Replenishing Ritual: Rediscovering the Place of Rituals in Western Christian Liturgy

Replenishing Ritual: Rediscovering the Place of Rituals in Western Christian Liturgy

Replenishing Ritual: Rediscovering the Place of Rituals in Western Christian Liturgy

Replenishing Ritual: Rediscovering the Place of Rituals in Western Christian Liturgy

Synopsis

Inspired by advances in ritual studies since the 1960s, this book maps out the interplay between body, soul, mind and action, towards an understanding of ritual “in itself “ as experienced in Catholic tradition in the West. Through an analysis of the dynamics of and within the Body at worship, the polarities of public and self, formality and casualness, submission and self-expression, fixity and adaptation, complexity and thinness are explored. The different facets of “words” are investigated: ritual, communicative, commentative and conversational. The tension between ritual and a striving for immediacy in communication and participation is discussed. This journey touches on the related disciplines of translation studies and play theory. The issues at stake are tested through examples drawn from ritual praxis and history: actions of facing, feeding, fasting, chanting, gifting and transforming. A synthesis is drawn from these reflections with the intent of fostering a rediscovery of the authentic path of ritual in Christian practice.

Anton Usher is an alumnus of the University of Melbourne, Australia, from which he received his Master of Laws and Bachelor of Science. He works in the field of corporate and finance law, and maintains an active interest in ritual studies and practice. He serves as lay reader at St Nicholas’s Russian Catholic Church in Melbourne.

Excerpt

I am young in years and you are very old;
therefore, I was afraid and did not dare declare my opinion to you.
But it was in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones;
I was tired from holding it in, and I could not.
My mind is astir with a good discourse,
my tongue is like the pen of a stenographer.
(Job 32:6; Jeremiah 20:9; Psalm 44:2)

The part that ritual plays in public worship in the Catholic Church has not been consistently appreciated ‘as ritual’. Ritual has been commandeered to fight in aid of many causes. Historically, there have been appeals to aspects of ritual in the Donatist controversy of the fourth and fifth centuries and the (largely Eastern) iconoclastic battles of the eighth and ninth centuries; later, in Reformation argument about the primacy of faith, grace and Bible, and then among the Jansenist and High Anglican movements. Like an elder sibling dragged in to plead for a younger sibling before a parent, ‘ritual’ often seems forced to take sides in regard to somebody else’s debate, rather than to express its own views. No doubt, in the rationalistic centuries after Descartes, rituals became prima facie suspect, other than as tools and props. More recently, over the last forty years of liturgical disquiet in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the ritual nature of worship has given way to a perceived primacy of ‘relevance’, a relevance sought to be achieved through direct communication, a conversational style of participation and shared self-expression. Put more crudely, elements which hitherto belonged to the after-mass chinwag or the parish meeting have now taken their place within the liturgy itself, and displaced a ritual sensibility. Ritual actions, misconstrued, have become occasions of embarrassment and are often but grudgingly tolerated. Ritual participation has become self-conscious, awkward. Even in the recently created concept of ‘family’ masses (especially the early Christmas eve mass), where surely less justification would be required for the use of play, there is a strange absence of actual ritual participation by families; children sitting passively, close to the altar, staring at the priest – this is hardly ritual play.

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