Ritual as 'insult'

In my Salvation Army tradition we have not had the Lord's Supper or infant baptism since 1883. In both doctrine and practice, until that date we observed both.

I could go into the reasons, but it's enough to say that whilst I believe reintroduction would be highly problematic, I am increasingly aware of some of the reasons given today for non-observance are not well-thought through and some are, in my opinion, not valid.

One of these reasons is an oft-repeated use of the word 'ritual' to describe the act of observing the 2 sacraments. It's almost on the level of saying that it's only ritual and because it's only a ritual it is therefore merely an action and can have no effect spiritually. If it's only a ritual, the argument goes, then the grace that it reflects or symbolises can be just as real when omitting that ritual action - which is what TSA does.

This is my question:
Can my friends here, whether Methodist-types or extremely high RC-types, help me by defining the benefits, intrinsic value and positive nature of ceremony or ritual?

I want to be able to counter the argument that runs, 'oh it's just ritual'.

Thanks
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Comments

  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited July 15
    Because rituals aren't mere rituals? That what we do matters as much as what we say? This seems to be hardwired into us; we feel the need to mark things. Perhaps an approach is to ask whether the SA eschews the marriage ceremony? If not, why eschew marking the beginning of the Christian life in the manner Jesus prescribed? Or marking his giving of himself as he decreed?
  • MudfrogMudfrog Shipmate
    Yes, that's the kind of thing I want to read - can you expand a little on how the 'doing' of the Eucharist adds to the inward grace that is received?
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    Yes, that's the kind of thing I want to read - can you expand a little on how the 'doing' of the Eucharist adds to the inward grace that is received?

    It depends what you think that entails. If you see grace as essentially a change in God's attitude to us then it's hard to avoid magical thinking, but if you see it as part of a package in which God works changing us, then it provides a tangible "hook" on which to hang our commitment (such as it may be) to work with it, and of course a reminder of the crux (a well chosen Latin borrowing, no?) of the incarnation which enables and embodies the process.

    FWIW I view the con- or trans- substantiation of the elements as a pious fiction, but even I find the Eucharist the bit of the whole observance stuff I can relate to.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    M--

    When the Salvation Army *did* have communion (Lord's Supper), was it purely memorialist? I.e., doing it in memory of Jesus, to honor him, but not expecting it to particularly *do* something (as liturgical churches would expect the Eucharist to do, or God to do through it).

    I grew up in an independent, non-denom, fundamentalist church. Ritual was something those folks over *there* did. Our church just used the basic gospel verses, with a little time for reflection. And what some Shipmates call "wee cuppies" of grape juice, plus broken crackers. It was done 4 times a year--same day as the quarterly business meeting and potluck. People would often make a day of it: Sunday school, church, potluck, business meeting, maybe crashing somewhere at church or making a quick trip home, winding up with Sunday night Bible study.

    Didn't do it more often, because that would make it a ritual...

    I've been to many liturgical services and received the Eucharist. I like that way; and, as an adult, I've preferred it. There are good things to be said about both ways.
  • MudfrogMudfrog Shipmate
    It was done in the Methodist way of doing it. Individual pieces of bread and unfermented juice.
    It was valued and observed regularly and properly. If there was to be the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, the sermon had to be restricted to 15 minutes in order to allow proper observance.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    I think ritual is good for us, especially in times of difficulty and loss. It can ‘ground us’ and help us move on.

    We are Methodists and our communion is simple and done in remembrance of Jesus. I think it works very well, but if I miss it for a few weeks it doesn’t worry me.

    :)
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    I tend to draw first of all on the language of sexuality, though it breaks down a little. I "make" (my preferred verb) Eucharist frequently much as I (would like to!) make love frequently (I should perhaps explain that Kuruman and I are living apart at the moment not through separation but because I am doing an interim placement 1200 kms from home).

