DPPL 42: Battling Superstition and Magic

STA altar at night smallThe Directory looks at some sensibilities that might be Tridentine, might be better considered anti-reformation, but they were the expressions of fallible human beings during an age in which the Church was losing political supremacy, and indeed, had already lost nearly everything in a few nations. There were institutional concerns as well about too much superstition and looking for magic among the faithful. How did the post-reformation Church address these? What role did piety play for and against these trends?

42. The age of enlightenment further delineated the separation of “the religion of the learned” which was potentially close to the Liturgy, and the “religion of the simple people” which, of its very nature, was closer to popular piety. Both the “learned” and the “simple people”, however, shared the same religious practices. The “learned” promoted a religious practice based on knowledge and the enlightenment of the intelligence and eschewed popular piety which they regarded as superstitious and fanatical.

Perhaps. Popular piety, at its best, appealed to the affect–not at all a part of our human nature to ignore or deny. Superstition and fanaticism is not unknown among those who embrace the liturgy, either.

On Jansenism:

The aristocratic sense which permeated many aspects of culture had its influence on the Liturgy. The encyclopedic character of knowledge, coupled with a critical sense and an interest in research, led to the publication of many of the liturgical sources. The ascetical concerns of some movements, often influenced by Jansenism, fuelled a call for a return to the purity of the Liturgy of antiquity. While certainly redolent of the cultural climate, the renewal of interest in the Liturgy was fuelled by a pastoral concern for the clergy and laity, especially from the seventeenth century in France.

Making connections to liturgy, especially in more recent centuries, was part of the institutional effort:

In many areas of its pastoral concern, the Church devoted its attention to popular piety. There was an intensification of that form of apostolic activity which tended to integrate, to some degree, the Liturgy and popular piety. Hence, preaching was encouraged at significant liturgical times, such as Advent and on Sundays when adult catechesis was provided. Such preaching aimed at the conversion of the hearts and morals of the faithful, and encouraged them to approach the Sacrament of Penance, attend Sunday Mass regularly, and to demonstrate the importance of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum.

If recent misadventures of clergy and bishops give any indication, such efforts at moral conversion seem not to have totally been absorbed by seminarians.

Popular piety in a good light:

Popular piety, which had been effective in stemming the negative influences of protestantism, now became an effective antidote to the corrosiveness of rationalism and to the baleful consequences of Jansenism within the Church. It emerged strengthened and enriched from this task and from the extensive development of the parish missions. Popular piety emphasized certain aspects of the Christian mystery in a new way, for example, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and new “days”, such as the “first Friday of the month”, gained importance in the piety of the faithful.

And two looked to the Bible and the Mass to deepen faith:

With regard to the eighteenth century, mention must be made of the work of Ludivico Antonio Muratori who combined erudition with notable pastoral activity. In his famous work, Della regolata devozione dei cristiani, he advocated a form of religiosity based on the Liturgy and the Scriptures that eschewed all attachment to superstition and magic. The work of Benedict XIV (Prospero Lambertini) was also significant, especially his authorization of the use of the Bible in the vernacular.

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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