Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 8, 1999
Liturgist cool to 'exaggerated devotions'
Former advisor to bishops says devotions must be linked to Eucharist
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
One of the greatest problems facing the Church today is fragmentation, says liturgist Father John Hibbard.
And "exaggerated" devotions can further that fragmentation by catering to individualism, cautions the former director of the National Liturgical Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"The ultimate test of prayer is, does it lead us to openness to the power of God working in our lives, and the presence of God in one another? Or is it for personal justification, to close ourselves to the rest of the community and say we are better than others?"
If it closes us off from the community, Hibbard says, "it really goes against what Christ was and the nature of the Church."
Hibbard addressed the spirituality of devotions during an Oct. 29-30 liturgy conference, sponsored by the archdiocesan Liturgy Commission. About 95 people attended over the two days.
The topic arose because a number of people have been asking the commission about what appears to be a resurgence of interest in devotions, said executive secretary Margaret O'Connell.
Hibbard's message was neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of devotions.
He pointed out that while the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states that "Popular devotions of the Christian people . . . are to be highly recommended," it goes on to specify that "such devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical season, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it, and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them."
"I'm just asking you to think about it," Hibbard told the group. "Ask yourselves, why do you need it? What's it going to do?
"If it builds up the body of Christ, and helps people appreciate the Eucharist," it's a positive thing. But if a devotion diminishes the ability of people to celebrate the Eucharist in community, "you'd better stop it right away."
For example, Hibbard said, exaggerated adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can "descend into individualistic mode, that denies the fact that we are the body of Christ and Christ is always with us."
We are tactile people, so it's human nature to have a visual object to pray to, he admitted.
But if we believe grace is contingent upon being able to see the Eucharist, "then faith has reached a superstitious level."
There's nothing "magic" about praying during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, he added. "If it helps you to pray in Church before the tabernacle, by all means do it," he said.
But we need to realize that "it's prayer that changes people, not the fact that the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. It's through the consciousness-raising that our prayer does."
Because of their popularity through the ages, Hibbard added, devotions can and do influence the liturgy of the Church, and can flow out of the liturgy. Both are communal and ritual acts; both involve a dialogue between God and the assembly, and both centre on the Eucharist as the summit of Christian life.
Where caution is needed, Hibbard advised, is when the practice of devotions splits or divides a parish. It's the responsibility of both clergy and laity to work at integrating the popular elements of devotions into the liturgy.
For example, the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ont., where Hibbard is a priest, developed guidelines for the Rite of Eucharistic Benediction. The document follows the guidelines issued by Rome, but adds elements such as divine praises, specifically written to be Trinitarian in nature.
O'Connell says a similar document is "on the agenda" for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
It's also important, Hibbard said, to be open to multicultur-alism. For many recent immigrants, rituals are a way of preserving traditions, and that can lead to conflict and competition within the parish.
"We have to be open to God working through different groups, but we also have to realize it's the same Lord working through us all. We have to stop and think about the links."