    Eucharist is an offering of thanks. I want to offer thanks because I am thankful. But I try to ensure it never becomes perfunctory. As because the liturgy is a beautiful poem it slowly takes me over and ensure it does not do so, so that the saints and angels and ancestors join the wonderful, unending song each time.

    I'm not sure if they do that when I make love.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    Humans are ritual beings.
  • kmannkmann Shipmate
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    Yes, that's the kind of thing I want to read - can you expand a little on how the 'doing' of the Eucharist adds to the inward grace that is received?
    This question assumes that being 'spiritual' is an inner thing. I am not an Angel or a spirit. I am a bodily creature. And therefore I am addressed by God, and address God, through concrete, bodily means. And by a given ritual, which I haven't come up with myself, I learn that this isn't my own creation, this is a gift given to me.
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    Yes, that's the kind of thing I want to read - can you expand a little on how the 'doing' of the Eucharist adds to the inward grace that is received?

    What kind of answer would you accept to that question ? Because I'm sure there are a host of answers that would express the 'mechanics'/'economy' in terms you don't necessarily accept.

    FWIW I don't see communion as a ritual any longer, especially not in the 'mere ritual' sense. In communion I receive Christ.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    Mudfrog, I do not know any extremely high RCs. RCs are really neither high nor low nor anything else apart from being RCs. Yes, some may go in for a greater amount of ceremony than others but where that happens, as say, perhaps in the London Oratory, it neither increases nor diminishes the amount of spiritual grace.
    Ritual is an integral part of our human life. It is an organised way of doing things. Some people object to the vestments worn by Catholic clergy, but that cannot surely be members of the Salvation Army who have their very own 'vestments' and their very own 'orders' They have in one way a historical reason and purpose and in another way they tell, at least to the initiated, who is who and what role they have in the community.
    The eucharist in the Catholic mind has, of course a certain ritual and is divided into the Liturgy of the Word with various prayers of and for the community as well as set readings from the Word of God, as Christians understand it. The Service of the Word leads up through the prayers and readings to the Proclamation of the Gospel passage of the day, where , yes, on solemn occasions the Book may be honoured with incense, the text might be sung and the Book itself elevated for the veneration of the Faithful who have been blessed by hearing the very Word of God, as contained in Sacred Scripture.

    I think you may be more interested, however, in Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is celebrated regularly, because, like Baptism, and indeed the other sacraments, Christ asked or even commanded us to do it. Christians,as a whole ,have differing views of the sacraments and their role and meaning in the life of Christians. Another poster suggested that the Catholic Mass idea is a 'pious fiction', just as an other poster suggested that an RC priest had told her that a Baptist Communion was not a 'real' Communion. I can only give the views of the Catholic Church here.

    As I wrote some time ago the gospel passages tell us about a woman who was cured from illness when she touched the hem of Jesus' garment and at the same time about Jesus restoring to life a young girl by touch. In receiving the eucharistic bread and wine, in receiving the water of baptism, in receiving the oil of unction or the laying on of hands the Catholic Church believes most strongly that we are touching the hem of the garments of Jesus and that he is touching us by feeding us with His sacraments - all of the sacraments and ALL OF THESE are made manifest in the physical presence of the Catholic Church, the mystical Body of Christ.

    Whilst this may or may not be a 'pious fiction' it is the very essence of the teaching of the Church.

  • MudfrogMudfrog Shipmate
    Thank you for your replies so far. They have been exceedingly helpful and illuminating.
    The 'insult' in using the word 'ritual' has been the implication that it is empty gesture and that it cannot touch the spirit.
    I believe that our Founders may have displayed a rather dismissive and jaundiced view of ritual action in that they seem basically to say that no outward expression can affect salvation or the spiritual life.
    I happen to think they were/are are wrong.

    You have helped me articulate why that is so.
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    Thank you for your replies so far. They have been exceedingly helpful and illuminating.
    The 'insult' in using the word 'ritual' has been the implication that it is empty gesture and that it cannot touch the spirit.

