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Shrines urged: balance popular piety with liturgy, encourage confessions

Catholic World News - August 12, 2011

In a message to the rectors of Catholic shrines throughout the world, the Vatican has emphasized that popular piety must not supersede the Church’s official liturgy. The message from the Congregation for Clergy also strongly encourages the rectors of shrines to place a heavy emphasis on the sacrament of Penance.

The Vatican letter—signed by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza and Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta, the prefect and secretary, respectively, of the Congregation for Clergy—strongly affirms the importance of shrines as oases of spiritual strength and renewal. The letter states:

In a climate of widespread secularism, the Shrine continues to be, even to our day, a privileged place in which the human person, a pilgrim here on earth, experiences the loving and saving presence of God. He finds there a fruitful space, away from daily distractions, where he can recollect himself, gather his thoughts and reacquire the spiritual health to re-embark upon the journey of faith with greater ardor.

The letter welcomes the various forms of popular piety that are found at shrines, but asks rectors to guard against “attitudes and ways of thinking that are not consistent with a sound religious sense.” A proper balance must be sought, the letter says: “The personal practice of expressions of popular piety is in no way to be absolutely rejected or hindered, indeed it is to be encouraged, but it cannot replace participation in liturgical worship.”

Taking note of the fact that many people come to shrines at times when they are looking for new direction in life, the Vatican document urges officials to make the sacrament of reconciliation readily available. For that purpose, the letter notes, “it is necessary to bring about and to intensify, where possible, the constant presence of priests who, with a humble and welcoming soul, give themselves generously to the hearing of sacramental confessions.”

While encouraging pious devotions of all sorts, the shrines should always ensure that the Eucharist is recognized as the “source and summit of the Christian life,” the Congregation for Clergy says.

The clerics working at shrines should always welcome those who come looking for direction in life and especially those who are thinking about entering or re-entering the Catholic Church, the letter stresses.

The letter from the Congregation for Clergy is dated August 15: the feast of the Assumption. But it was released by the Vatican on August 12.

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