Piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that is received in baptism and fortified in confirmation. These gifts dispose the person to obey God’s influence and inspiration. Along with understanding, counsel, wisdom, fortitude, and fear of the Lord, these gifts make us agreeable to the motivation of grace. Piety refers to reverence, and it moves us to worship God.
Piety should not be confused with “pietism,” which was a Lutheran movement from Germany begun in the late seventeenth century. Reverend Jacob Spener sought to restore and enliven Christian devotion by promoting individual spiritual life through Bible reading and prayer. This movement also influenced other denominations, such as Methodists.
Piety can also refer to devotion. Besides the holy sacrifice of the Mass, Christian people express their belief in God in many forms of religious practices, such as novenas to Jesus, Mary, the saints, and angels; the veneration of relics of saints, prayers, and litanies; visits to shrines; processions; recitation of the rosary; and praying the stations of the cross. Piety extends the liturgical life of the church, but never replaces it.
Piety can also take on a formal look in the church. There have been many pious movements in the church. The monastic movement began in Egypt after the Fall of Rome and centered on the individual hermit. Many followers went into places far away from civilization to be alone with the Lord. The purpose was to gain a deeper relationship with God through their solitude.
In the West, monasticism took on a different form—communal. The great Saint Benedict is considered the founder of Western monasticism with his division of time. He divided the monk’s time into work, prayer, and rest. In the late Middle Ages came a radical movement of thought and prayer known as “Devotio Moderna.” Christians were bored with highly intellectualized and intricate expressions of faith that seemed too far removed from their ordinary life. This new trend offered a sentimental type of spirituality which answered the practical needs of the Christian. One of the greatest classics of this movement is the Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis. It stressed that true spirituality is the imitation of Christ achieved by meditating on His sacred humanity.