    To expand on my answer in narrative form rather than theologically for a moment; it is one of the few things Christ commanded us to do - and also one of the few practices that became characteristic of Christian groupings everywhere. He instituted a practice with physical elements with all the potential for abuse that could bring, because he saw it to be valuable [If you are of a conservative bent - as I believe you are - then you may want to reflect that he would have been aware in some of the potential for such abuse, though it would have been evident in his own time].
  • AnselminaAnselmina Shipmate
    Forthview wrote: »

    As I wrote some time ago the gospel passages tell us about a woman who was cured from illness when she touched the hem of Jesus' garment and at the same time about Jesus restoring to life a young girl by touch. In receiving the eucharistic bread and wine, in receiving the water of baptism, in receiving the oil of unction or the laying on of hands the Catholic Church believes most strongly that we are touching the hem of the garments of Jesus and that he is touching us by feeding us with His sacraments - all of the sacraments and ALL OF THESE are made manifest in the physical presence of the Catholic Church, the mystical Body of Christ.

    I like this, though I probably would mean 'Catholic Church' to be the universal work of Christ through all Christians, rather than a specific community. Reading Mudfrog's OP my inner response was the sacraments are not so much 'ritual' - though they may be accessed by ritual - but 'presence'. A positive touchable acknowledgement of the reality of the presence of God in his world; and a full participation by us in that presence, because we are living souls (flesh and spirit). Communion being particularly unique because it's a participation initiated by Jesus in a specific way, on a specific occasion.

    And the Presence is so Real, that even if one were ministering to someone who, say, is unconscious because they are dying, or unable to physically receive the blessed bread and wine, the participative sharing in Christ still fully obtains, when we share the 'spiritual communion' with such a person. As if we channel the human Christ as being with us in the room, taking their hand.

  • IMHO ritual is a pattern, and patterns are good or bad depending on what theyre used for. The rituals of the sacrament function like oven gloves -- they allow you to handle "hot" things with some degree of predictability and control (not that we control God, but rather I'm thinking of how you avoid burning yourself by inattention or ill thought out choices.) Or to vary the metaphor, think of it as the plastic covering around a live electrical wire, which is there to point in the direction of proper use and to prevent improper use. It is the ritual of the Lord's supper that prevents me from doing something daft and spiritually dangerous like turning the supper into a public protest against a personally disliked pastor (and yes, ive seen this done, and the man who did it had to first break through the ritual "safety cover" before he could complete blasphemy by weaponizing the supper).
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    All families have rituals. They can be seen at bedtime. At holidays. At dinnertime. At getting-ready-for-school time. On weekends. If you get up every Sunday and go to church, that's a ritual. If your church sings hymns together, that's a ritual. If you recite the Lord's Prayer together, that's a ritual. I'm betting SA services follow a fairly normal pattern involving prayer, hymns, a sermon, maybe announcments, and I'm betting the order doesn't change much from week to week. And what is that called?

    The opposite of ritual is random novelty. Which is uncomfortable for most people.

    Really people who denigrate ritual in worship mean "THEIR rituals are empty motions. OUR rituals are meaningful ways of coming together and focusing the group's attention on worshiping God."
  • LydaLyda Shipmate
    Hear! Hear!
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    I cannot see that the SA are in any way to be denigrated, or even pitied, for their lack of sacraments, whatever one may believe or experience in these rituals. ( I am not suggesting you were denigrating them, Mudfrog.)

    Equally if they were to re- introduce them, they would need to be very sure why, given the reasons they do not have them.

    My mother was a Salvationist so was not baptised. She had to leave the SA when she married a Baptist, but was not baptised as an adult either. She did however take Communion occasionally in various churches, when the opportunity arose, maybe once a year. I can in all honesty say that her Christian life was not in any way deficient without these “ rituals”. I do not believe she lacked the grace of God as far as salvation or holiness of life are concerned.

