Praying in the Roman Catholic tradition takes place within networks of relationships on earth, and between heaven and earth. For Catholic men and women, supernatural figures are taken to be really, literally present in the everyday circumstances of their lives. Catholic sacramental theology holds that bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ at the moment of consecration in the Eucharist. To take consecrated bread out into the streets and fields in a great golden monstrance, as Catholics have done for centuries, is to bring Christ himself to the people.
Real Presences: Catholic prayer as intersubjectivity
Praying in the Roman Catholic tradition takes place within networks of relationships on earth, and between heaven and earth. For Catholic men and women, supernatural figures are taken to be really, literally present in the everyday circumstances of their lives. But Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the saints are also present in images, statues, and relics; in times of great communal distress or personal suffering; in features of the natural landscape and shrines that mark sites of encounters between humans and supernatural figures; and in holy oil and water. Such encounters are not a matter of human interiority; humans meet these real presences as others in the world. In this portal, New Directions in the Study of Prayer grantee Robert Orsi presents a curated collection of resources for readers interested in the intersubjective nature of Catholic prayer, and what this tells us more generally about how religion is practiced today.
See also reflections on the portal by Jason C. Bivins, Julie Byrne, Constance M. Furey, Timothy Matovina, Brenna Moore, Sarah M. Pike, and Ann Taves.
Early theorists of religion understood the presence of supernatural figures in religions as evidence of a “primitive” mentality. Only “savage,” “primitive,” and “unenlightened” races and persons—in the terminology of modern theory—imagined their gods to be tangible, to be really present in places and things, to be danced with, to be begged for help, and to be cursed. Practices of presence came to be associated with women, children, dark-skinned people, and the lower classes. But the prototype for this judgment was Catholicism. The notion of the “fetish,” for example, of the thing alive with the presence of the spirits, was explicitly derived by analogy with Catholic sacramental theology and devotional practice. Catholics were modernity’s once and future “primitives.” This judgment may still be found in developmental theories of the stages of faith development, in which practices of presence directed to beings who hear and respond are taken as indicators of a lower level of religious consciousness.
William A. Christian, Jr. and Gábor Klaniczay, eds., The Vision Thing: Studying Divine Intervention, Budapest: Collegium Budapest Workshop Series No. 18, n.d.
Not surprisingly motion pictures proved to be a potent medium for depicting the interaction between humans and supernatural others at the same time that the congregation of large numbers of Catholics in American cities created an audience for them.