Popular Piety Strong in Canada

Friday, October 22 2010

(CCCB – Ottawa, October 25, 2010)… The Commission for Doctrine of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) released today a document on the importance and role of popular piety in Canada. Entitled Popular Piety in Canada: Reflections on Some Popular Expressions of the Faith, its release was timed to celebrate the recent canonization of Saint Brother André, whose life and work illustrate the enduring importance of expressions of devotion in Canada.

Based on the results of a survey undertaken several years ago on popular expressions of the faith, the Commission examined the most significant aspects of the practice of popular piety within Canadian Catholic dioceses.

“This document offers a broad picture of popular devotion in Canada,” said Commission Chairman Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B. “It identifies some major considerations from the theological point of view and suggests some guidelines,” he added.

Central among the popular devotions noted in the document is Eucharistic adoration. This refers to the worship of the Blessed Sacrament outside of the celebration of Mass. The devotions include visits to the Blessed Sacrament, processions for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (commonly known as “Corpus Christi”), exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Forty Hours devotion.

Among the most popular expressions of faith in Canada are those involving the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Anne. The Commission noted that the popular piety of the faithful in Canada has a distinctive “feminine” quality. According to the Commission, the maternity and maternal qualities of both Our Lady and Saint Anne strike a chord in the hearts of Canadians, particularly among Indigenous peoples. This, the Commission said, is understandable, given the pioneering role of so many heroic women in the founding years of Canada as a young nation. The CCCB text goes on to note the remarkable contributions made over the years by so many religious women in establishing Catholic schools, hospitals, and charitable agencies, and these, it says, are deeply embedded in the collective memory and culture of Canadians. 

“The best criterion for evaluating the worth and the spiritual fruitfulness of a particular devotion is its capacity to draw people deeper into the liturgical life and ministry of the Church,” said Archbishop Miller. “Understanding the popular expressions of faith and devotion in Canada not only enables the Bishops to better understand the spiritual needs and gifts of the faithful, but also indicates how faith is brought into the everyday lives of Catholics,” he added. 

Canada’s five national shrines — the Canadian Martyrs’ Shrine, the Saint Anne de Beaupré Basilica, the Shrine of Notre-Dame-du-Cap, the Saint-Antoine Hermitage, and Saint Joseph’s Oratory — receive 2.5 million pilgrims a year. In 2008, the International Eucharistic Congress in Québec City drew 55,000 pilgrims to its closing Mass and 25,000 people joined in a procession through the streets of the city, which was watched by thousands of others. In addition to the national shrines and major events such as the Eucharistic Congress, there are many small, active local shrines, outdoor grottos and sanctuaries in every diocese across the country.

In his recent Letter to Seminarians (October 18, 2010), Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “Popular piety is … one of the Church’s great treasures. The faith has taken on flesh and blood. Certainly popular piety always needs to be purified and refocused, yet it is worthy of our love and it truly makes us into the ‘People of God’.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is the national assembly of the Bishops of Canada. It was founded in 1943 and officially recognized by the Holy See in 1948. After the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), the CCCB became part of a worldwide network of Episcopal Conferences, established in 1965 as an integral part of the life of the universal Church.