    Thinking this through, with such an upbringing and being baptised and confirmed in the cofE as an adult, I think this must be why I feel I experience God’s love and Grace more through his word, through the words of the liturgy and hymns, than through the Eucharist.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    edited July 15
    Well said Mousethief, and thanks to Forthview for another thoughtful and helpful post. I'm sure that we all have our own individual rituals - for us, eating breakfast at a bar in the kitchen and dinner at a table in the dining room is but a simple example of rituals in daily lives.

    As for the SA - yes, they do not provide baptism or the Eucharist. That does not stop their attendance at another church where those rituals are available, and members of our local SA community know that they are welcome to come to St Sanity for both - and they take up the opportunity offered. In years gone by, the SA here used hold marches through the local shops followed by a (loud) service at a street corner. What was that but a ritual?
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Baptism and eucharist are not rituals. They are sacraments or mysteries or ordinances. They are wrapped in ritual, but then so is everything humans do. The rituals used to carry out these sacraments/mysteries/ordinances will vary wildly from church to church.
  • I kinda get the objections of the early Salvationists towards ritualism because I'd have shared that view at one time, although I was never a Salvationist.

    I wouldn't criticise them for it.

    I s'pose I'm s born again sacramentalist and these days I favour more formal liturgical structures and see them as a medium or vehicle of divine grace. That doesn't mean I believe that such grace is restricted to such forms or absent from settings such as the Salvation Army which, for historical and circumstantial reasons have taken a different tack.

    I remember reading something by the Orthodox sociologist/theologian Andrew Walker about how, during a spiritually dry and agnostic period of his life he was jolted into a reawareness of the presence of God by a Salvation Army band on a London street.

    I can relate to that. As a teenager I was sometimes moved to what old time revivalists would call 'conviction of sin' by Salvation Army bands playing at the end of our street.

    I don't know how these things work. Ex opera opereto is it? Some Shippie help me here ..

    It strikes me, though, that whether it's an RC Mass, a Quaker silence, an Anglican choral Evensong, an Orthodox Vespers or a Moravian love feast, if we are approaching it in faith and in good conscience then it's going to do the business.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    Really people who denigrate ritual in worship mean "THEIR rituals are empty motions. OUR rituals are meaningful ways of coming together and focusing the group's attention on worshiping God."
    This.
    mousethief wrote: »
    Baptism and eucharist are not rituals. They are sacraments or mysteries or ordinances. They are wrapped in ritual, but then so is everything humans do. The rituals used to carry out these sacraments/mysteries/ordinances will vary wildly from church to church.
    And this.

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Agreed Mousethief, perhaps I was too shorthand in what I wrote.

    Of course members of the SA have their own rituals. What used be the Friday evening march, with band, to a street corner in the shopping districts was a very public demonstration of one.
  • One aspect of 'ritual' that should be considered is that all can take part. You don't have to have certain levels of literacy or intelligence to do it. Often we intellectualise worship to the extent that children and those with dementia or who have severe learning difficulties cannot be included, whereas such people CAN (and do) appreciate ritual.

    I was once present at a Eucharistic service where a severely mentally disabled person was attending. He couldn't speak and clearly couldn't 'understand' what was happening. And yet the profound sense of joy he showed when receiving the elements showed me that he had had a spiritual encounter that would probably make most of us envious.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    Gamaliel ' ex opere operato' is the phrase you are looking for.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Forthview wrote: »
    As I wrote some time ago the gospel passages tell us about a woman who was cured from illness when she touched the hem of Jesus' garment and at the same time about Jesus restoring to life a young girl by touch. In receiving the eucharistic bread and wine, in receiving the water of baptism, in receiving the oil of unction or the laying on of hands the Catholic Church believes most strongly that we are touching the hem of the garments of Jesus and that he is touching us by feeding us with His sacraments - all of the sacraments and ALL OF THESE are made manifest in the physical presence of the Catholic Church, the mystical Body of Christ.

