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False Devotions: Dangers for Pious Souls

Rev. Fr. Benedict Hughes, CMRI

Recently, a parishioner asked me to review a devotional booklet which she wanted to use. Published by TAN Books, the booklet The Two Divine Promises was written by a Fr. Roman Hoppe. Originally published in 1954 in Polish, it was reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., in 1987. Although the booklet claims to be published with ecclesiastical approval, there is no imprimatur nor mention of who approved it.

The booklet begins by printing selections of private revelations made to three nuns. (I do not here disparage the value of private revelations, which are of great benefit to many souls when approved by the Church. One of the sources mentioned by the author in this booklet, however, is questionable — a topic best left for another article.) After this brief review, the author then goes on to give the so-called “two divine promises.” He claims that these promises were revealed by Our Lord to a chosen soul in Poland (whom he does not name) in 1954.

And what are these promises? To briefly paraphrase, the promises are: 1) Any priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass worthily for 30 consecutive days and prays the Stations of the Cross daily will receive for himself and a soul selected by him, the assurance of salvation. 2) Each lay person who receives Holy Communion worthily for 30 consecutive days and offers prayers for the welfare of Holy Mother Church will also receive the assurance of salvation for himself and one other soul selected by him.

To put it mildly, these promises are extraordinary — but are they authentic? Every Catholic who is at least minimally instructed in the Faith will recognize at once that there is something very wrong with these “promises.” In fact, they could not have come from Christ, because they fly in the face of what our Catholic Faith teaches. Did not St. Paul say, “With fear and trembling work out your salvation....” (Phil. 2:12)? How can any of us ever be “assured” of our salvation, as long as we are alive in this vale of tears? Indeed, these promises are spurious and not to be accepted by Catholics.

Canon 1259: New Forms of Worship or Devotion Not to Be Introduced
(Holy Office, 26 May, 1937) AAS 29-304

Long ago the Sacred Council of Trent (Sess. XXV, De invocat., venerat., et reliquiis Sanctorum et sacris imaginibus), after declaring that the worship of the saints and the use of their images to obtain favors from God is legitimate, solemnly warned the Bishops that, if they found that any abuses were creeping in or had crept into these holy and salutary practices, they must take great care to eradicate them, so that no images that are theologically false and might be an occasion of dangerous error to the unlearned be set up; that all superstition in the invocation of saints and in the use of sacred images be removed; that all profit seeking be eliminated; and finally that nothing inordinate, nothing distorted or hasty, nothing profane, nothing unworthy be observed.

Faithful to these prescriptions, the Roman Pontiffs have been diligent in calling them to mind upon various occasions and in demanding that they be fully observed. In particular, Pius IX of holy memory, through a decree of the Holy Office dated January 13, 1875, by his supreme authority decreed: “that writers who exercise their talents upon subjects savoring of novelty, and who under the guise of piety try to promote unaccustomed forms of devotion even through papers and magazines, be warned to cease from these activities and to consider the danger which they incur of drawing the faithful into error even regarding the dogmas of the Faith, and of giving to those who hate religion the opportunity to disparage the purity of Catholic doctrine and of true devotion.” These same provisions have lately been confirmed by being introduced, almost in the same words, into the Code of Canon Law, especially in canons 1259, 1261, and 1279.

Unfortunately, however, so many grave warnings and injunctions of the Supreme ecclesiastical Authority have thus far failed to obtain full obedience. In fact, as everyone knows, these new forms of worship and devotion, often enough ridiculous, usually useless imitations or corruptions of similar ones which are already legitimately established, are in many places, especially in these recent days, being daily multiplied and propagated among the faithful, giving occasion to great astonishment and to bitter aspersion on the part of non-Catholics.

Again and again therefore, this Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, which is charged with the guardianship of the purity and integrity of faith and morals, by express mandate of His Holiness, by Divine Providence Pope, Pius XI, earnestly appeals to the zeal and pastoral solicitude of the Bishops who have the care of souls throughout the Catholic world, and charges them in conscience to urge at last the strictest observance of the aforesaid admonitions and injunctions, by firmly abolishing abuses which have already arisen, and taking the most diligent precautions lest any new ones come into vogue.

Approved and confirmed in every respect, and ordered to be published, by His Holiness, in the audience of May 20, 1937.
Given at Rome, from the Palace of the Holy Office, May 26, 1937.
AAS 29-304; Holy Office, Decree, 26 May, 1937.
Periodica, 26-470 (Creyghton); Apollinaris, 1937-501 (Graneris).

