GDC 195-196: “Catechesis and popular devotion”

These two sections fall under the heading of “Catechesis and popular devotion,” referenced in previous documents: the General Catechetical Directory 6; Evangelii Nuntiandi 48; and Catechesi Tradendae 54. I’ll let you read through the sections, then I’ll offer a concern or two about this text, and then you all can have at it through your commentary.

195. As a vital dimension in Catholic life, there exists in Christian communities, particular expressions of the search for God and the religious life which are full of fervour and purity of intention, which can be called “popular piety”. “For it does indicate a certain thirst for God such as only those who are simple and poor in spirit can experience. It can arouse in them a capacity for self dedication and for the exercise of heroism when there is a question of professing the faith. It gives (people) a keen sensitivity by virtue of which they can appreciate the ineffable attributes of God: his fatherly compassion, his providence, his benevolence and loving presence. It can develop in the inmost depths of (people) habits of virtue rarely to be found otherwise in the same degree, such as patience, acceptance of the Cross in daily life, detachment, openness to other (people) and a spirit of ready service”.(Evangelii Nuntiandi 48) This is a rich yet vulnerable reality in which the faith at its base may be in need of purification and consolidation. A catechesis, therefore, is required which is of such religious richness as to be quick to appreciate its inherent nature and its desirable qualities and zealous to direct it so that the dangers arising out of its errors or fanaticism, superstition, syncretism, or religious ignorance may be avoided. “When it is wisely directed popular piety of this kind can make a constantly increasing contribution towards bringing the masses of our people into contact with God in Jesus Christ”.(Evangelii Nuntiandi 48)

196. Multiple forms of devotion to the Mother of God have developed in different circumstances of time and place, in response to popular sensibilities and cultural differences. Certain forms of Marian devotion however, because of long usage, require a renewed catechesis to restore to them elements that have become lost or obscured. By such catechesis the perennial value of Marian devotion can be emphasised, doctrinal elements gleaned from theological reflection and the Church’s Magisterium assimilated. Catechesis on the Blessed Virgin Mary should always express clearly the intrinsic Trinitarian, Christological and ecclesiological aspects of mariology. In revising or drawing up materials for use in Marian piety account should be taken of biblical, liturgical, ecumenial and anthropological orientation.(Cf. Marialis cultus 24, 25, 29)

I’m not entirely at ease with the association of popular piety with “simple” believers. Some of what the Church is trying to grasp here is perhaps the affective side of the life of faith, but even there, I’m not enirely satisfied with leaving the bulk of piety in the realm of the heart. Some aspects of piety are very much intellectualized. Intellectual people strive for God no less than anyone else, and many have certain attachments, certain pieties that reflect that.

On the other hand, piety, no matter its form or human source, does indeed need to be free of “fanaticism, superstition, syncretism, and ignorance.” But we also have those lamentable qualities among the highly educated, even the theological folk and shepherds of the Church.

GDC 196 seems to present a good summary of the place of Marian devotion.

Your thoughts on any of this?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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