    Whilst this may or may not be a 'pious fiction' it is the very essence of the teaching of the Church.

    A great analogy.

  • MudfrogMudfrog Shipmate
    Thanks everyone.
    We would not say that a march through a shopping centre is a ritual. it doesn't mean anything in and of itself, it doesn't 'do' anything and conveys no meaning like a ritual action in the Eucharist is said to do.

    Having said that, we would say that it is an act of witness - more a demonstration that 'we are here'. It's designed to attract attention, not convey any grace. In the early days it was more of a display, a publicity stunt to draw people's attention.

    I agree with the comment about our meetings that all contain the required elements of singing, praying, reading and preaching. But the 'doing' of these things even in a customary order is not ritual; I would suggest that it's practical at best or laziness at worst. When I plan a meeting I rearrange things to make more impact - perhaps the Bible reading will be in a different place and followed y a song, or perhaps the prayer time will be immediately after the opening song or sometimes after a song, another sin, a Psalm and then a chorus. I think what you are trying to say is not that we might have 'ritual' but that might have an unwritten liturgy. That can be true. The wise meeting leader will vary things a little to suit the best flow of a meeting. The factors might include: do we want a fast song here, if not we'll swap it with the band paying an arrangement of a slow hymn tune, followed by the Bible reading. Maybe we'll have a time of open testimony and follow it with a rousing chorus leading straight into the sermon. I would hate to have a skeleton meeting template and just slot in the songs in the blank spaces.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    M-W unabridged, ritual as noun, sense 2a: "any practice done or regularly repeated in a set precise manner so as to satisfy one's sense of fitness and often felt to have a symbolic or quasi-symbolic significance."
  • LydaLyda Shipmate
    Mudfrog: "I agree with the comment about our meetings that all contain the required elements of singing, praying, reading and preaching. But the 'doing' of these things even in a customary order is not ritual..."

    One of the definitions from Dictionary.com: "any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner." You seem to be narrowly defining ritual as sacramental actions.
  • Mudfrog wrote: »
    I think what you are trying to say is not that we might have 'ritual' but that might have an unwritten liturgy.

    Liturgy is a subset of ritual.

    I'm confused, though. You say
    We would not say that a march through a shopping centre is a ritual. it doesn't mean anything in and of itself, it doesn't 'do' anything and conveys no meaning like a ritual action in the Eucharist is said to do.

    I'm not clear what you mean by ritual. Bowing, or doffing one's headgear, at the mention of the Holy Name, is clearly a ritual action - but it doesn't 'do' anything. Does it mean something? Sure - it offers reverence to the Name above all names, but it doesn't seem that you're objecting to that. If I meet you and offer my hand for a shake, that's a ritual action, and conveys meaning. I think it's quite easy to argue that the "handshake ritual" is useful in our society. It it necessary? No - of course not. There are any number of other greetings protocols that would also work.

    And the SA can't be complaining about symbolism. The SA crest is full of symbols.

  • MudfrogMudfrog Shipmate
    I never said anything against symbolism and I'm beginning to resent the implied criticism that I am denigrating ritual.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    I never said anything against symbolism and I'm beginning to resent the implied criticism that I am denigrating ritual.
    Not so much denigrating as misusing / misdefining. It certainly appears you are saying "What THOSE people do is ritual; what WE do is not." When clearly by the definitions presented here today, you most certainly are doing ritual.
  • Mudfrog wrote: »
    I never said anything against symbolism and I'm beginning to resent the implied criticism that I am denigrating ritual.

