Communal devotions are part of our “spiritual nourishment.” CNS photo/Ed Wilkinson

Sr. Helena Burns: Whatever happened to devotions?

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  • October 27, 2021

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Whatever happened to devotions?

Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

Are you “hopelessly devoted”? No, not to your crush, your boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse, but to the Most High God?

The very term “devotions” might be foreign to many Catholics like myself born after Vatican II, but I remember growing up hearing elderly folks lament the passing of regular communal devotions in church. They would speak about “Novenas,” “40 Hours,” “Chaplets,” “Benediction” and the like.

I had never heard of or witnessed Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament until I was 12 years old and a visiting priest at our parish did it after Mass. My parents seemed to know exactly what to do and suddenly broke out singing in Latin (I didn’t know my parents spoke a foreign language!) It was an isolated experience and I never experienced another one until I entered the convent.

Now, the purpose of this present writing is not to hearken back to the “good old days” that I never actually knew. My purpose is twofold: to ask what we’ve lost that we might want to regain, and to cheerlead for the need and importance of constant devotion(s) in our lives.

When we love someone, we can’t get enough of them and — if we’re going to be givers and not just takers — we should also want to find ways to express our everlasting attachment to them. The same applies to our relationship with God. Perhaps you’ve heard of the cynical expression:  “Familiarity breeds contempt.” But how about: “Familiarity breeds undying devotion”?

Of course, the Sacrifice of the Mass is the perfect “devotion,” the most effective prayer that fulfils all the ends of prayer because it is Jesus Christ Himself, praying and offering Himself to the Father on our behalf. So, one way of looking at other prayers and devotions, including eucharistic adoration, is a prolongation of the Mass, a refreshing of the fruits of the Divine Liturgy until the next time we’re at Mass.

I once took a course on liturgy and the instructor told us that as Catholics, we don’t focus on hymnody during the Mass as do Protestants who don’t have the eucharistic sacrifice. We were told we should be focusing on singing the parts of the Mass (Gloria, Agnus Dei, etc.).

When I heard this, I remember thinking: “Well, then, we definitely need other devotions and prayer meetings and such because the human spirit is going to burst if we can’t express our love and joy in so many other ways!” This is not to say that the Mass isn’t “enough,” but for those of us who go to Mass for an hour on Sunday … we’re going to need spiritual nourishment and outpouring during the week as well!

Obviously, not all the devotions of yesteryear bit the dust: the rosary, Stations of the Cross, the Advent wreath, etc., perdured and even saw revivals, but, I think we can do better, much better. I’m not talking about a “multiplication of words” or stressing ourselves out by piling up all kinds of religious obligations “hard to fufil,” but simply letting ourselves be drawn to what feels natural for us to insert in our day, in our week — and we can change it up as needed and as we feel led. The important thing is to “pray without ceasing.”

I know a young couple who reverted to the faith several years ago and committed themselves to praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet (a new devotion in the Church!) every day at 3 p.m. no matter where they were. If they happen to be together, they pray it together, even if they are in public. So beautiful!

Devotions and prayer are not meant to be a burden, although sometimes we don’t “feel” like praying. Do it anyway. It’s still as valuable, and maybe even moreso, when we’re “not in the mood.” Sometimes it will require more willpower to be faithful to what we have “inwardly decided to give.”

“Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself” (St. Jean Vianney). Devotions and prayer is loving God directly, not only loving Him through loving our neighbour — and after the Mass, there is no better connection with God than immersing ourselves daily in His Word! Try the app “Hallow” for help in meditating on Scripture.

I will be conducting a free online Advent Mission (missions are another devotion that are still around) related to this very topic: “From Ritual To Relationship”…and vice versa! (See: sacredheartcollege.ca for more information).

(Sr. Helena, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. www.HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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