65. While the Magisterium highlights the undeniable qualities of popular piety, it does not hesitate to point out dangers which can affect it: lack of a sufficient number of Christian elements such as
- the salvific significance of the Resurrection of Christ,
- an awareness of belonging to the Church, the person and action of the Holy Spirit;
- a disproportionate interest between the Saints and the absolute sovereignty of Jesus Christ and his mysteries;
- lack of direct contact with Sacred Scripture;
- isolation from the Church’s sacramental life;
- a dichotomy between worship and the duties of Christian life;
- a utilitarian view of some forms of popular piety;
- the use of “signs, gestures and formulae, which sometimes become excessively important or even theatrical”(John Paul II, Allocution to the Conference of the Bishops of the Abruzzi and the Molise, ad Limina visit, 3, in AAS, 78 (1986) 1140);
- and in certain instances, the risk of “promoting sects, or even superstition, magic, fatalism or oppression”(John Paul II, Discourse at Popayan (Colombia), in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, IX/2 (1986), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 1986, p. 115).
So these criticisms are not original to St John Paul, but he was certainly aware of them in these statements to Italian bishops and in Colombia. What strikes me is that many of these challenges seem to indicate people are leery of Jesus. I’ve never known any Christian to be directly anti-Jesus, but the distance between the Lord and some pious practices suggests to me many believers are a bit fearful of inching too close to God. Saints and long-held practices become a “safe” Christianity. Do you think “fear of the Lord” is overdone as a quality? Or is it just a human experience to latch on to the small and the tried-and-true?
66. In its attempts to remedy such defects in popular piety, the contemporary Magisterium has insistently stressed the need to “evangelize” popular piety*, and sees it in relation to the Gospel which “will progressively free it from its defects; purify it, consolidate it and clarify that which is ambiguous by referring it of the contents of faith, hope and charity”(John Paul II, Allocution to the Conference of the Bishops of the Abruzzi and the Molise, ad Limina visit, 6, in AAS 78 (1986) 1142).
* Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Vigesimus quintus annus, 18; Allocution to the Conference of the Bishops of the Abruzzi and the Molise, ad Limina visit, 6, in AAS, 78 (1986) 1142; Puebla, 458-459; CDWDS, Circular letter, Orientamenti e proposte per la celebrazione dell’anno mariano (3.4.1987), 68.
Pastoral sensibility recommends that the work of “evangelizing” popular piety should proceed patiently, tolerantly, and with great prudence, following the methodology adopted by the Church throughout the centuries in matters relating to inculturation of the Christian faith, the Sacred Liturgy(Varietatates legitimae, 9-20) and those inherent in popular piety.
That quality, prudence. Difficult to practice, demanding of great patience. Spiritual guidance is needed in these matters, but a guidance that can be trusty: not governed by charisma or power or impatience. But dialogue, in order to see what religious sensibilities are being addressed by “un-evangelized” piety, and working to see and show how Jesus Christ can better address the needs people seek to fill.
The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.