Catholic Devotion in Victorian England

By Mary Heimann | Go to book overview

2
Devotions in Common

CATHOLICS of all complexions and at all times would agree that devotion lies at the very centre of faith. Devotion in its broadest and most fundamental sense implies an earnest and deep love for God, and can hardly be measured. Although devotion is a private matter impossible for the contemporary, let alone the historian, to judge, manifestations which were generally thought by contemporaries to suggest a pious bent, or a serious religious commitment, are more open to scrutiny.

The historian's traditional measures of religious adherence -- records of Mass and Easter attendances, baptisms, and the like -- have generally been admitted to be inadequate, since the figures can only be taken as very loose approximations. Even if perfect, such statistics would not go to the heart of the matter, the motives and beliefs of the worshippers present, and the reasons for the absence of other self-styled Catholics. An examination of what are known in the Catholic Church as devotions and are, strictly speaking, extra-liturgical devotional actions, can compensate in part for the inadequacy of other indices. Since Catholic devotions are fully voluntary religious acts -- the optional extras, so to speak, of religious adherence -- they are less open to the charge of representing a lip service or merely social identification with a particular creed.

Apart from the general point that an analysis of devotions can help to uncover the religious dimension of the lives of many Catholics, there is an additional reason why such an approach is particularly appropriate for the study of Catholicism in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. One of the chief questions which divided nineteenth-century advocates of the new piety from those who favoured the old style was whether devotion to God was enhanced and encouraged, or to some extent cramped or inappropriately expressed, through such devotions as came to be increasingly rigid in form and universal in application. While Newman and others stressed that feeling could not be forced and that it was doctrine, rather than devotional expression or mere taste, which might legitimately be corrected, the kind of approach favoured by Faber could be taken to imply that true love for God would inevitably spill over into set devotional forms. A

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Catholic Devotion in Victorian England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vi
  • Contents *
  • I - Received Ideas 1
  • 2 - Devotions in Common 38
  • 3 - Familiar Prayers 70
  • 4 - A Community Apart 100
  • 5 - An English Piety 137
  • Appendix - Devotional Statistics of the Churches, Chapels, and Stations in England and Wales 174
  • Bibliography 201
  • Index 233
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