Catholic devotions are prayer forms which are not part of the official public liturgy of the Church but are part of the popular spiritual practices of Catholics. Many are officially sanctioned by the Church as profitable for spiritual growth but not necessary for salvation. Often devotions in the Church take the form of formalized prayers, sacred objects or sacred images that arise from private revelations, or personal religious experiences of individuals such as apparitions of Mary or of Christ. Catholic devotions also include the veneration of the saints. The Church has a tradition of thorough investigation of such private revelations and the lives of candidates for sainthood to assure that no natural or scientific explanation can, at the time of investigation, account for any miracles involved. Often an approved devotion of the Church has a particular prayer form, an image and sometimes a message or prophecy.
Several examples of Catholic devotions include the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Face of Jesus, the various scapulars, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Novenas to various saints, pilgrimages and devotions to the Blessed Sacrament, and the veneration of icons in the Eastern Catholic Churches, etc.
English-speaking Catholics today generally do not use the term "worship" except in relation to God, (that is, the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and the sacramental real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament). The relationship of Catholics to saints is one of honor and to request intercessory prayer.
In the past, it was common for Catholic theologians to use the term "worship" in relation to Mary and the saints as documented here in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Worship is considered the genus to which latria (worship of God as the supreme being), dulia (worship of saints), and hyperdulia (worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary) all belong as distinct species. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes these as "three degrees of worship" A few tradition-minded Catholic theologians still persist in using the term "worship" in this way.
It is not rare to find Catholics, especially converts, who claim that Catholics do not pray to Mary or the saints and that this is bad terminology. However, the official website of the Holy See contains 18 uses of the specific phrase "pray to Mary" , including by the current Pope Benedict XVI Thus the official posture of the Roman Catholic Church would seem to indicate that it is correct Catholic theology and terminology.
Veneration is specifically the worship given to God or the honor given to a saint by acts of piety offered to God or the saint through a prayer, song or gesture before an image of the one worshipped or honored. An example is the "Veneration of the Cross" on Good Friday when Catholics commemorate the death of Jesus on the Cross. During the Church's liturgy for that day, after the homily, the faithful are invited to approach the front of the Church to kiss a cross or crucifix. As Catholics believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, this is an act of worship by veneration. To lay flowers or light a candle before a statue of St. Joseph, on the other hand, is an act of honor through veneration. In response to the Age of Iconoclasm, the Second Council of Nicaea defined this principle: "For the honor of the image passes to the original," that is, to honor given to an image passes to the one imaged.
Latria, dulia and hyperdulia are terms which come from Greek and describe the proper relations between the faith and God and the faithful and saints. Latria, translated as "worship" in English is the praise, honor, glorification and adoration due to God alone as Creator of all that is. Dulia is the kind of honor given to the communion of saints, with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is honoured with hyperdulia is the honor given to the Blessed Virgin Mary. While the faithful honor her to a greater extent than other saints (for her unique and essential role in salvation in the Annunciation) this honor given her remains inferior to latria.
As precise definitions of words do not translate well from one language to another, words connoting latria and dulia vary from one language to another. In English certain words are theologically reserved to instances of latria, though in everyday usage the distinctions are often less clear. Terms generally reserved today for Latria include "worship" and "adoration".
Terms that may refer to either latria or dulia include: "veneration", "honor", "praise". Gestures applied to latria and dulia include: kissing an image, using incense, making the sign of the cross, bowing the head, bowing at the waist, laying flowers, lighting votive candles, etc.
"Cultus" in this theological sense is not to be confused with cult in the sociological sense, which is group formed for the psychological control of its members.
By the term "devotions" in the plural, or "popular devotions" are external practices which evoke a sense of piety, devotion, love or affection for God. Several factors shape the effects of these practices on the devout:
Historically, the best known devotions have either originated from the imitation of some practice of the religious orders, or from reported religious visions, often by saints such as Juan Diego or Margaret Mary Alacoque.
The Rosary, for instance, was known in its earliest form as "Our Lady's Psalter". At the time, the recitation of all one hundred fifty Psalms was a common practice of the religious orders; those unable to read recited instead a hundred fifty Pater Nosters or Hail Marys. The Rosary was thus a miniature Psalter.
Another example is the Stations of the Cross. It became popular in the eleventh century, at a time when much Christian attention was focused on the Holy Land but few were able to actually visit. Great numbers of Europeans found an equivalent to walking the Via Dolorosa in following Christ's footsteps in spirit. The practice of the Stations of the Cross was a kind of miniature pilgrimage.
The Angelus originated with the eleventh-century monastic custom of reciting three Hail Marys during the evening bell.
