Dear Father Angelo,
I’m writing to ask you for a clarification about the devotional practices.
Recently, browsing through “God’s Things”, I’ve observed that there are so many devotional practices: the practice to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Sacred Heart of Mary, the devotion to the Holy Face, to the Mary’s Tears, the devotion to the Precious Blood, the Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the devotion to the Holy Wounds, the practice to the Head of Christ Crowned with Thorns, the devotion to the Shoulder Wound of Jesus, and several others…
I wondered why the multiplicity of these devotions and why it is necessary, since in acts of adoration we turn to the Triune God and not to the individual Events of Life or to the Parts (Sacred Heart, Holy Face, Precious Blood, Holy Wounds, etc…). Wouldn’t it be better to say that we were devoted to the Holy Virgin or to Jesus? How could an ordinary faithful, who has not a proper theological preparation, orient himself/choose between a lot of devotions that he could become aware of in the course of his life? How to avoid “falling” into superstition by practising some of these devotions depending on the physical or spiritual need, as if they were an “ad-hoc medicine”…?!
The devotions that arise from Faith should help to get some particular aspects of this, for example: the devotion to the Chaplet of Jesus’ Divine Mercy focuses, in fact, on God’s Mercy and it is prayed to implore the conversion of sinners… However, I rule out the existence of a “hierarchy”, since all different devotions should lead who practises them to the conversion and, therefore, to the soul’s salvation, also considering the several promises linked to these practices…
“Surfing” around the web I haven’t found any answer that could sort my ideas on the matter and, therefore, make all clearer, but only other users who had presented, as me, the same question, remained unanswered…
I ask you for the kindness to give me a hand for understanding the nature of lots of devotional practices, and the correct disposition of the soul for orientation in them and with which they can be embraced, in order to sort my ideas somewhat confused.
Thank you in advance for your usual clarity…
1. It is true that it should be enough to talk about devotion to Jesus or to the Blessed Virgin.
However, Christ is a reality so great and so suitable for everyone’s needs that we never stop being surprised by the wealth of meaning of this or that feature of his life.
In this two thousand years of Church history a lot of devotions have growed up towards Christ’s humanity!
2. Think about the devotion towards Christ Child who in some places of this world is depicted with a crown on the head: in fact he came to us “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1, 14) and “from his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace” (Jn 1, 16).
Or about the devotion towards the Most Holy Name of Jesus, that has been adopted also in the liturgy of the Church. Think about that beautiful hymn Iesu dulcis, memoria.
I transcribe from it some stanzas in english, but a lot of people also know it in latin:
“Jesus, the very thought of Thee, with sweetness fills my breast; but sweeter far Thy Face to see and in Thy presence rest.
Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, nor can the memory find a sweeter sound than Thy blest Name, O Saviour of mankind!
O Hope of every contrite heart, O joy of all the meek, to those who fall, how kind Thou art, how good to those who seek.
My tongue and words cannot express, their usefulness is low but having felt is to believe, sweet Jesus’ love to know.”
3. Even more than in the mysteries of birth, the devotions towards Jesus have growed up especially in reference to the Passion: Jesus Scourged, Jesus crowned with thorns, the wound in the side of Jesus’ chest, the other wounds, Jesus laid in Mary’s arms, Jesus dead.
However, also the instruments of the Passion have been and still are objects of devotion. The first among all, the relics of Lord’s Cross itself, the thorns, the nails.
About the nails, how can we not remember the Nail present in Milan that the great Saint Ambrose has told about in the fourth century yet?
Especially, Saint Charles Borromeo has been the one who has reinvigorated the devotion towards it, especially with the procession for the end of the plague. On Saturday 6th October 1576, in the third procession led by himself, he brought the Holy Nail to the Cathedral. He put on the altar the precious relic, ordering a “station” during 40 hours, with an homily at each hour about the Passion’s mysteries, and arranging shifts of adoration with the participation of faithfuls, so that the prayer was uninterrupted.
Only this example is enough to say that the prayer, the faith and the devotion of the Christian people, especially on occasions of big calamities, expressed itself and were reinvigorated through devotions.
While I’m writing to you (30th March 2020), in a particularly calamitous moment because of coronavirus, we see bishops and mayors who are reconfirming the devotions expressed in past centuries in moments similar to ours in front of images of Christ or of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
4. The devotions make us feel Jesus and Mary very near to the feelings, the sufferings, the misfortunes of christian people.
In fact they do a very precious service.
Since people are made of soul and body, also by means of the body they want to see, to touch, to take with them images of Our Lord or of the Blessed Virgin.
And they also want to take with them saints’ images and relics for reinvigorating their faith and their devotion even by means of these symbols.
5. I think in this moment to the Holy Father Dominic. People venerated him so much that someone attempted, more or less in secret, to touch his clothes and someone also to cut them into small pieces.
The monks that had seen this all were nauseated. They scolded the people and sent them away. But Saint Dominic said: “Let people show their devotions”.
6. However, it’s undeniable that, especially in some countries, the devotions seem to have the upper hand over the Liturgy itself, reaching sometimes “little christian” expressions, like sometimes it happens when some prodigies don’t reconfirm themselves punctually.
For this reason the Magisterium of the Church, while highlighting the undeniable qualities of devotions, points out dangers which can affect them: “lack of a sufficient number of Christian elements such as the salvific significance of the Resurrection of Christ, an awareness of belonging to the Church, the person and action of the Holy Spirit; a disproportionate interest between the Saints and the absolute sovereignty of Jesus Christ and his mysteries; lack of direct contact with Sacred Scripture; isolation from the Church’s sacramental life; a dichotomy between worship and the duties of Christian life; a utilitarian view of some forms of popular piety; the use of signs, gestures and formulae, which sometimes become excessively important or even theatrical; and in certain instances, the risk of promoting sects, or even superstition, magic, fatalism or oppression” (Congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the Sacraments, Directory on popular piety and the Liturgy, n. 65).
7. Therefore, it is necessary to not ignore the devotions. These ones too are aroused by the Holy Spirit, who in many ways animates the life of christian people.
The Holy Spirit arouses the piety in the faithfuls not only by means of the Sacraments and the Liturgy of the Church, but also by means of many forms of devotion, in which people’s faith is rediscovered and refreshed.
Think to the Holy Rosary, to the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, to the Stations of the Cross, to the veneration itself of the relics.
The latter is certified in a singular way by the Scriptures themselves when they say that “so extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19, 11-12).
I don’t be amazed if people keep dear the so-called “miraculous medal”, the crucifix of Saint Benedict, the real relics or ex contactu of Padre Pio and of other saints.
8. But obviously, all these things must be subjected to the growth in Christ, to the spiritual fight, to putting away the old self for putting on the new self, to approaching to the holiness, avoiding, therefore, to turn the devotions simply into tools for getting help by the Heaven.
Anyhow, the target must be holiness, because holiness is the essential condition for entering Heaven.
I’m not the one to say this, but is God himself who said in the Scriptures: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12, 14).
And it is so true that if in the moment of the death we are not saints, this holiness will need to be reached – if there are the conditions to do it – through the Purgatory.
Thank you for having attracted attention on this topic, that is important.
I remind you to Lord and I bless you.