This volume comprises nineteen informative and edifying short essays, each focused on a specific Catholic devotion: the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Angelus, First Fridays, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Stations of the Cross, St. Joseph, Lectio Divina, Holy Water, the Rosary, the Saints, the Miraculous Medal, Pilgrimage, Litanies, Mary, Liturgy of the Hours, Novenas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Relics, & Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. James Martin originally solicited many of these gems from an appealing variety of Catholic writers and theologians for publication in America magazine. Each contributor relates how a particular devotion has been meaningful in their own life of faith as well as how this devotion began and developed in the history of the Church and what it might mean for today. Thus there is an attractive mix of faith witness and theological explanation with some helpful overlap among the essays.
This is a timely volume. In the wake of Vatican II, many traditional Catholic devotions fell into desuetude, in part perhaps because of the need to purify the devotional life of the Church with her renewed stress on the primacy of the Eucharistic liturgy. In recent years, the enthusiastic rediscovery of some of these devotions by the post-Vatican II generation sometimes has concerned older Catholics. Yet Newman and von Hügel remind us of the importance of the devotional-mystical aspect of Christian faith that needs to be kept in creative tension with its theological and institutional dimensions. In his introduction to the volume, Martin cites the New Dictionary of Theology: "Devotions are the feeling side of Christian faith." The panoply of Catholic devotions manifest the richness of the Catholic sacramental sensibility. They give fervent, concrete expression to the doctrine of the communion of saints which is professed in the Creed.
Daniel Harrington's essay on "lectio divina" is a clear and simple presentation of the steps involved in "spiritual reading" that has roots in the history of monasticism, but is a practice that can enrich the spiritual life of any Christian. Kevin White offers a wonderful narrative of the highlights of the pilgrimage he made with his students to the Midland Martyrs' Shrine in Canada and the papal Mass in Toronto on the occasion of World Youth Day, celebrated with pilgrims from all over the world. Brian Daley's essay makes an insightful analogy between the Eastern Christian practice of devotion to icons and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that is now a regular practice in many parishes with adoration chapels.
The Church needs to exercise a certain prudence in overseeing devotional practices that express disproportionate enthusiasm or even superstition such as the practice of burying upside down a statue of St. Joseph in order to sell one's house. Melanie McDonagh's essay on relics indicates that at least three medieval churches claimed to possess the skull of John the Baptist. While the Church should never intentionally promote fraud and superstition, regulation of her devotional life requires pastoral wisdom, and it is not always easy, as Newman wrote, to distinguish between authentic faith and superstition.
Other devotions raise deeper theological issues. Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary as well as the practice of First Fridays focus attention on the notion of reparation that is tied to a theology of suffering that has been criticized and even rejected in the post-conciliar era. And yet in the Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul writes that he makes up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (1:24).
There is only one correction to make: the author of the essay on "Mary" incorrectly refers to Irenaeus's doctrine of "recapitulatio" (Latin for the Greek term "anakephelaiosis") as "recirculatio." (p.105)
This highly readable, non-scholarly volume is recommended for anyone seeking (re-)acquaintance with the variety of Catholic devotions. Participants in RCIA programs and introductory Catholicism classes will also benefit from this compact book.