Some devotions are limited in popularity to certain periods or particular churches. Many Tridentine-era Roman Catholic devotions such as the Six Sundays of St. Aloysius, the Five Sundays of St. Francis's Stigmata, the Seven Sundays of the Immaculate Conception, the Seven Sundays of St. Joseph, the Ten Sundays of St. Francis Xavier have fallen out of use since the liturgical reforms of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Other devotions such as the Rosary, Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and other devotional prayer forms which declined abruptly after the Second Vatican Council have flourished once again since the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Over time and in different nations and cultures there is a tendency to multiply various devotional forms. Whilst the Rosary is on particular devotion, the rosary beads are foten used for other devotional purposes known as chaplets.
The Popes, Doctors of the Church, and saints have also recommended some traditional devotions and pious practices which have been effective for growth in holiness, specially through daily practice: morning offering, spiritual reading, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, thanksgiving after Communion, mental prayer, lectio divina, and examination of conscience.
Among the many Roman Catholic prayers and devotions, the Rosary is one of the most prominent, and most often recited prayers. Of course, since the words to the rosary include the words to the Our Father prayer, the frequency of the Our Father by definition exceeds that of the rosary. Yet the significance of the rosary is widely emphasized in Roman Catholic teachings, e.g. Saint Louis de Montfort's widely read book The Secret of the Rosary discusses the religious and mystical views on the rosary from multiple perspectives .
The Roman Catholic emphasis on the rosary is part of the focus on Roman Catholic Mariology, as exemplified by Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae which builds on the total Marian devotion pioneered by Saint Louis de Montfort.
One example is the Rosary of the Holy Wounds first introduced at the beginning of the 20th century by the Venerable Mary Martha Chambon, a lay Roman Catholic Sister of the Monastery of the Visitation Order in Chambery, France. She reported that Jesus appeared to her and asked her to unite her sufferings with His as an Act of Reparation for the sins of the world. Sister Mary Martha attributed the following purpose for the devotion to Jesus: "you must not forget ... the souls in Purgatory, as there are but few who think of their relief . . . The Holy Wounds are the treasure of treasures for the souls in Purgatory.
Another example is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy introduced in the early 1930s by Saint Faustina Kowalska, a nun who lived in Płock, Poland. This prayer is often said as a rosary based prayer but its theme is mercy. It focuses on three forms of mercy: to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ's mercy, and to show mercy to others. In 2000, Pope John Paul II ordained the Sunday after Easter Divine Mercy Sunday, where Roman Catholics remember the institution of the Sacrament of Penance.
Pope John Paul II referred to such Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ as the "unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified". Pope Pius XI called these Acts of Reparation "some sort of compensation to be rendered for the injury" with respect to the sufferings of Jesus.
However, the most significant source for the devotion to the Sacred Heart in the form it is known today was Visitandine Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who claimed to have received visions of Jesus and Mary and that Jesus had permitted her to rest her head on his Heart. There is nothing to indicate that she had known the devotion prior to then, or at least that she had paid any attention to it.
After years of review and discussion within the Holy See, on 11 June, 1899 Pope Leo XIII solemnly consecrated all mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Feast of the Sacred Heart is now a holy day in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, and is celebrated 19 days after Pentecost.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Sacred Heart has been closely associated with Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ. In his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor Pope Pius XI stated: "the spirit of expiation or reparation has always had the first and foremost place in the worship given to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus".
On the first Friday in Lent 1936, Sister Maria Pierina de Micheli, a nun born near Milan in Italy, reported a vision in which Jesus told her: “I will that My Face, which reflects the intimate pains of My Spirit, the suffering and the love of My Heart, be more honored. He who meditates upon Me, consoles Me”. Further visions reportedly urged her to make a medal with the Holy Face based on the image from Secondo Pia's photograph of the Shroud of Turin.
Marian devotions build on the established Roman Catholic philosophy for the study and veneration of the Virgin Mary via the field of Mariology, which in recent years has been further emphasized with Pontifical schools such as the Marianum specifically devoted to this task.
These devotions and prayers do not involve a petition for a living or deceased beneficiary, but aim to repair the sins of others against the Virgin Mary.
In the twelfth century indications of a regular devotion can be noted in a sermon by St. Bernard (De duodecim stellis), from which an extract has been taken by the Roman Catholic Church and used in the Offices of the Compassion and of the Seven Dolours. Stronger evidences are discernible in the pious meditations on the Ave Maria and the Salve Regina, usually attributed either to St. Anselm of Lucca (d. 1080) or St. Bernard; and also in the large book "De laudibus B. Mariae Virginis" (Douai, 1625) by Richard de Saint-Laurent.
