The renewal of the Church's life envisaged by Vatican II looks to the celebration of Word of God and the Sacraments - in a renewed liturgy - as the central focus of Christians' faith awareness. For many centuries, however, the majority of Catholics have related to their God through the popular devotions that have been so important in their lives. Helping people to appreciate the importance of the liturgy in their lives is, therefore, a delicate pastoral problem – taken up by the Holy See in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2002).
History helps us to understand how this problem arose, and how it can be overcome. The Church's liturgy had it origins in the wonder and thanksgiving of the first Christians, as they shared their new -found faith in the Paschal Mystery – the Saviour's death and resurrection, as the perfect worship of the Father: shared with them as a source of new and eternal life. For the Christians of the first five centuries, the same spirit enlivened liturgies now held up as a model to be imitated. In the Church of the Fathers, personal faith awareness and prayer were inspired by sincere participation in the liturgy. During the troubled Dark Ages (6th to 10th centuries) the liturgical rituals were carried on, but appreciation of the Paschal Mystery being celebrated diminished. A religious revival in the High Middle Ages (11th to 15th centuries) promoted the tradition of popular devotions that has continued until our own day. The importance of the Resurrection - so fundamental for an appreciation of the Paschal Mystery - came to be lost sight of, as these devotions emphasized the human sufferings of the Saviour, more than the divine mystery of God's final achievement in creation in the Lord's Resurrection. In later centuries the liturgical traditions were preserved as an official ceremonial that was like a background to popular devotions. Long before Vatican II, it began to be recognized that this situation needed to change, so that the Church could find a new vitality in the liturgy's celebration of the Word of God in the Scriptures and the Paschal Mystery perpetuated in the Sacraments.
The goal of Vatican II's renewal is to make the liturgy the wondrous centre of faith awareness in a renewed Church. Rather than do away with the popular devotions that have nourished the faith of many people, the Holy See recommends that they be used as a means of leading people to a new appreciation of the riches to be found in the liturgy.