THEOLOGY OF DEVOTIONS
Devotions that do not deal with the major mysteries of our faith (such as the Father, Christ, the Spirit, the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary) have not been the object of very extensive research on the part of theologians or ure scholars. The major dictionaries of liturgy, theology or spirituality are very brief in this regard.
On the other hand, it has always been the Church's concern to suppress devotions which border on idolatry or illusion, giving full freedom to the Spirit to breathe life into genuine popular piety. Nonetheless, it has encouraged some special forms of devotions, the fruit of which has become evident through the centuries, for example, the way of the cross, the rosary, and devotion to one's guardian angel.
For the requirements of this article, we can say this: the essential element in devotions is the use of some created reality to lead the human heart to a living relationship with God. The reality used can be a material object which has become sacred, such as the cross, relics, sacramental signs, etc., or else it can be a social reality directly related to God, such as the Church as an institution, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Pope; or furthermore it could be a particular human reality, such as the souls in purgatory, and the men and women saints.
In the New Testament, all creatures become parables that speak of the Kingdom of God. For Jesus, in a very special way, persons are often the means used to go to the Father, especially those who inspired admiration in him because of the faith they shared, for example, the little ones and the humble (Matthew 11:26), or the Centurion (Matthew 8:10), or the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28).
In the Church, throughout its history, devotions have developed in regard to realities related to the life of Jesus (Mary, Joseph, the Archangel Gabriel, the manger, the house of Nazareth...); and also in regard to persons throughout the ages who are considered intimate friends of Jesus because of their holiness; and also in regard to places or objects known to be special mediators of God's presence, such as relics or pilgrimage sites.
The popularity of all these devotions has varied throughout the centuries according to countries and temperaments, according to the place allotted to palpable signs in the daily lives of peoples or individuals. People did not always avoid concentrating on the signs as if they were the main reality, and as a result, produce a superstitious piety. But it would also happen that the signs would safeguard the heart which was engaged in a relationship with the true God and would provide a protection against a vague, abstract and disembodied piety.
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