I mentioned that I am the rector of the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague in Prague, OK. Each month we send out a newsletter related to the events and activities of the Shrine. I thought I would share the October column, from yours truly, because it might be of interest to many readers.
Shrine Newsletter: October 2008
Recently, I have made some modifications in how we at the National Shrine observe both the Novena and the Pilgrimage Sunday. At every opportunity I have had, I have tried to explain what these changes are trying to achieve. It seems good to me, then, to spend my column this month explaining in a bit more detail the “why” behind the “what” of the devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague.
In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments promulgated a document to clarify the relationship between popular piety and the liturgy. In the Catholic world, not all prayer is of the same significance. While all prayer is a lifting of the heart and mind to God, some forms of prayer are given to the Church as her public worship and some is at the discretion of the individual believer. One need not be devoted to the Infant of Prague to be a faithful Catholic; however one who does not participate in the Sunday Mass without a grave obstacle commits a serious sin. The Precepts of the Church, as well as the Third Commandment, direct us to attend Sunday Mass; they say nothing about the Rosary.
Hence, a rector of a shrine must always be careful to preserve the sanctity of the Church’s universal and public worship. One should not come to the National Shrine and say, “The Mass back home is different than the one at the Shrine,” except in the most superficial of ways, e.g. music selections. The Directory states it this way: “The faithful should be made conscious of the preeminence of the Liturgy over any other possible form of legitimate Christian prayer. While sacramental actions are necessary to life in Christ, the various forms of popular piety are properly optional” (Directory on Popular Piety #11). It should be clear to anyone attending the Novena or a Baptism or the Liturgy of the Hours or the Sunday Mass, where liturgy leave off and popular devotions begin. Paragraph 13 of the Directory states it forcefully: “…the formulae proper to pious exercises should not be commingled with the liturgical actions. Acts of devotion and piety are external to the celebration to the Holy Eucharist, and of the other sacraments.” For this reason, I have discontinued the novena prayers during Mass.
At the same time, we are a national Shrine dedicated to the Infant Jesus of Prague. Shouldn’t there be something unique in the way we show our devotion to the Little King? The Directory addresses this issue as well.
Popular piety, like devotions to the Infant Jesus of Prague, should be formed with four dimensions in mind (Directory on Popular Piety #12). First, the Sacred Scriptures should play some role. Second, the Church’s liturgy and liturgical year should influence the pious practice so that the pious practice leads us back to the Liturgy. Third, popular piety should be able to speak to all Christian traditions without losing its uniquely Catholic flavor. And, fourth, the pious practice should respect time honored symbols associated with it. The paragraph concludes with this solid advice: “To be successful, such a renewal must be imbued with a pedagogical awareness and realized gradually, always taking into consideration time and particular circumstances.” Put simply, to grow in our love for a pious practice we must also understand why we are devoted to this or that aspect of our Faith and slowly try new ways to make the devotion clearer and more plainly understood. This is what I have tried to achieve in taking the novena prayers from the celebration of Mass.
In the new form of the celebration of the novena, I have consciously added all of the four aspects mentioned. The novena now includes three readings from the Sacred Scripture as well as a reading about the history of the devotion. Further, the readings I incorporated are drawn from the Church’s liturgical calendar and feasts mentioned in the chaplet of the Little Infant. In addition, by using a time of reflection and explanation of Catholic practice, we have opened the door to our non-Catholic friends, so that they can understand how our devotion to God is expressed in the Infant. And lastly, because we are not praying the Novena during Mass, participants are able to be quiet and reflective and bring their own special needs before God.
This, I hope, will clarify what the recent changes in practice have attempted to accomplish. In the end, I must be faithful to the directives and liturgical laws of the Church. I would not be doing any member of the National Shrine a positive service by doing anything else. In the Holy Mass as in all the sacraments, we touch the frontiers of eternal life, not just those devoted to the Infant of Prague, but every soul won by Christ for His Father’s kingdom.