 

Church Law on Publishing

The propagation of such dangerous writings reveals one of the many problems we face in this age of apostasy. In normal times one would have recourse to the ordinary (bishop of the diocese) to have anything printed. Canon 1385.1 forbids Catholics to publish anything whatsoever pertaining to religion or morality without proper ecclesiastical approval, “even though they seem conducive to the fostering of piety.” It furthermore forbids “any reproductions whatsoever of sacred images, whether they are issued with or without prayers,” without the requisite permission. Moreover, the Holy See has repeatedly admonished the bishops to take great care to enforce canons 1259, 1261, and 1279, regarding new forms of devotion.

As a result of the liberalism that was ushered in by Vatican II, there has been a wholesale spreading of every kind of erroneous writing. Even otherwise good and pious Catholics have been duped by such literature. What should be done in the absence of a recognizable legitimate Catholic hierarchy? In my opinion, writings ought to be submitted to a good, traditional Catholic bishop for guidance. This practice would eliminate many of the errors that have been propagated in our times by otherwise well-meaning souls.

Catholic Devotional Life

To return to the topic of devotions, it is important to remember that all devotional practices must be based on the solid bedrock of true doctrine. Protestants have long accused Catholics of violating the First Commandment by our use of sacramentals and sacred images. While they are wrong to reject the use of blessed objects of devotion, sadly, there are some Catholics who believe they will infallibly or miraculously receive favors from these objects. There may also be some who do not understand that sacramentals, unlike the sacraments, do not contain grace. Rather, they become a means of actual grace through the blessings of the Church and the piety of those who make use of them.

Regarding new devotions, the Church has always been most solicitous to safeguard the faithful from unapproved prayers and practices. A decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, published on May 26, 1937, reminds the bishops that “all superstition in the invocation of saints and in the use of sacred images” is to be removed. The decree further states that “new forms of worship and devotion, often enough ridiculous, usually useless imitations or corruptions of similar ones which are already legitimately established, are in many places, especially in these recent days, being daily multiplied and propagated among the faithful, giving occasion to great astonishment and to bitter aspersion on the part of non-Catholics.” (See p. 9 for the full text of the decree.)

A similar problem occurs with the overcredulous. The devil has often deluded such simple souls. Thus, we have seen in our own day individuals who claim to have seen an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the side of a building, under an overpass, etc. We have even seen the scandal of a grilled-cheese sandwich offered for sale on Ebay because people thought they saw Our Lady on the sandwich!

The use of email has also been a source of such foolishness. Chain messages are sent around, promising that if you forward the message to x many people, you will obtain certain blessings. All such beliefs and practices are rightly rejected by faithful Catholics.

Authentic Promises

Let us now return to the discussion of promises. Some years ago the so-called Magnificent Promises made to Saint Bridget made the rounds. These were certainly spurious, and, as expected, the booklets contained no imprimatur. Although the prayers may have been authentic, the promises were certainly not. Among other extraordinary promises was the one guaranteeing to the person who would faithfully recite the prayers daily for a year, that 15 of his relatives would be saved as a result. (For a full treatment of this topic, see the article “Magnificent Prayers, Yes — Magnificent Promises, No,” by Fr. Casimir Puskorius, CMRI, published in The Reign of Mary, #104, pp. 4-5.)

Now why is this so obviously spurious? Because our prayers can never force the free will of any person. We can and should pray for others, but God will always respect the free will He gave them. If we devoutly pray for others (friends, relatives, poor sinners, etc.), God will certainly give them grace, but He will not force them to cooperate with that grace. Our Lord and Our Lady even prayed for Judas, but these prayers did not force him to repent.

There are, on the other hand, many authentic promises that have received the approval of the Church. The most well-known, of course, are the promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus made to Saint Margaret Mary. Another excellent example is the Fifteen Promises of Our Lady for those who recite the Holy Rosary. Note the difference between one of these Rosary promises (e.g. “I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary”), as compared with the Two Divine Promises mentioned at the beginning of this article. The authentic Rosary promise does not guarantee salvation, while the false “Two Divine Promises” do. None of us is confirmed in grace, but we must continue to persevere, avoiding the wiles of the devil and living by God’s commandments and the teachings of Christ’s Church.

So, how can we avoid being deceived? If you receive any devotional material that does not bear an imprimatur and seems suspicious, be sure to check with a trusted priest. We cannot be too careful in this regard, as Satan seeks to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

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