DPPL 41: The Tridentine Stamp on Catholicism

STA altar at night smallA council never has the final word. It is always in the implementation that the council’s real work is done and the impact achieved. Trent was certainly successful in placing a stamp on Roman Catholicism:

41. The Catholic reform, with its positive concern to promote a doctrinal, moral and institutional reform of the Church and to counteract the spread of protestantism, in a certain sense endorsed the complex cultural phenomenon of the Baroque. This, in turn, exercised a considerable influence on the literary, artistic and musical expressions of Catholic piety.

Much of what is considered “Catholic” is typified by this. Conservative Catholicism in particular, in both doctrine and prayer, and even to the present moment, can be described as “not-Protestant.”

In the post Tridentine period, the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety acquires some new aspects: the Liturgy entered a static period of substantial uniformity while popular piety entered a period of extraordinary development.
While careful to establish certain limits, determined by the need for vigilance with regard to the exuberant or the fantastic, the Catholic reform promoted the creation and diffusion of pious exercises which were seen as an important means of defending the Catholic faith and of nourishing the piety of the faithful. The rise of Confraternities devoted to the mysteries of the Passion of Our Lord, as well as those of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints are good examples. These usually had the triple purpose of penance, formation of the laity and works of charity. Many beautiful images, full of sentiment, draw their origins from this form of popular piety and still continue to nourish the faith and religious experience of the faithful.

Sentiment, yes, but the Tridentine period also had a richness in the spiritual life. We still see strains of that in today’s developments in popular piety. The most notable example in my mind is the emergence of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in the past few decades.

If the Protestants had revivals, we Catholics had our own parallel tradition:

The “popular missions” emerged at this time and contributed greatly to the spread of the pious exercises. Liturgy and popular piety coexist in these exercises, even if somewhat imbalanced at times. The parochial missions set out to encourage the faithful to approach the Sacrament of Penance and to receive Holy Communion. They regarded pious exercises as a means of inducing conversion and of assuring popular participation in an act of worship.

Popular piety had a broader reach than liturgy, bringing prayer and spirituality into all the realms of everyday life for the Catholic laity who took advantage of it:

Pious exercises were frequently collected and organized into prayer manuals. Reinforced by due ecclesiastical approval, such became true and proper aids to worship for the various times of the day, month and year, as well as for innumerable circumstances that might arise in life.

The Tridentine period was not without problems, oversights, and challenges:

The relationship between Liturgy and popular piety during the period of the Catholic Reform cannot be seen simply in contrasting terms of stability and development. Anomalies also existed: pious exercises sometimes took place within the liturgical actions and were superimposed on those same actions. In pastoral practice, they were sometimes more important than the Liturgy. These situations accentuated a detachment from Sacred Scripture and lacked a sufficient emphasis on the centrality of the Paschal mystery of Christ, foundation and summit of all Christian worship, and its priviliged expression in Sunday.

In the sense that conciliar liturgical renewal focused on Scripture, the totality of the Paschal Mystery, and the importance of Sunday Mass, we can say the bishops had a bead on a good chunk of the problem.

Your thoughts?

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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