Part 2 History

Chapter v21 History of Devotions

For an explanation of the divisions of the History Grid, see Chapter d21 Overview of the History of Liturgy

Preliminary Questions


1. Apostolic [0-399]

2. Patristic [400-799] 

3. Early Medieval [800-1199]

4. Medieval [1200-1299]

5. Late Medieval [1300-1499]

6. Reformation [1500-1699]

7. After Trent [1700-1899]

8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]

9. Vatican II [1960-1975]

10. After Vatican II [1975-2050]

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

How would you answer the question:  "What is Prayer?"  Fr. Harry says:  "Prayer is the way that we carry on our relationship with God."   TCP 3  What expressions of love and affection and intercourse are in marriage leading to the "two becoming one" so is prayer in our life with God leading to the "two becoming one" -- divinization, theosis. 

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For an explanation of the divisions of the History Grid, see Chapter d21 Overview of the History of Liturgy 

In the following, "TCP" refers to:  The Monks of St. Meinrad. The Tradition of Catholic Prayer; Liturgical Press, 2007.

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Before the Christian Era

The Psalms "give us permission to say anything we want or feel to God."  TCP 11

1. Apostolic [0-399] 

Many elements taken from Jewish rituals performed in temple and synagogues are incorporated into the Christian community's prayer.

In the New Testament there are 4 classic hymn prayers:  The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79); the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32) and the Philippians Hymn (Phil 2:5-11)  TCP 22

Jesus addresses God as "Abba" which is a term of intimacy not ordinarily used in Jewish prayer. TCP 25

In The Acts of the Apostles, Christian prayer is centered on and directed to Jesus. TCP 31  Prayer and devotions center on the person of Christ.  "Origen (c 235) stresses that prayer should only be addressed to God the Father.  Not even Jesus himself should be prayed to, because he himself taught us to pray to God the Father."  TCP 47

Origen suggests that the proper direction to face should be toward the east "since this is a symbolic expression of the soul's looking for the rising of the true Light."  TCP 48

Liturgy was not yet "fixed" and consequently there was no distinction between liturgical prayer and devotional prayer.   Communal prayer was spontaneous and participatory.  Communal prayer incorporates many elements from local cultures (e.g. vestments, etc.).

The Didache directs that the Our Father is to be said 3 times each day -- a custom Jounel was careful to re-establish in the post Vatican II liturgy (Morning Prayer, Eucharist and Evening Prayer) 

Evagrius of Pontus (c 345) says prayer must begin in inner calm, apatheia, passionlessness.  TCP 52

The cult of the martyrs begins a this time.   (e.g.  Pray for John becomes John, pray for us [Jounel]).   [A tip of the pistol change!]

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2. Patristic [400-799]

c. 400   Liturgical families or Rites develop around the great cities.  Synchronization between culture and prayer.  Liturgy incorporates cultural elements from the people living in that area. 

The liturgy becoming fixed, organized, and established Liturgical texts become fixed. 

Sacredness of "time" and "place" emerge.  Beginning of the liturgical calendar.  Celebration of Easter and Christmas.  Epiphany.  "dies natalis" of the martyrs.

"Norms" (rubrics) for organized religion were being established by bishops and regional synods.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 330- c 395) speaks of kataphatic prayer - the prayer of light, of images, of words, responding to the beauty of creation -- and apophatic prayer -- imageless, simple, unadorned, the prayer of darkness and quiet without words or thought.  TCP 63-64

Benedict of Nursia (c 480 - 543 or 547)

Abba Isaac (d. c700) suggests "monological prayer"  (The prayer of only one word, repeating the word/verse over and over as a mantra).  Later Christians use The Jesus Prayer:  "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner."    St. Francis of Assisi's mantra:  "Deus meus et omnia."  (My God and my all.)

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3. Early Medieval [800-1199]

Origins of "Hail Mary" as popular prayer  (= first "half" of our current prayer [Before 1050 there is no record of the "Hail Mary" as an accepted devotional formula.]

Rosary (said with only "Our Fathers") becomes the devotional "Psalter" (150 psalms / 150 Our Fathers) of the illiterate (i.e. = non-clerics)

[Pater's and Ave's  were common "timing devices" for recipes etc. before clocks become widespread.  e.g. "stir over a hot flame for 10 Pater's."    When I was a novice, the Breviary at at the beginning of Lauds and Vespers stated "Pray silently for the length of one Pater"]

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153)  Cistercian monasticism flourished along with its practice, especially St. Bernard's affective spirituality.

Pilgrimage becomes a popular form of prayer -- Destinations:  the Holy Land, the 7 Churches of Rome, the tomb of St. Thomas a Becket in Canterbury, the tomb of St. James in Santiago.  TCP 74

Eastern Church struggles with iconoclastic heresy.