In July 1855, the Congregation of Rites finally approved the Office and Mass of the Most Pure Heart of Mary without, however, imposing them upon the Universal Church. According to the third reported apparition at Fatima, Portugal on July 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary stated that "God wishes to establish in the world devotion to Her Immaculate Heart" in order to save souls from going into the fires of hell and to bring about world peace. On March 25, 1984, Pope John Paul II fulfilled this request by consecrating of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary before the statue of the Virgin Mary of Fatima brought to Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican for the occasion. Again on October 8, 2000, Pope John Paul II made an act of entrustment of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the new millennium.
In 1945 Pope Pius XII declared the Virgin of Guadalupe "Queen of Mexico and Empress of the Americas", and "Patroness of the Americas" in 1946. Pope John XXIII invoked her as "Mother of the Americas" in 1961. In 2002 Pope John Paul II declared Juan Diego a saint.
Eucharistic adoration is a practice in the Roman Catholic and in Anglican Churches, in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed to and adored by the faithful. Early references to the adoration of the Eucharist go back to St. Basil (who died in 379). The Franciscan archives credit Saint Francis of Assisi (who died in 1226) for starting Eucharistic Adoration in Italy. The lay practice of adoration formally began in Avignon, France also in 1226 to give thanks for the victory over the Albigensians in the later battles of the Albigensian Crusade. The "Confraternity of Penitents-Gris" brought Eucharistic Adoration back after the French revolution in 1829.
Twenty years later, the Venerable Leo Dupont initiated the nightly adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in Tours in 1849, from where it spread within France. The adoration of the Eucharist within France grew in this period and there were interactions between Catholic figures who were enthusiastic about spreading the Eucharist e.g. Leo Dupont and Saint Peter Julian Eymard (also known as the Apostle of the Eucharist) who formed the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in 1858.
The devotion to the Holy Eucharist spread rather quickly thereafter. For instance, at years and counting, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have been praying in front of the Blessed Host non-stop longer than anyone in the United States.
Specific devotions in the Roman Catholic Church may not be promoted publicly through any ecclesiastical medium such as parishes, publications, etc. unless they are approved by the Church. The process of approval requires a detailed investigation by the local ordinary. After it is determined that a practice is based on sound doctrine and is not injurious to one who practices, it may be permitted (but not promoted by the clergy). Although the Holy See as a rule refrains from intervention, on rare occasions, where some theological principle is involved, action may be taken by one of the Roman Congregations, The slow recognition by the Church of the devotion to the Sacred Heart illustrates the caution with which the Holy See proceeds in matters of theological principle. Only after a thorough investigation by the Holy See may a devotion be fully approved and recommended (though never required) by the Church. With such approval the devotion may be given a feast day on the liturgical calendar after which it may be used as the name of Churches, schools and various other ecclesiastical institutions. Examples include Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Infant of Prague, el Santo Nino de Atocha, the Feast of the Holy Rosary, among many others.
Indulgences have long been associated specifically with Roman Catholic devotions. In the Medieval period until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council indulgences were expressed in terms of days, weeks and years worth of penance and were attached to various devout practices. An indulgence is the removal of some of the temporal penalty for sin. As breaking a window even accidentally requires two forms of repayment, an apology (contrition and appeal for forgiveness or mercy) and replacement of the window (an act of justice) so all sin is an offense against God requiring two responses (contrition, and appeal for mercy) and purification of the damage caused to one's soul (an act of justice as we belong to God). The Church understands Purgatory an indefinite state of purification in preparation for the fullness of the Beatific Vision or heaven. While the remission is no longer expressed in temporal terms such as days, weeks, months, the Roman Catholic Church continues to attach indulgences (partial and plenary) to many forms of Catholic devotions, particularly in relation to pilgrimages, certain feast days (like All Souls' Day or Divine Mercy Sunday) and other pious practices during Jubilees or Holy Years. Plenary indulgences remit all of the existing temporal punishment due for the individual’s sins, while partial indulgences remit only a part of the existing punishment. Eastern Catholic Churches, on the other hand, do not use the concept of indulgences.
Many Catholic devotions incorporate "sacramentals", objects which have been blessed or consecrated, set aside as instruments of God's grace through their symbolic value and the devout use of the faithful. Some examples of sacramentals are blessed crosses, crucifixes, rosaries, religious medals, images and other objects of religious significance. The use of sacramentals is not "magic" but can provide an occasion for a deeper relationship with God. This is not automatic but depends on the spiritual disposition of the individual and the will of God who offers grace freely out of his mercy.