Catholic Spirituality

What Does It Mean Today?

In the forty years since the Second Vatican Council, many devotional practices, most of them developed in the early modern period, have fallen into decline. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, although promoted vigorously in the latter part of the papacy of John Paul II, is far less common than it was in the 1950s. So are weekly parish novenas, the stations of the cross, scapular wearing, and the communal or private recitation of the rosary.

The very architectural organization of the local parish has changed dramatically, and that shift reflects new devotional tastes as well as new liturgical demands. Tabernacles have been removed from the main altar in many churches, and there has been a “downsizing” of devotional side altars once dedicated to a range of popular saints. These changes have been lamented in some quarters and praised in others, but they constitute a seismic mutation in Catholic religious sensibility, one that transpired over a relatively brief time.

For much of the same period, I have made it a practice, while traveling throughout the United States, to examine a wide variety of parish bulletins. In so doing, I have discovered that many of the older devotions linger and actually exhibit new life. Some were modified by the late pope himself, who added new “mysteries” to the rosary and a new station to the way of the cross. But the parish bulletins also provide, if anecdotally...

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About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.