DPPL 14-15: Physical Gestures

STA altar at night smallSections 15 through 20 take a quick look at “The Language of Popular Piety.” Remember, this is still the introduction. We’ll get a closer look at all this as we delve deeper into this long and thorough document.

A brief comment about DPPL 15-20:

14. While conserving its simplicity and spontaneity, the verbal and gestural language of popular piety should be careful to ensure the transmission of the truth of the faith together with the greatness of the Christian mysteries.

And today, let’s look at “Gestures.”

15. Popular piety is characterized by a great variety and richness of bodily, gestural and symbolic expressions: kissing or touching images, places, relics and sacred objects; pilgrimages, processions; going bare-footed or on one’s knees; kneeling and prostrating; wearing medals and badges… . These and similar expressions, handed down from father to son (sic), are direct and simple ways of giving external expression to the heart and to one’s commitment to live the Christian life. Without this interior aspect, symbolic gesture runs the risk of degenerating into empty customs or mere superstitions, in the worst cases.

It is intriguing to note that likely two-thirds of practitioners are female, and that far fewer than 1/3 of the customs of movement are passed “father to son.” Anyway, the point here is that these bodily expressions are less a taught thing, and more an apprenticeship. You can’t tell someone to ascend steps on one’s knees. There’s nothing like seeing it, and doing it with someone.

Of course, good liturgy–the best liturgy–is also apprenticed. But devotional life, being rooted in families and communities, and not schools so much, is well aligned with new priorities in evangelization. And some of Pope Francis’ writings.


The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

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