Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Return to Ritual

The Cafeteria is Closed posted this today. You won't see such articles in most diocesan newspapers, yet ironically, in a secular periodical like U.S. News & World Report we get a glimpse into a profound truth on sacred worship.

Indeed, the NEED for ritual transcends religion. Human nature is oriented toward ritual since it reminds us that we are hylomorphic beings (body & soul; material & spiritual; matter & form; for those who slept through Aristotelian Philosophy 101)

Ritual is the prescribed set of symbolic actions, clothing, artifacts, gestures and words which are done consistently and intentionally. By using symbols, man, who is physically confined to space and time, is nevertheless able to transcend the spatial-temporal limits and thus connect the past, present and future.

Even people who may have a personal dislike or disdain for routine in general still have an inner longing and need for ritual at some level since it brings stability and security in a world that is perennially changing, moment by moment. Technology, medicine and science progress day by day but man still needs to anchor himself to the past so he can weather the turbulence of the present and the uncertainty of the future. Customs and traditions are part of every family and even individuals have some things they do consistently the same way, not just out of habit, but because doing it methodically and identically each time gives a sense of security: it works.

One of the by-products of liturgical abuses in the post-Vatican II era is the demasculinization of worship. The Greeks saw the importance of ritual in their sporting games, notably the Olympiad. These symbolic actions connected the participants of the present with the heroes of the past. There was unity among diversity in that numerous contestants with different abilities were playing the same games and by the same rules. Likewise, the Romans saw the importance of ritual in their historic Imperial Army. Military life is based on rituals. It unites members of the group into an organic unit. Ritual gives stability, it unites and it strengthens.

When radicals began to abandon rubrics in the Mass, they in essence diluted ritual to virtual oblivion. Man still needs ritual in the 21st century as he did in the first or second century, the middle ages or even in ante-diluvian times. Look at the popularity of sporting events. Rules are followed, uniforms worn, referees and umpires officiate. Join the Knights of Columbus, the Elks, Moose Lodge or even the Loyal Order of Waterbuffalos and you will see ritual, not just in the initiation of new members but at important events and occasions.

Then comes along the new priest to the parish who decides on his own not to wear the prescribed vestments for Mass. He disregards the rubrics of the Missal and ad-libs the prayers to make himself relevant. The discontinuity drove many men from church. When ancient rituals are casually and carelessly abandoned, ignored or ridiculed, guys stop coming.

Several dioceses have recently learned that lesson and have instituted a formal set of concelebration chasubles whenever the priests gather together for a Mass with the Bishop, e.g., ordination of deacons or priests, Chrism Mass or the funeral of a cleric. Previously, the custom had been for concelebrants to wear an alb and their own stole while the principal celebrant alone wore a chasuble. This is where you would find all kinds of political, philosophical and theological nonsense. Some priests had slogans on their stoles, others had bizarre graphics, others had colors which had no connection to the liturgical use of only white, gold, red, green, violet or black. Shades of blue, yellow, orange, brown, etc. punctuated the sea of stoles at an ordination.

Now, we all look alike in that we are all wearing albs, stoles and chasubles. Not just matching vestments but proper ones as well. Each one of us was ordained an alter Christus to act in persona Christi. Hence, the individual no longer matters. As Saint Paul says, "it is no longer I, but Christ living in me."

The recent changes in papal vestments thanks to the new Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, will have a great impact on liturgical celebrations around the globe. Attention and respect to tradition but most of all to authentic ritual enhances worship and unifies and unites those who participate.

At diocesan and parish levels, even more so, the need and urgency to return to proper ritual is critical. One does not have to resort to the extreme of being Pharisaically ritualistic, either. Proper attention, respect and deliberate execution of authentic ritual demonstrates a love for God and His Church. Doing even little things well and out of love, shows our love, said the Little Flower. Clean linens, unwrinkled vestments, polished vessels, and reverent celebration of the sacraments as delineated in the ritual books, especially the careful observance of saying the right words and performing the right gestures and actions show how much we love God. Inattention to these things shows more a love of self.


Jeffrey Smith said...

I suspect the lack of ritual in the last few decades is what caused so many people to fall for the new age and neo-pagan religions. Too many "liturgists" underestimated how deep-seated a need it is.

yojim105 said...

I am hoping that this will spark a trend. I am tired of no bells. I have become not particularly fond of concelebration and believe that it would be far more useful to have a single celebrant with other priests in choral dress. If the Mass is not simply a meal but instead a representation( meaning rendered present again) of the One Sacrafice on Calvary, then only one person ought to act in persona Christi. The dilution of this focus often gives a carnival atmosphere to the Liturgy. I also believe the tabernacle ought to be bhind the main altar unless it is a cathedral and altar rails which delineate sacred space need to make a comeback.

Diane K said...

Wonderful commentary Father, and spot on.

Even as a female, I see it, and have spoken similarly on the topic of emasculation of the sanctuary when writing about our altar boy program. (It also reminds me that I am really behind in the series.)

But, when I walk into a parish and see what looks more like a home decorating catalogue was used to set the environment and it smells like potpourri, it's no wonder the pews are dominated by women.

Candles and gold are replaced by potpourri and wicker. In my childhnood parish, these dating game, pansy-looking steel things literally replaced the stations of the cross (and thanks be to God the next pastor put the stations back up, and got rid of those awful looking things)

Now at Assumption Grotto, 7 miles away (by choice), I see the masculinity of the environment and while I'm a female, it feels much more like a church than an office building.

I'm glad I found your blog and have you in my blogging priests and religious section now.

Deo Gratias!!!

My Blog List

Blog Archive