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Folk Catholicism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vodou altar celebrating Papa Guédé in Boston, Massachusetts. It has offerings to Rada spirits, to the Petwo family, and to Guédé. The gold object in the center is a monstrance.
Vodou altar celebrating Papa Guédé in Boston, Massachusetts. It has offerings to Rada spirits, to the Petwo family, and to Guédé. The gold object in the center is a monstrance.

Folk Catholicism can be broadly described as any of various ethnic expressions in practices of Catholicism in particular Catholic communities. In general, when aspects of folk religion intermingle with Catholic beliefs in an area, folk Catholicism will result. Practices identified by outside observers as folk Catholicism have varied from place to place, and may at times contradict the official doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and general Christianity.[1]


Some forms of folk Catholic practices are based on syncretism with non-Catholic or non-Christian beliefs or religions. Some of these folk Catholic forms have come to be identified as separate religions, as is the case with Caribbean and Brazilian syncretisms between Catholicism and West African religions, which include Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé.

Similarly complex syncretisms between Catholic practice and indigenous or Native American belief systems, as are common in Maya communities of Guatemala and Quechua communities of Peru to give just two examples, are typically not named as separate religions; their practitioners generally regard themselves as good Catholics even while worshiping non-Christian gods.

Other folk Catholic practices are local elaborations of Catholic custom which do not contradict Catholic doctrine and practice. Examples include compadrazgo in modern Iberia, Latin America and the Philippines, which developed from standard medieval European Catholic practices that fell out of favor in Europe after the seventeenth century; the veneration of some local saints, and pilgrimages in medieval and modern Europe. Folk Catholic practices occur where Catholicism is a major religion, not only in the often-cited cases of Latin America and the West Indies. Folk accommodations between Catholicism and local beliefs can be found in Gaelic Scotland, the Philippines, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Poland, and southern India.

In Ireland, openly Catholic worship was banned due to the Penal Laws. This led to storytellers inventing their own tales so as to teach the Gospel or add further lessons. These further lessons however often ended up contradicting the teaching of the Catholic Church. Within these stories a variety of recurring characters and themes appear such as the Virgin Mary, priests, Paul the Apostle, Satan and Jesus himself.[2]

In the Philippines, the custom of Simbang Gabi developed from the farming community.[3] Simbang Gabi is a devotional nine-day series of Masses leading up to Christmas. On the last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, the service is instead called Misa de Gallo (Spanish for "Rooster's Mass"). It has an important role in Philippine culture. It has its origins in the early days of Spanish rule over the Philippines as a practical compromise for farmers, who began work before sunrise to avoid the noonday heat out in the fields. Despite being exhausted by a long day's labor, the people would still attend the customary evening novenas. In 1669, the priests began to say Mass in the early mornings instead of the evening novenas more common in the rest of the Hispanic world. This cherished Christmas custom eventually became a distinct feature of Philippine culture and became a symbol of sharing.[4]

The Roman Catholic Church takes a pragmatic and patient stance towards folk Catholicism. For example, it may permit pilgrimages to the site of reported apparitions (e.g. Međugorje) without endorsing or condemning belief in the reported apparitions, and will often declare Marian apparitions and similar miracles "worthy of belief" (e.g. Our Lady of Fatima), or will confirm the cult of local saints without actually endorsing or recommending belief. When the Roman Catholic Church considers that there is a blatant heresy occurring, it actively rejects it and tells Catholics to stay away from such practices. This is the case of the cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death, a personification and veneration of death). The Church has condemned the cult as blasphemous, calling it a "degeneration of religion".[5][6][7]

Popular Catholicism in the world


Participants at one of the Simbang Gabi masses.
Participants at one of the Simbang Gabi masses.

In the Philippines, among the most relevant celebration of popular Catholicism is the novena Christmas known as Simbang Gabi, which arose within the farming community and consists of a nine-day devotional gesture of masses in preparation for Christmas. On the last day of Simbang Gabi, which coincides with Christmas Eve, the most important service is held, called in Spanish Misa de Gallo ("Mass of the Rooster").

This is an ancient tradition celebrated since 1669, brought to the Philippines by Spanish missionaries: originally, the nine masses were held very early in the morning, because most of the country's inhabitants were farmers who had to go to work before dawn, to avoid being in the fields during the hottest hours of the day.

While evening novenas were more common in the rest of the Hispanic world, this Christmas custom eventually became a distinctive feature of Philippine culture and a symbol of shared participation of popular faith.[8]


Neapolitan crib figures.
Neapolitan crib figures.

In Italy the spread of popular Catholicism, which according to Cardinal Camillo Ruini has deep roots in the Catholic identity of this country, owes its peculiarity to three main factors:[9]

Fundamental historical events that contributed to the formation of popular Italian Catholicism were the Counter-Reformation, consequent to the Council of Trent, during which the countryside in particular was invested by the educational renewal of the Church, and then the social and civil commitment of the Catholic movementism between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[9] This would be a legacy still alive, surviving today's secularization, in front of which the Church itself would be called upon to choose between a pastoral support to these forms of popular culture or a preference for an exclusively elite spirituality.[9]

Candelore for the feast of Sant'Agata in Catania.
Candelore for the feast of Sant'Agata in Catania.

Among the most popular saints and patrons in Italy is San Pio (Padre Pio), followed by others such as Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francesco), Santa Rita of Cascia, St. Joseph, St. Michael, Mother Teresa, Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Rosalia, Januarius, St. Agatha, St. Ambrose, St. Catherine of Siena.[10]

In the popular fabric of the peasant world, the presence of the sacred would still be associated, since remote times, with rites of traditional magic called in Sicily, benedicaria,[11] which is the name by which it was made known in America by emigrants, but practiced for example also in the Po Valley by the strolghe (Italian: le streghe, 'witches'), based on the knowledge of herbs, formulas and spells used together with the sacraments and prayers of the Catholic Church.[12]

See also



  1. ^ Vergote 1982.
  2. ^ O Suilleabhain, Sean (2011). Miraculous Plenty: Irish Religious Folktales and Legends. University College Dublin. pp. 17–21. ISBN 978-0-9565628-2-1.
  3. ^ Ordonez, Minyong. "Why folk Catholicism keeps our faith alive", Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 11, 2012
  4. ^ Roces, Alfredo (1 October 2009). Culture Shock! Philippines: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette. Marshall Cavendish Reference. ISBN 978-0761456711.
  5. ^ "'Saint Death' Comes to Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 September 2016.[dead link]
  6. ^ Garma, Carlos (10 April 2009). "El culto a la Santa Muerte". El Universal (in Spanish). Mexico City. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  7. ^ "Vatican Declares Mexican Death Saint Blasphemous". BBC News. 9 May 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  8. ^ Alfredo and Grace Roces, Culture Shock! Philippines: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, Marshall Cavendish Reference, October 2009 ISBN 0761456716.
  9. ^ a b c d "Di popolo o d'èlite: la Chiesa italiana al bivio". Vita e pensiero: 55–60. March 2003.
  10. ^ "Santi più invocati d'Italia". 2006.
  11. ^ Vito Quattrocchi, Benedicaria: Magical Catholicism, 2006.
  12. ^ Andrea Bocchi Modrone, Lo Stivale Magico: magia popolare e stregoneria del buon paese, Il Crogiuolo, 2011.


External links

This page was last edited on 31 July 2022, at 21:59
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