, even those offering the older Roman rite. That's my experience.

  2. It is a healthy sign that the roots of Tradition are becoming so profuse and are so well grounded that various observations (positive and negative)are now becoming common.

    It is to be hoped that all Catholic men entirely abandon the Lil' Licit Liturgy (that which has the minimal requirements to be licit) in favor of the Real Mass.

    Starve the Shadow Church (It has no substance) and reward the Churches/Chapels/Orders who offer The Real Mass.

  3. Finding this blog has been such a joy. I am eagerly anticipating the next installment—and have already devoured past posts so have nothing to see me through!—with my kettle poised to boil and a cuppa tea calling my name.

    I do take small issue regarding your comment on the rosary "taking a life of its own" by the introduction of the Luminous mysteries. I feel this is a slight weakness as it fails both to appreciate the rosary's own internal strengths—the simple meditation on the principle mysteriea of Jesus and Mary combined with vocal prayers—and doesn't take into account the historical existence of other rosary-based forms of prayer such as the Servite Rosary, Franciscan Crown or even Brigittine Rosary which departed from the symbolism of 150 Aves for 150 Psalms yet didn't "take a life of their own."

    The biggest flaw with the Luminous mysteries in my humble opinion is not the albeit regrettable loss of symmetry with the Psalter, but rather the accompanying commentary that our Lord's public ministry was not being duly incorporated in the traditional 15 mysteries. The problem being that our Lord's public ministry attains its fullest expression in His passion and self-oblation on the Cross. Calvary was his public ministry, not Cana and not the Sermon on the Mount.

    1. Cana would be after the desert, since at Cana he already had disciples and he gathered them only after he started publicly preaching after the temptation in the desert.
      So, the Gospels say one thing, and somebody else has a particular devotion towards something else... isn't that devotionalism?

    2. Well, it also implies that the traditional mysteries are too abstract and that they do not focus on the things Christ did and said during his public ministry. The traditional set as we know then tends to focus on events as Our Lady and then the church would have seen things.