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4. Medieval [1200-1299]

Beginning of the distinction between the "official" Liturgy and popular piety.   Liturgy becomes the exclusive domain of the clergy (who can read Latin).

Scholastic philosophers emphasize the intellect (the "rational" understanding of the liturgy).  The will (loving) and the religious "affect" are satisfied by devotional prayer.

"Schools" of spirituality begin to develop. (e.g. Franciscan school, Dominican school, Cistercian school)

Francis of Assisi (1181/1182-1226)  The world and all we see in it is an expression of God. TCP 81    St. Francis popularizes the devotional  "Way of the Cross" as a form of pilgrimage for the poor.  ( gain the Crusaders' Indulgence.)

St. Bonaventure, O.F.M. (1221-1274)   .  The purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways of prayer.  TCP 83

Thomas Aquinas, OP (1225-1274)  Emphasizes the goodness of the created world.

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5. Late Medieval [1300-1499]

1337 to 1453   Hundred Year War.  Thousands lose their lives. 

1347 to 1350 The Black Plague   There was an urgent need for hope in a time of death and destruction.

People turned to the saints for hope and prayer. They needed to hear miraculous stories and developed a strong sense of mysticism.

Mendicants promote the rosary (especially Dominicans).  Rosary becomes a lay version of the Liturgy of the Hours.   Note:  St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bonaventure, etc. know only what we would call the first half of the "Hail Mary" (the part found in Scripture).

Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 - 1380) Obtained papal approval to received Communion daily -- a practice unheard of at that time.  TCP 85

Rise of "spiritual movements" and associations.

Rise of the Devotio Moderna.  (e.g.  The Imitation of Christ)

Franciscans spread devotion to the humanity of Jesus:  the Crib; the Holy Land; Crucifix, Jesus' suffering on the cross;  stations of the Cross.  [We have no record of St. Francis preaching a crusade.]

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6. Reformation [1500-1699]

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen", was added to the "Hail Mary". [The petition first appeared in print in 1495.]

"Discovery" of the "New World"  brings new challenges to Liturgy and popular piety.

Selling indulgences.   (Facilitated by the invention of the printing press.)

The split between Liturgy and popular piety is codified by the publishing of the Liturgical books of Trent.

Martin Luther OSA (1483-1546)  Luther retained devotion to Mary (e.g.. Hail Mary) for a time.  But he wished to purify the liturgy by returning to the public prayer of the Apostolic and Patristic periods [during which periods the focus of prayer was on Christ.]

Protestants propose a spirituality of the individual:  the individual is perfectly capable of cultivating and maintaining a relationship with God on his or her own -- without the help of the Church.   TCP 91

Catholics continued their devotional life and these  devotions now become marks of "Catholic Identity."

Ignatius of Loyola (c 1491-1556) The Spiritual Exercises

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)  The Spiritual Alphabet,  The Interior Castle

John of the Cross (1542-1591), The Spiritual Castle,  The Dark Night

Francis de Sales (1567-1622) Introduction to the Devout Life (1600) written for lay people.

Vincent de Paul (1581-1660)

John Eudes (1601-1680) promotes devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690)  Visions of Jesus' Passion and heart.  Promotes devotion to the Sacred Heart.   Jesus told Margaret Mary:  "In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour."

Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638)  Jansenism  (c1640-1713) Emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination, corporal acts of penance, intense focus on prayer, infrequent communion and an attitude of contempt for the world.  TCP 102

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7.  After Trent [1700-1899]

Because of the rigidity of the Liturgy, popular piety enters a period of extraordinary development but it is controlled through the imprimatur and nihil obstat .

Rise of the Enlightenment.  Liturgy becomes the religion of the learned and popular piety becomes the religion for the common folk who "don't know any better."   The gap between the wealthy and the poor had widened, and the more educated wealthy viewed the pious expressions as superstitious.

Individualism leads to a loss of the communal aspect of liturgy.  Rene Descartes made the individual self into the primary arbiter of reality.  As a result, the concerns of the individual person have become a hallmark of the Modern Age.  TCP 107

The Protestant Reformation gave rise to more rigid liturgies, a purification of ritual and teaching. There was an even stronger phenomenon of clericalism.  As the liturgy is ever more clericalized and removed from the people (e.g.:  in Latin; deputed by Holy Orders; private Mass with only priests present, etc.) people turn to devotions to nourish their faith (e.g. Benediction becomes more popular and more festive than Mass.)