    Your OP says that you want to defend ritual, and implies that you want to defend it against fellow Salvationists who don't see its value. I am, rather clumsily, trying to understand what you mean by ritual, and what problem your fellow Salvationists have with it, because you don't seem to mean quite the same as I do.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    I never said anything against symbolism and I'm beginning to resent the implied criticism that I am denigrating ritual.
    Not so much denigrating as misusing / misdefining. It certainly appears you are saying "What THOSE people do is ritual; what WE do is not." When clearly by the definitions presented here today, you most certainly are doing ritual.
    It also seems like there may be some conflation of sacraments/mysteries/ordinances—say the breaking and eating of bread and drinking wine after giving thanks, or the joining of two people in marriage—and the rituals that may surround or frame how those sacraments/mysteries/ordinances are celebrated. Such rituals may communicate something about what we think is going on, but they are not the sacrament/mystery/ordinance itself.
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    Thanks everyone.
    We would not say that a march through a shopping centre is a ritual. it doesn't mean anything in and of itself, it doesn't 'do' anything and conveys no meaning like a ritual action in the Eucharist is said to do.

    Having said that, we would say that it is an act of witness . . . .
    Similar to the way in which the Eucharist is a proclamation of the Gospel? (1 Corinthians 11:26—“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”)
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    When young people greet each other with a special handshake, that's a ritual.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    When people greet each other with a handshake—whether a special handshake or a normal one—that's a ritual.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    Thanks everyone.
    We would not say that a march through a shopping centre is a ritual. it doesn't mean anything in and of itself, it doesn't 'do' anything and conveys no meaning like a ritual action in the Eucharist is said to do.

    Having said that, we would say that it is an act of witness - more a demonstration that 'we are here'. It's designed to attract attention, not convey any grace. In the early days it was more of a display, a publicity stunt to draw people's attention.

    There seems to me to be a real conflict between these first 2 paragraphs of you post. The march most certainly does convey meaning - your faith and your wish to make a public profession of it, indeed to attract attention. Have a re-read of Ephesians 2, 1-10 and ponder if your march is a working out in action of your faith, which by your regula action you are showing to the world.

  • Yes. I was confused by that. If by marching through a street or town centre a Salvation Army band causes someone, however momentarily, to consider sin, salvation and eternity then surely it's had some meaning and impact on that individual?

    As a teenager I remember being moved on several occasions when I heard the Salvation Army playing at the bottom of our street.

    Would I have been as moved had it been an ice cream can playing tinny tunes or a bunch of cheerleaders playing kazoos?

    I don't think so.

    I'm confused as to how or why Mudfrog wouldn't recognise some kind of ritual element in SA practice. I may have misunderstood. I don't how whatever goes on in an SA Citadel on a Sunday morning is any less ritualistic in its own way as whatever is happening at St Snigglesnuffs or The Hallelujah Church of The Firstborn Pentecostal Bloodwashed Band With Signs Following down the road.

    Heck, our town council meetings have an element of ritual about them. So does getting up and going out to work or eating one's breakfast.

    Human beings are ritualistic creatures.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    As in many other things we can debate the exact meaning and significance of the word 'ritual'. I think though that we have established that 'ritual' pervades all of our lives and life.
    However there is one point which I don't think has been touched upon. Mudfrog agrees that there is a certain 'ritual' both in the organisation and in the religious services of the Salvation Army.
    Mudfrog can choose and select the order of the ritual, according to his wishes on any particular day. This is not the case in an international organisation like the Catholic Church.
    The 'order of service' is most certainly not determined by any one individual but by the Church as a whole. Of course there will be occasional tweaks instigated by certain individuals, but do it too often and that individual will find himself in trouble.
    It is possible that it is this idea of ritualism which was not pleasing to the founders of the Salvation Army.

    Some people will see a 'dictated' liturgy as an unwarranted intrusion upon the freedom of the individual to express himself/herself.
    Others will see it as part and parcel of the Church as ONE COMMUNITY OF FAITH which must express itself in the same way everywhere.

