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The history of certain widespread devotions plainly shows them to have been awakened in the Church by the action of the Holy Spirit, to meet the needs of souls at various periods of the Church’s life.In these matters the Church moves with the times; and not to move with her argues a certain failure to realize those teachings of faith that express themselves from time to time in new forms of devotional practice, according as fresh aspects of ancient truths exhibit themselves to her understanding.Much as she encourages these devotions, however, the Church does not make them obligatory upon all.
Catholic devotions are intended to meet these needs, both common and individual.
Thus it is that we find in the Church so great a variety of devotional practices, some of a more-or-less universal character, coextensive almost with the Church herself, as satisfying wants that are felt by all or by the greater part of the faithful; while others are of less extension as appealing to certain souls only.
and their place in the religious system of which they form a part.
Our good non-Catholic friends observe us devoutly “telling our beads,” kneeling in prayer at this or that shrine, wearing scapulars and medals, reciting certain prayers in honor of the saints, taking holy water, receiving blessed ashes, candles, or palms; and they are apt to conclude that all these things stand upon the same level as the reception of the sacraments or the observance of the moral law and the commandments of the Church.
The attitude of the Church herself toward these devotional practices is somewhat different from her attitude in matters of faith.
Of both she is, of course, the supreme judge; but, in the nature of things, her judgments in doctrinal matters must more often be strict and peremptory than in the matter of devotions.The moment, however, they involve or imply a false conception of the teachings of religion, she puts her ban upon them; but, with a deep insight into human nature and its wants, she does not hesitate to permit many practices that are the outcome of a simple faith and affection and are of real use to large numbers of her children, although they may draw a smile or a jibe from superior and “enlightened” persons.Guided in this matter, as well as in her doctrinal teachings, by the Spirit of Truth promised to her in the beginning, she extends to such practices, as pious meditation on the truths of faith suggests to her children, now her strongest approbation or recommendation, now her protection or kindly toleration, according as she judges them to be of universal utility or useful for certain persons only, and according to their greater or lesser efficacy in the promotion of true holiness.The right of choice and its duties remain to the individual soul, which has to manifest its loyalty by exercising, in things religious, that temperance and courtesy which are the spiritual counterpart of social good manners.We are not bound to practice all the devotions which the Church declares holy and harmless; but we are bound to restrain our criticism in the spirit of respect for our fellow Christians; and we are also called on to conform to certain general usages under pain of becoming boors in our religious community.Not knowing the distinction between essentials and nonessentials, they class together all the practices that they observe to be in use among Catholics and think that they are all equally binding upon us.