POPULAR RELIGIOSITY AND OFFICIAL LITURGY

pop rel and lit

Expressions of Popular Religiosity are “popular;” the Liturgy, “official.”

[1] First of all, the liturgy is the official act of worship of the Church, while an expression of popular religiosity is a cultic act of (and by) the people. The liturgy is the act of worship by the universal Church “for the people,” while a popular religious ritual is an act of worship “of the people” as local (particular) church. Although different, they mutually enrich each other.[1]

[2] Second, the language of the liturgy is generally sober, direct, and linear, speaking more to the people’s intellect; while, in contrast, the language of a popular religious ritual is florid, discursive, and vividly picturesque, normally appealing more to the people’s sentiments and emotions.[2]

[3] Third, the liturgy is formulated as a cultic rite performed by an assembly normally presided by an ordained minister; its roles or ministries are clearly defined and hierarchically assigned.[3] Instead, a popular religious ritual makes use of procession, drama, poetry, and dances. In lieu of an ordained minister presiding, several key roles are performed by members of the community on the basis of their talent and devotional vows.

[4] Fourth, the liturgy calls for the observance of restraint with regard to the number and prominence of sacred images. Quite to the contrary, popular religious rituals may display several religious images in a procession that lasts for hours. They may exhibit several life-size statues of biblical and even devotional characters, mounted on a carroza adorned with fresh flowers and lights, around the central image: Jesus Christ.[4]

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Expressions of Popular Religiosity, like the Liturgy, are Cultic Acts of Faith Involving Life

[1] But expressions of popular religiosity, like the liturgy, are cultic acts. By cultic act I mean that act of worship made explicit through rites, ceremonies, and religious practices. Such an explicit act of worship, which involves acts of consciousness and forms of expressions such as words, actions, and objects, is primarily intended to acknowledge God’s absolute sovereignty and offer him adoration. Such adoration may be given to God directly, or else it is given indirectly, as in the case of an act of veneration given to a saint on account of his or her special relationship with God.[5] It may also be in a form of private worship performed individually, or by a group as in the case of the Salúbong. Otherwise, it is the official form as in the case of the liturgy of the Church.[6]

[2] An act of worship is an act of faithlex orandi lex credendi. Accordingly, any act of worship implies and expresses faith. In a narrower sense, faith here refers to certain beliefs: from teachings of the faith which are commonly accepted to officially formulated doctrines of the Church. It suggests faith as truths we believe in, calling for a response in terms of an intellectual adherence to the truths of faith revealed by God and taught by the Church.[7] In this sense, a truth of faith articulated in an official doctrine or in a theological treatise finds itself ritually and symbolically expressed in the act of worship.

Nevertheless, I claim that, in the wider sense, faith here refers to the relationship between human persons who desire to relate with God and God who graciously stirs and fulfills that desire for them by the gift of self-communication.[8] This understanding views faith not simply as truths we believe in, but as an act of trust. To believe in God is to entrust ourselves to God, i.e., to give our entire selves to God in response to God’s Trinitarian self-communication to us. It bespeaks loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and might, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Dt 6:5; Mk 12:29-31). Thus, an act of worship seen as an act of believing suggests an act of worshiping the Father in Spirit and in Truth (Jn 4:23-24), i.e., the offering of one’s Spirit-filled life lived according to the truth of Christ’s own life: a life totally offered to the Father in love, praise, gratitude, and thankful self-giving.[9] In this sense, any act of worship – liturgical or popular – constitutes and expresses the human-divine relationship and, moreover, it attests to the mystery of the human person as capax Dei.

In addition, this wider understanding of faith comes close to Tillich’s notion of faith as a state of being grasped by an ultimate concern. What ultimately concerns Christians is the realization of the fullness of life revealed to us in Christ. It is life with Christ, lived in the Spirit of love – total, unconditional, self-emptying, and self-giving. It is life received as gift of the Father and given back as gift to the Father and to all. It is the life of communion flowing from the Trinitarian communion, a life-giving communion. Such a vision of faith becomes a vision of life coming from God. It claims ultimacy, demanding the total surrender of our life. It is a vision that shapes, reorientates, and transforms our life. Understood in this way, it becomes easy for us to see the connection between our act of worship, which is an act of faith, and our life. Faith as a vision of the ultimate meaning of life (lex credendi), symbolized and made explicit in the act of prayer (lex orandi), involves and shapes the way we live (lex vivendi).[10]

Therefore, while acts of worship, on the one hand, express the community’s faith whether as the very act of believing itself or as truths of faith; on the other hand, they also constitute and transform the lives of the worshiping community into “lives of worship, lives of remembrance and hope, of praise and thanksgiving, lives of service grounded in the shared life which is the experience of those who have communion in God’s Spirit through Jesus Christ.[11] Such transformation, however, is effected by the human-divine relationship or encounter, which is symbolically expressed and mediated by the liturgy and even by any cultic act of popular religion. In any case, cultic acts of faith do not exhaust the much greater mystery of Christian worship, a mystery which manifests itself not only in varied forms of our cultic acts, but also in the different aspects of our daily living.

In summary, popular religious rites and the liturgy, though diverse in form, are similar acts of worship (lex orandi) by which the believing members of the assembly express their faith (lex credendi) and through which the lives of these worshipers are transformed (lex vivendi). Yet, an expression of popular religiosity is not liturgy.

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[1] Salvatore Marsili, “Liturgia e non-liturgia,” in La Liturgia, momento nella storia della salvezza, Anamnesis 1, ed. Burckhardt Neunheuser (Turin, 1974), 151; Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation, 99.

[2] Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation, 112-15.

[3] Ibid., 115.

[4] Ibid., 117.

[5] Traditionally and theologically, we speak of latria or the direct worship of adoration, which we address directly and only to God. We also speak of dulia or the indirect worship of God through the veneration of saints and even inanimate objects as in the case of the veneration of the cross.  Hyperdulia is the highest form of veneration rendered only to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

[6] Handbook of Catholic Theology, s.v. “cult.”

[7] Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions, 531.

[8] New Dictionary of Theology, s.v.“worship.”

[9] Nuovo Dizionario di Liturgia, s.v. “culto.”

[10] Matias Augé, “Le messe pro sancta ecclesia: un’espressione della lex orandi in sintonia con la lex credendi e la lex vivendi,” Notitiae 26 (October 1990): 567.

[11] New Dictionary of Theology, “worship.” See also Kevin Irwin, Context and Text: Method in Liturgical Theology (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1993), 56, 265-351. Irwin explores in this work – his contribution to liturgical theology – how the text (which should not be limited to the liturgical text) shapes the context, i.e., how the liturgy as an event transforms the lives of those who participate in it.

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