Catholic Devotion in Victorian England

By Mary Heimann | Go to book overview

3
Familiar Prayers

HOWEVER religion may be defined by outsiders, whether as a purely sociological or even a psychological phenomenon, to the believer the essence of Christian faith lies in the personal relationship believed to exist between the creator and the creature. Prayer, whether petitionary, adulatory, or intercessory, is therefore central as the chief means of communication between God and man. So it is no accident that those Catholic devotions which have already been examined have consisted of prayers, as those said with the aid of a rosary; or of services incorporating prayer, as with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; or of objects or representations meant as a focus for particular prayers, as with the Way of the Cross, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Quarant'ore, and devotions to the Sacred Heart.

There was nothing unique to Catholics in this central concern with prayer as an expression and measure of piety or devoutness. 'Faith', Luther claimed, 'is prayer and nothing but prayer', and the nineteenthcentury evangelical Schleiermacher declared that 'To be religious and to pray -- that is really one and the same thing.'1 But, although all Christians would agree on the fundamental importance of prayer, the objects, subject, and forms of Catholic prayers could differ from those of other denominations. The rise and fall in popularity of particular prayers within the Catholic community therefore gives the best insight that can be glimpsed, not only of denominational difference, but also of internal shifts in spiritual emphases over time.

This most central aspect of devotion, also the most private, is correspondingly difficult for the historian to recapture. An attempt will be made in this chapter first to identify the most popular, which will be defined as the best-selling, prayer-books in circulation among English Catholics in the period. The next object will be to pinpoint and analyse those individual prayers which appear most distinctive of the piety of the community. Finally, changes both in prayer-books and in favourite prayers

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1
Cited in F. Heiler, Prayer: A Study in the History and Psychology of Religion, trans. and ed. S. McComb ( New York, 1932), p. xiii.

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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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