As Catholics, the Mass is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed. But our spiritual lives should not be solely limited to participation the liturgy. According to the apostles, the role of Christian is to pray without ceasing.
The fathers of the Second Vatican Council in their wisdom said that popular devotional practices play a crucial role in helping to foster a ceaseless prayer life. Devotional practices in the Church aren’t traced back to the ministry of Jesus or the practice of the apostles. Rather, most of them developed gradually over the centuries as people sought ways of living out their faith.
Some devotions, such as the Rosary and scapulars, are adaptations of the practices of religious communities. Others, such as a devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Miraculous Medal, have their origin in a private revelation — vision or message given to one of the faithful.
Examples include pilgrimages, novenas, processions and celebrations in honor of Mary and the other saints, the Rosary, the Angelus, the Stations of the Cross, the veneration of relics and the use of sacramentals.
In this week’s edition, we highlight the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which has been popularized thanks to the efforts of the Redemptorists. In 1866, Pope Pius IX entrusted the original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to the religious community, asking them to “make her known throughout the world.”
The devotion came to St. Alphonsus “Rock” Church in St. Louis nearly 150 years ago when the church was completed and a shrine dedicated to Mary as Our Mother of Perpetual Help. One hundred years ago, a weekly devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was established at the Rock Church on Tuesdays, drawing a peak attendance of tens of thousands of people in the early decades of the devotion.
Throughout the centuries, the Church has turned to the Blessed Mother to become closer to Christ. The Church honors her as the Mother of God, looking to her as a model of perfect discipleship, and asks for her prayers to God on our behalf. In these devotions to Mary, St. Pope John Paul II said that “while the Mother is honored, the Son, through whom all things have their being and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, is rightly known, loved and glorified and … all His commands are observed.”
Daily prayer, including with the help of these devotional practices, is important, said Redemptorist Father Pete Schavitz, who preaches missions at churches across the country. “We often see that people quit praying right before they stop going to Mass,” he said. “A lot of people only pray to God for help but haven’t invested the energy into their relationship with God.”
St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists, reminds us deepening a relationship with God through prayer is “a means necessary to salvation and the graces we need to achieve it,” he wrote in his 1759 treatise “Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection.”
Our devotions — whether they are rooted in Christ, the Blessed Mother or the saints — play an important role in developing a strong prayer life, drawing us closer to God and living in the light of His love.