Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they are in accord with the laws and norms of the Church. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy–no. 13, Vatican II Documents).
“Devotions describes the various external practices (e.g. prayers, hymns, observances attached to particular times and places, insignia, medals, habits, or customs). Animated by an attitude of faith, such external practices manifest the popular relationship of the faithful with Divine Persons, or the Blessed Virgin Mary in her privileges of grace and those titles which express them, or with the Saints in their configuration with Christ or in their role in the Church’s life.” (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. “Principles and Guidelines”  (DPPL), Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Vatican City, December 2001).
Without a doubt, the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is the summit of Catholic worship and the primary source of union with Christ. All other devotions should draw from the font of the Liturgy and lead the faithful back to liturgical worship. Thus popular piety should be characterized by the following (See DPPL, #11, 12):
- A biblical spirit, drawing its inspiration from Sacred Scripture;
- A liturgical spirit, to dispose the believer to the mysteries of the liturgy;
- An ecumenical spirit, with consideration of the sensibilities of other Christians;
- An anthropological spirit, faithful to the culture and times without slipping into superstition.
Signs of personal piety are already to be found among the first generation of Christians. Inspired by the Jewish tradition, they recommended following the example of continuous prayer left us by Jesus and St. Paul. Over the centuries new forms of devotion have developed. Such devotions have come and gone depending upon the needs of people of faith.
- Between the 7th and 15th centuries, a decisive differentiation between Liturgy and popular piety began to emerge within the Church which gradually became more pronounced, ending eventually in a dualism of celebration.
- The underlying reason for this development was the idea that the Liturgy was the competence of clerics since the laity were mere spectators at the Liturgy.
- This marked a distinction of roles in Christian society, namely clerics, monks, and laity and gave rise to different styles and forms of prayer.
- An insufficient knowledge of the Scriptures on the part, not only of the laity, but of many clerics and religious, made access to an understanding of the structure and symbolic language of the Liturgy difficult.
- Parallel with the Liturgy, celebrated in Latin, a communitarian popular piety celebrated in the vernacular emerged. (29,30 DPPL).
The best known devotions emerged either from the imitation of some practices of religious orders or from reported religious visions, often by saints such as Margaret Mary Alocoque, Faustinia, etc,
Presently there is a renewal to create a relationship between Liturgy and popular piety, to allow people to develop a spiritual life based on the foundation of Scripture.
- “Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy,” Vatican City 2001.
(Note: Google the title.)
- “Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and answers” — USCCB.com
- How to Book of Catholic Devotions, Mike Aquillina and Regis J. Flaherty (Our Sunday Visitor, 2000)
- Awake My Soul: Contemporary Catholics on Traditional Devotions, James Martin, SJ, (Loyola Press, 2004).
- People’s Prayer Book, Francis Evans, ( Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1980)