  • The Hallelujah Church of The Firstborn Pentecostal Bloodwashed Band With Signs Following down the road.
    Not of course to be confused with the totally different Hallelujah Church Of The Firstborn Pentecostal Bloodwashed Band With Signs Following up the road - that capital "O" in "Of" makes all the difference. [Devil]

  • AnselminaAnselmina Shipmate
    Mudfrog wrote: »
    Thanks everyone.
    We would not say that a march through a shopping centre is a ritual. it doesn't mean anything in and of itself, it doesn't 'do' anything and conveys no meaning like a ritual action in the Eucharist is said to do.

    Having said that, we would say that it is an act of witness - more a demonstration that 'we are here'. It's designed to attract attention, not convey any grace. In the early days it was more of a display, a publicity stunt to draw people's attention.

    Depends what you mean by ritual. Demonstrating, as in marching through shopping centres, is very ritualistic human behaviour if pure observation is anything to go on. It could be argued that almost anything which human beings choose to do as a crowd, or in public, must reflect to some degree the rituals of human interaction and communication.

    And ritual doesn't need to qualified as being a conveyance of any kind of grace, however that may be perceived. Grace may come with ritual; it may just as easily not. I don't have any set rituals for enjoying a walk through the countryside, but God's grace may just as much be accessible to me there as through the bread and wine at the Holy Table. And equally it is possible for me to leave the communion table, having communicated, without that grace in my heart. My consciousness of grace offered and received might be more helpfully strengthened by the ritual of observing Christ's command to take the bread and wine etc, however.

  • AnselminaAnselmina Shipmate
    By the way, I'd like to say thank you to Mudfrog for really interesting thread!!
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    In our family when the kids were little we had an evening going-to-bed ritual, and God help us (the parents) if we missed anything or got it out of order. Did it convey grace? Not in any normal religious sense. It did get the kids in bed and asleep (or falling asleep), which one may argue was unmerited favor.
  • Yes, I think Mudfrog's started an interesting thread too.

    I'm not sure I've quite got his drift on one or two aspects though, but that might be me not reading his comments properly.

    For much of my adult life I spent time in churches which were wary of 'ritual' and which felt themselves to be entirely spontaneous, Spirit-led and so forth ...

    I've reacted against that to a certain extent but to be fair, some of the more reflective among us even in those days would have accepted that just because we didn't appreciate this, that or the other ritual or procedure that this meant it was devoid of any grace or benefit for people who were into that sort of thing ...

    As with much else, the mileage varied.

    I do remember hearing about some Baptist people who believed that Anglicans were 'insincere' because they used set, written prayers rather than extemporary ones. As if the very fact that it wasn't in their own words was a sign of insincerity in and of itself.

    I wanted to ask them how they could tell that their prayers were more sincere than anyone elses!

    I hasten to add that I heard this from other Baptist people who thought it was just as ridiculous as I did.

    I think the issue of whether something is 'sincere' or 'has meaning' or not is a complex one and often has little to do with the eye of the beholder. Or maybe it is everything to do with the eye of the beholder?

    It's probably a somewhat different issue, I submit to the point Mudfrog's raised but it can easily be drawn into the equation.

    After all - and I point the finger at myself - if we are going to question or be critical of someone else's way of doing things - whether 'high', 'low', quiet, loud, ritualistic or apparently spontaneous, then it immediately puts us in the spotlight in terms of our own sincerity.

    I know both the RCs and the Orthodox, probably in different ways, put an emphasis on 'intention.' If you have an 'intention' then God takes account of that to some extent irrespective of how poorly you may execute it. Or have I misunderstood?

    So the 'intention' of the Pharisees was flawed - 'to be seen by men' - regardless of how impressive their actions may have appeared.

    That sort of thing ... and that sort of thing applies regardless of the particular worship style or format we adopt.
  • Every religious observance develops its ritual over time - it's a basic human trait.#

    Years ago I was in a Pentecostal church where the organist said, "We think it's all spontaneous and Spirit-led, but it isn't. I can tell you almost with certainty who's going to pray in tongues, when their going to do it, and what the interpretation will be" - please understand that he wasn't knocking it.