The Romanticism of the 1800's emphasized strong emotion and private religious experience that could create, feed, and sustain the feeling self.  The Mass was a time for personal prayer and adoration.   TCP 108

"The centerpiece of Counter-Reformation popular piety was exposition of and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.  On special occasions it became the custom of some churches to expose the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance to add solemnity to canonical vespers.  Additional prayers and songs were appended to the service, and the people were blessed with the sacrament before it was replaced in the tabernacle.  In time the Eucharistic benediction became a separable unit that might be celebrated by itself or, more usually, in connection with some other service." (Dehne, pp. 337)

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) -- The Oxford Movement -- Newman is not opposed to personal devotion, but he is opposed to a private, individualistic spirituality that seeks independence from the body of believers.  The pitfall of modern prayer is a kind of exaggerated romanticism that elevates the emotions as the true arbiter of religious experience and doctrine.  TCP 113

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8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century the Holy Spirit inspired scholars in various countries to a renewed interest in the history, rituals, and meaning of the Eucharist.   Manuscripts and records which had been neglected or lost for centuries were re-discovered and studied.  A "Liturgical Movement" was born in the great monasteries of Solesmes (France), Mont Caesar (Belgium), Maria-Laach (Germany) and other centers of prayer and research.  These studies uncovered many new "facts" which made possible the liturgical renewal embodied in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, December 4, 1963. 

Miracles, apparitions, and pilgrimages became popular forms of piety.  Lourdes (France) and Fatima (Portugal) become popular pilgrimage places and centers of devotions to Mary.

Pius X emphasized the superiority of the liturgy and attempted to bring the liturgy closer to the people. -- But not much changed! 

Pius XII issues the encyclical Mediator Dei; while it is the first encyclical on the Liturgy, it also defends pious exercises. 

"The rite of benediction was highly ceremonious and easy to understand, in contrast to the inaudible low mass which was the ordinary Sunday Eucharistic celebration of the same period.  Eucharistic benediction unmistakably portrayed the benevolent and effective presence of the Lord in the midst of the church, and at the same time enables worshippers to adore him clearly, directly, and graciously.  It is probable that until the reforms mandated by Vatican II, the popular Roman Catholic sense of the meaning of the eucharist and the church was primarily formed by the experience of popular devotions to the Blessed Sacrament rather than by participation in Mass and the reception of holy communion." (Dehne, pp. 337)

1949 the national directors of the association of Benedictine Oblates held their first conference and discussed at length the role of the family in Church and state.

Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916)

Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)  The Story of a Soul

Dorothy Day (1897-1980)  The Catholic Worker Movement

Karl Rahner (1904-1984)  God speaks in the human world of history and the senses.  TCP 116  "If you want to pray, simply attend to whatever is around you or within you, and there God is."   TCP 116  Rahner emphasis the goodness of creation.

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)   emphasis solitary prayer.  Prayer is an intimate union with God.  In prayer we withdraw from the world, a place of sin and sorrow.  TCP 119

Thomas Merton (1914-1968)  Seven Story Mountain

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9. Vatican II [1960-1975]

The liturgy is "restored" to the laity.  The liturgy is now celebrated in the vernacular and non-clerics can understand it.  Liturgy becomes more "popular" and is generally preferred to devotional prayer. 

Eastern religious practices expanded into  the West: Yoga, Taoism, Zen meditation, centering prayer, Enneagram, etc.

Many "new" devotions arise and become popular:  lectio divina, meditation, yoga, enneagram, labyrinth, retreats, Marriage Encounter, Emmaus Walk, Christian Family Movement, etc. 

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10. After Vatican II [1975-2050]

Relaxation of communion fast makes evening Mass possible.  Evening Mass is preferred by many Catholics to evening devotions. 

Eucharist becomes the "new devotion".

Introduction of the Lectionary gives variety and substance to liturgical prayer.  

Re-emergence of Catholic devotional life.

Struggle between authentic expressions of popular religiosity and oversight by the Sacred Congregations.   For example:  Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline for the Sacraments.  The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines, (December, 2001). 

Generational Differences

1. Pre-Vatican II Catholics / Traditionalists / The Silent Generation / Born before 1940 -- Formed by devotional prayer

2. Vatican II Catholics / Baby Boomers / Born 1941-1963 -- Praying the liturgy becomes possible; devotions are largely abandoned

3. Generation X / Born 1964-1979 -- Fear something was lost and return to devotions

4. Millennials / Generation Y / Born after 1980 -- Spiritual  but not religious -- individual, private, interior -- Great distrust of organized religion (Church / Liturgy)

Devotions on Good Friday still preferred by most Catholics to the liturgies of the Triduum.

Gradually, inculturation gains ground and we become aware of cultural differences, even within the Roman Rite. 

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To Think About

What is the relationship between culture and religious expression?  Specifically, what brought about the demise of popular devotion among Catholics in the years following the Council?  Was it due to the liturgical reforms of the Council or was this decline due to the relation between the devotions and the culture?  (If a devotion is culturally dependent, and the culture changes, perhaps the devotion in question will no longer be  pertinent.) 

What do you see as the future of "pious devotions" in the United States during the time of your ministry in the Church? 

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