Catholicism For Dummies
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Catholics have a variety of ways to show their devotion to or love of God the Holy Trinity. Catholics can attend Mass, pray the rosary or the stations of the cross, wear a religious medal, or say a novena (the same prayer for nine days in a row).

The common Catholic devotions include:

  • Praying a novena: A novena is a traditional prayer you say for nine consecutive days. Novenas are short prayers to a particular saint, requesting that the saint pray to Jesus on your behalf. Often timed so that the novena ends on the feast day of the particular saint the novena is addressed to, novenas are said in the hopes of gaining some special spiritual blessings.

    Novenas can be prayed anytime for a special need, such as in desperate and seemingly hopeless cases. Whenever you find yourself or someone you care about in such circumstances, consider doing what some Catholics do — pray a novena to St. Peregrine, Patron of Cancer Patients or to St. Jude, Patron of Hopeless Cases.

  • Participating in a litany: A litany is a long prayer often prayed antiphonally, meaning one person recites the first part and the rest of the group responds.

    Litanies are prayed outside of Mass as a private devotion or publicly after Mass on the feast day of the particular saint, but not generally during Mass, although you may hear the Litany of Saints prayed at the Easter Vigil, before the Baptism of adults, and at the Ordination Mass of a deacon, priest, or bishop.

  • Looking at statues and icons: Catholics have been accused of being idol worshippers, because they use statues and icons — paintings on wood in the Byzantine tradition — in church and at home. But unlike the pagan Romans and Greeks, who actually worshipped statues as false gods, Catholics use statues and icons the same way that others use photographs — to remind them of the virtues of the saint represented.

    If you see a Catholic kneeling before a statue, they aren’t worshipping it or the person it represents. Kneeling is merely a posture of prayer, and the Catholic is merely praying to God through the intercession of that particular saint.

  • Making a pilgrimage: Religious journeys to visit a holy place, pilgrimages are an optional devotion in many religions. Muslims visit Mecca, and many Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well as Jews and Catholic Christians make pilgrimages to Israel.

  • Going on a retreat: Because most Catholics don’t have the time or money to make a pilgrimage to many of the holy places, they often make an annual retreat instead. It can last a week (five to seven days) or be a weekend event at a retreat center. The retreat is a time away from work, school, family, and friends. No radio or TV, no newspapers or magazines, no computers or Internet. They’re an opportunity for Catholics to get away from the stress and anxiety of the world and just spend time praying, meditating, reflecting, and renewing.

    Priests and nuns of various orders run retreat houses. In addition, many Catholic organizations sponsor retreats.

  • Wearing a medal or scapular: An everyday devotion is wearing a religious medal or scapular — two pieces of cloth connected by thin ribbons and worn around the neck to rest on the chest and back. Catholics use them as mere reminders to stay close to God and to try to imitate the sanctity and holiness of the saints.

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