Optional? Really? Will that alone consign expressions of piety to the shadows of history like meatless Fridays and such? The CDWDS denies disrespect, suggesting instead a careful look, an appreciation:
12. The optional nature of pious exercises should in no way be taken to imply an under estimation or even disrespect for such practices. The way forward in this area requires a correct and wise appreciation of the many riches of popular piety, of the potentiality of these same riches and of the commitment to the Christian life which they inspire.
In other words, piety should inspire because of the wealth it offers, not from the loss one might incur from declining to engage in it.
The Gospel is the measure against which all expressions of Christian piety – both old and new – must be measured. The task of evaluating devotional exercises and practices, and of purifying them when necessary, must be conducted against this criterion so as to ensure their proper relationship with the Christian mystery. What is said of the Christian Liturgy is also true of popular piety: “it may never incorporate rites permeated by magic, superstition, animism, vendettas or sexual connotations”(Varietates Legitimae 48).
Superstition? Like chain letters? My sense is that the past half-century has possibly brought good sense to bear on practices that nobody would dare question–let alone criticize. Magical spirituality is a very definite danger: the desire to control God’s responses to assure a favorable outcome.
So, what is needed? A two-fold assessment of Scripture and the liturgy is expanded to include ecumenism and anthropology:
Hence, the liturgical renewal willed by the Second Vatican Council must also inspire a correct evaluation and renewal of pious exercises and devotional practices. Popular piety should be permeated by:
- a biblical spirit, since it is impossible to imagine a Christian prayer without direct or indirect reference to Sacred Scripture;
- a liturgical spirit if it is to dispose properly for or echo the mysteries celebrated in the liturgical actions;
- an ecumenical spirit, in consideration of the sensibilities and traditions of other Christians without, however, being restricted by inappropriate inhibitions;
- an anthropological spirit which both conserves symbols and expressions of importance or significance for a given nation while eschewing senseless archaicisms, and which strives to dialogue in terms redolent with contemporary sensibility.
To be successful, such a renewal must be imbued with a pedagogical awareness and realized gradually, always taking into consideration time and particular circumstances.
Do you buy this? My sense is that emerging expressions are assessed by people–clergy it seems–for these areas. How does that dialogue occur? Slowly is the prescription.
Your thoughts and comments?
The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.