Catholic Definition of Piety

by John P. Moore

In the context of Catholicism, "piety" is all about faithfulness in relationships. This faithfulness may be in one's relationship with parents, with country, or with God. When it is faithfulness in a Catholic's relationship with God, piety is considered both as the force behind popular devotions and as one of the "gifts of the Holy Spirit." These are unmerited gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit on all members of the Catholic Church that lead them into a proper relationship with God.

Filial Piety

Faithfulness toward parents is referred to as "filial piety." This sort of faithfulness is mentioned in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" under the heading Duties of Family Members. The Catholic is told that "respect for parents (filial piety) derives from gratitude" for all the love and work provided by the parents and that such piety is "shown by true docility and obedience."

Popular Piety

"Popular piety" refers to the common devotion of the Christian people to God, as expressed in non-sacramental practices that develop among Catholics over time and are eventually sanctioned by Church authorities. The Catechism mentions a series of examples, including "veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross." These actions demonstrate a zeal in religious observance that goes beyond the routine repetition of the Catholic Church's required rituals.

Piety as Gift of Holy Spirit

Piety as one of the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" is a special quality of faithfulness in a person's relationship with God that is bestowed by the Spirit. Such piety can be described as an "infused gift" because it is not earned or developed by effort, as is normally the case with virtues. Like all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it is considered to have been bestowed on Jesus at birth, on the disciples at Pentecost and on all subsequent members of the Church at baptism. This gift helps Catholics to regard God as "Abba" (father) rather than a distant supreme being and to relate to God with corresponding affection and devotion.

Humility and Submission

Along with the other gifts of the Holy Spirit -- wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge and fear of the Lord -- piety is supposed to engender a disposition that leads Catholics to a proper relationship with God. These qualities complement the core experience of faith in Jesus Christ that serves as the indispensable initial experience of the Catholic. The Catechism explains that these gifts "perfect the virtues" and "make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations." Among these seven gifts, piety is the one that most encourages humility and submission, which are considered necessary elements in the Catholic's attitude toward God.

About the Author

John P. Moore has been writing about the intersection between faith and culture since 1997. His articles have appeared in both religious and mainstream publications, including the "Ottawa Citizen" and the "Montreal Gazette". He received a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Masters of Theology from the University of Toronto.

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