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Popular Piety: Opening to the Eucharist

Fr. James H. Kroeger, MM

Living Mission  

Year of Eucharist and Family” Reflection


POPULAR piety or “people’s spirituality” is present in practically all cultures and religions; it draws ordinary people to prayer and worship, popular devotions and religious festivals.  The Church in the Philippines cannot ignore the tremendous power of popular piety for fulfilling her mission of evangelization—and drawing people to the Eucharist.

Various popes have spoken extensively on this subject.  Pope Paul VI devoted an entire section (48) of Evangelii Nuntiandi to popular piety.  He noted that one finds among Catholics “particular expressions of the search for God and for faith….  These expressions were for a long time regarded as less pure and were sometimes despised, but today they are almost everywhere being rediscovered.”  Blessed Paul VI saw the value of popular piety and that it “can be more and more for multitudes of our people a true encounter with God in Jesus Christ” (48).

Paul VI continued: “It manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and poor can know.  It makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of manifesting belief.  It involves an acute awareness of profound attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence.  It engenders interior attitudes rarely observed to the same degree elsewhere: patience, the sense of the Cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion.  By reason of these aspects, we readily call it ‘popular piety,’ that is, religion of the people” (EN 48). 

            Saint John Paul II has spoken positively about popular religiosity: “Popular piety is an expression of faith which avails of certain cultural elements proper to a specific environment….  Genuine forms of popular piety, expressed in a multitude of different ways, derive from the faith, and therefore, must be valued and promoted.  Such authentic expressions of popular piety are not at odds with the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy [and the Eucharist].  Rather, in promoting the faith of the people, who regard popular piety as a natural religious expression, they predispose the people for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries” (9-21-2001).

Pope John Paul II also asserted that popular piety is a form of evangelization; he noted: “I earnestly hope that these significant forms of popular piety … may serve as an encouragement to prayer and contemplation, and instill, especially in young people, the same spiritual enthusiasm as in past generations” (6-27-1999). 

            Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of “the rich and profound popular religiosity, in which we see the soul of the Latin American peoples.”  This faith emerges as “a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith”; it is marked by “love for the suffering Christ, the God of compassion, pardon and reconciliation…, the God who is close to the poor and to those who suffer….  This religiosity … is the precious treasure of the Catholic Church … and must be protected, promoted and, when necessary, purified” (5-13-2007).

            Pope Francis has spoken and written extensively about popular piety.  In his comprehensive apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), he devotes an entire section to “the evangelizing power of popular piety” (122-126).

The Pope notes:“Popular piety enables us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on.  Once looked down upon, popular piety came to be appreciated once more in the decades following the Council.  In the Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI … stated that popular piety ‘manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know’ and that ‘it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief.’  Closer to our own time, Benedict XVI … pointed out that popular piety is ‘a precious treasure of the Catholic Church’” (123).

This piety “is truly ‘a spirituality incarnated in the culture of the lowly’….  It is ‘a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling part of the Church and a manner of being missionaries’; it brings with itself the grace of being a missionary, of coming out of oneself and setting out on pilgrimage” (124).

“Underlying popular piety, as a fruit of the inculturated Gospel, is an active evangelizing power which we must not underestimate; to do so would be to fail to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit” (126).Indeed, popular piety is a tremendous resource for leading Catholics to an authentic encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.

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