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Is Society Losing Its Appreciation of Ritual?

In late February through early March, I wrote a series of blog articles on the question, “How do you evangelize a culture that used to be Christian?”. (Here’s a link to the final article in the series that in turn includes links to every article in the series.)

In that series, I discussed some reasons people are turning away from faith. One article in the series, “Answering Those Who Say They Don’t Get Much Out of Mass,” addressed some questions relevant to today’s question, “Is society losing its appreciation of ritual?”.

Sometimes we lose our appreciation of something because we don’t understand its symbolism or purpose. We don’t know why we do it. We don’t see a benefit. Rather than explore its meaning, people choose to stop doing the ritual. Perhaps before we stop doing it, we should put some effort into finding out its symbolism and meaning. Then, perhaps we can understand its purpose and find value in it.

As Catholics we have lots of rituals, including devotions. Our Sacraments are all celebrated with specified rites (rituals). I am a priest but it is not within my authority to change how the Sacraments are celebrated. What I can do, what I have tried to do in my current series of presentations, Sacraments: Channels of God’s Grace, is help people understand and appreciate what the Sacraments mean for us.

We do not celebrate rituals for the sake of the ritual itself. We celebrate ritual to bring us closer to God. That’s why understanding the meaning and symbolism of the ritual is important.

In my article, “Answering Those Who Say They Don’t Get Much Out of Mass,” I mentioned the concept of “feel good” liturgies. By “feel good” I point to a superficial way of feeling that might make us happy in the moment but doesn’t bring us a true and lasting peace. Properly celebrated, rituals are more about helping us have a deep and ongoing relationship with Jesus so that when we face difficulties in our lives, we already know that Jesus is with us.

There are people today who place less emphasis on institution and put more emphasis on personal freedom. For them, the fact that something has been done for generations doesn’t necessarily have any significance. I think this might be a key factor in the loss of appreciation for ritual.

Also, very important here is how many people look at “freedom” today. They think there is no truth and that one should be able to choose to do whatever one wants. We call this “relativism.” In response, please know there is truth, The true “Truth” comes from God (see my presentation, Where Do We Go For Truth?). Secondly, yes we are free to do whatever we want. God gives us “free will.” However, that does not mean we should do whatever we want.

Our actions have consequences. Good actions have good consequences and bad actions have bad consequences. Sometimes we feel the consequences ourselves. Other times, our bad choices create bad consequences for others.

To know the difference we need to have a well-formed conscience (see paragraphs 1776-1802 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). We also need to have made Jesus the cornerstone of our lives. Ritual helps with this. Ritual helps us let go of this world and connects us to God in prayer.

The above being said, not all rituals are required. The Sacraments are necessary for salvation (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1179). However, not all ritual devotions are required. For instance, there are several different chaplet devotions. For instance, there is a chaplet to St. Michael. Not only is this chaplet not required, I suspect many people have never end heard of it. You are free to find out about different ritual devotions. Find what helps you to have not just a superficial relationship with God but a deep relationship with God.

Going back to how I began this article asking, “Is society losing its appreciation of ritual?,” I believe the answer is yes for many people. However, while I have offered some possibilities for why here, I’m not sure what the answer really is. What do you think?


Fr. Jeff


  1. Thomas House says:

    Fr Jeff, Yes, there are rituals within the Catholic Church, and catholic mass. I see the rituals of prayer as a way to lead us to the devotion and love to God, rather something negative. I see the rituals as a guidance to devotion, and not something rote or without significance. I used to make comments that some Catholics would be content with drive by communion, and not find mass as important, but here I am with drive by communion as the new norm, but I’m happy that I’m able to receive. Even though I’m happy to be able to have communion this way in the current situation we are all in, I thoroughly miss Catholic Mass and it’s “rituals”.

  2. Linda House says:

    I do think society is losing its appreciation of rituals. I think you have cited several reasons such as relativism of which I am in agreement. I think its reasons are very complicated but are clearly tied to the change in society. I had originally thought it was associated with different generations but upon closer examination, I no longer feel that is a factor. I think society has tried very hard to persuade us that our individual freedom transcends all other factors. This viewpoint on freedom (in my opinion) is tied several things such as growth of spirituality versus religion, the Sabbath day being unimportant, the confusion of what is health care, laws actually protecting immoral behavior, and a society that does not think I should be allowed to express my Christianity openly. The freedom to interpret life according to one’s own rules and standards instead of according to the bible and church precepts.

    I am sorry to see this societal change as I think its a self destructing path. If we think of science and Newton’s Third Law of Motion- “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If the action is that individual freedom is the most important thing- then what is the reaction? A couple of scenarios I can think of are: no one else matters, nothing else matters except what the individual thinks, there is no right or wrong, I am the supreme being in my universe, rules don’t apply to me, etc.

    Let’s hope that people do continue to see the value of rituals and how they can bring us closer to God. I hope people will take the time to learn the facts behind the rituals instead of dismissing them. I think the ritual can protect us during times of our life that you can not be as focused as needed and also lead you closer to God when the time is right.

    I think this quote from the blog above clearly explains why rituals are so important. “Properly celebrated, rituals are more about helping us have a deep and ongoing relationship with Jesus so that when we face difficulties in our lives, we already know that Jesus is with us.”

  3. Fr. Jeff says:

    Thank you for the comment Linda. On the topic of how much the loss of appreciation of rituals relates to changing generations, my own thought is that it is influenced by generational changes but it spreads behind that. Perhaps part of the distinction that should be made here is that we tend to think of generations in terms of biological generations (child, parent, grandparent). However, we might also talk about generations in terms of society. Society in general is also changing, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.


    Fr. Jeff

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