    Equally, I used to frequent a Brethren Assembly, and it was clear that there was a "right" way of breaking the bread and handing it round, even a "hidden" sign which signified the end of the service.

    The Presbyterians will often solemnly bring in a Bible before the service, place it on the Communion Table, and open it.

    Ritual can become an end of itself in any context; but it can also offer a skeleton for reflection and a set of way-markers for the confused.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    "Intention" is necessary matter for the mysteries. I'm not sure I've ever heard it used about anything else.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    To pick up from LeRoc, we use far more ritual than people who say 'only ritual' ever expect.

    Today is Sunday and so like many Sundays, I have performed the ritual of packing my sports kit ready to go to the gym. Was I being perfectly pragmatic I would just stuff all I needed into the rucksack and go, but that way I forget things. So I have this ritual that helps me recall what I need to pack.

    I have six different aspects to my kit and each is packed separately. Some are not unpacked between trips others are. What are the six parts
    1. trainers and flip flops
    2. wash things: shampoo, shower gel, scrub and towels
    3. gym kit: sports bra, knickers, socks, top & bottom
    4. water bottle - made up with a sports drink
    5. gym bag: gym notebook, pen, gloves, small towel etc, the stuff I may need while in the gym
    6. Make-up etc bag
    I check each part in turn (most have their own container and quite often I get them ready beforehand; for instance, it is more a case of do I have both my trainers and flipflops in this bag or just the flipflops) and put them into the bag in that order. That way I do not forget. Every time we create order and ceremony around a task we create ritual. Ritual is not something other people do, it is what we do. We use it because it is useful.

    However ritual serves many sorts of purpose. Dance is nearly always ritual, certainly, any performed dance is. In modern western society dance rarely helps us remember things but it does connect us to other people. So ritual can be around the performance of a task, around bonding with other people but there is more

    Take the very British response to big news of making a pot of tea, that is ritual to. The use of a symbolic act to give a message and a message that we do not feel could be adequately enacted by just using words. Now we are getting close to where ritual starts to move out of the mundane and into the sacred.

    The thing with most knowledge systems is that they are language based. The use of language allows us to attribute meaning and understanding our world. However, these systems also fail to help us or even mislead us. All such language-based systems rely on a fairly arbitrary partitioning of the world into similar and dissimilar things. They have to be we are finite creatures and it is only the infinite than can hope to capture totally the finite world. We can refine our knowledge systems but there always is that through which the boundaries are drawn. It is the nature of the system but I cannot think of a better way to store understanding and knowledge. Language systems are both a blessing and a curse.

    Ritual uses as a different way to interact with the world, one that does not rely on meaning but on process. You can attribute meaning to ritual but often it is just the way things are done. As such it provides ways of addressing situations where you do not first need to ask what is going on. This is useful when dealing with liminal situations and religion often deals with the liminal. Liminal means on the edge and religion often deals with the edges and the margins and that which does not comfortably fit into our knowledge systems. There is thus a natural meeting between religion and ritual.

    When we say ritual is empty what we normally mean is that as observers of the ritual we do not see what the meaning is behind this. It should now be clear that this is a false statement. Ritual does not convey meaning but is a process. You, therefore, can only really understand ritual as a participant. You have to participate in the enactment in order for it to act on you. I remember the kit not by having a list but by going through the ritual.
  • I agree with that, Jengie Jon. By entering into the ritual we enter into he process and the meaning.

    All these things are learned behaviour.

    I didn't start raising my hands or bopping about or engage in what I call 'spiritual gurning' the very first time I went to a charismatic service.

    Equally, the moment I crossed the threshold of an Orthodox Church I didn't start venerating icons, crossing myself or making prostrations. I might do that, or some approximation of it, if I attended a service in one this coming Sunday, some 21 years after I first visited one ...
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    How does one approximately venerate an icon?
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    A wink and a smile?
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