|Rituals, Customs, Traditions
in Celebrating Life
|The Rhythms of Life:
Rituals - Routine - Repetitive behaviour/actions
Spiritual and Mundane
Humans have held celebrations and engaged in ceremonies since before recorded time - and
as time went on they began to hold these in connection with certain things or events. These
ceremonies evolved into patterns - patterns which were easily recognizable to all the
participants. Such patterns provided points of reference, familiarity and thus comfort.
A ritual is an activity that is repeated over and over in the same way - “the way it is done”, is
called a "rite" – where every one, everywhere, does the same sort of thing regularly in the
same way - think of it as a "pattern"..
Ceremony - is the reason for the get-together or Ceremony
Ritual (Rite) - is the How, or Way, of doing the ceremony
However, rites evolve among peoples, groups or organizations, and thus each may go about
a specific procedure in slightly, or vastly, different ways. In that way ritual varies within the
Ritual and rite basically mean, “routine”, and thus is related to routine and habit (it is often a
synonym): a routine or ritual is a prescribed, detailed course of action to be followed regularly;
a standard procedure.
It is a way of “going about things in a set of customary and often mechanically (so familiar
that it's done almost automatically like a reflex) performed procedures or activities”.
Many organized rituals, such as in religious organizations are connected to the past, and often
have little meaning left to many of the observers/paricipants, other than a degree of comfort
due to the familiarity.
Truly effective ritual is meaningful to each observer/participant because it connects readily to
life in all its aspects in a very meaningful and instantly recognizable way: it is only then that it
becomes truly powerful, sustaining and comforting.
If it is also meant to be connected to the past, then those connections and their meaning and
value should be explained - and many cultures do so; it has also been done at tribal level
around the world since time immemorial. Without that introduction/explanation, otherwise
would be a hollow, unfulfilling activity and routine - simply going through meaningless
actions for many of those present.
Ritual and routine are something we are very familiar with in our daily lives. In fact, we are
so familiar with them that we often no longer notice our routines or rituals (for example,
brushing teeth after every meal – automatically, like a reflex action).
Routine is comfortable - it is a standard procedure. We like knowing what we're going to do,
when we're going to do it, and what we'll be wearing while we do it, etc. It's nice, safe and
predictable. There are no surprises, no unforeseen contingencies: no upsets. It provides
predictability, yet leaves room for variation and spontaneity depending on circumstances:
a "comfort zone".
Ritual and ceremony produce, access, and contain intense emotions – of connection: and
a sense of connection and continuity is deeply important to the human psyche, or soul.
"We need a deeper and more personal sense of connection - the kind that so far human beings have only
found through ritual and ceremony. Ritual is essential because it is truly the pattern that connects. It provides
communication at all levels - communication among all the systems within the individual human organism;
between people within groups; between one group and another in a city and throughout all these levels
between the human and the non-human in the natural environment."
Another major important element of ritual is that it also "tells a story", and in telling it, it uses
symbols that represent things people are familiar with. It is an enactment, so to speak, where
each movement, each participant relates to a part of their particular culture-story.
The "power" of ritual, however is only as good as the sense of connection and familiarity
people have with, and to, the story it is re-creating. When people no longer know the story,
and can't connect with it, ritual becomes simply a pageantry - pleasant, perhaps, but rendered
Two things emerge from this: either people need to re-learn the story (about accept and
"believe" it), or else, a new story must be created: one to which people can relate and connect.
In many faith systems, this hasn't happened, and isn't happening.
Many people create their own story - and adapt and alter it to complement the dynamic reality
of life - which is always changing.
Every religion in the world has "rituals" - even though they don't always call them that. In
some cases, the word "format" is used. In other cases "order of service" may be the
preferred word. Yet they all refer to the same thing. This is true, and has been true, ever
since people inhabited the earth: from "primitive" people, right to the most "civilized",
contemporary sophisticated member of the developed world who engages in religious
activities, uses, or follows a ritual/rite, regardless what particular name they give it.
Ritual in the worship service is no "Mumbo-Jumbo". The ritual of the Mass in the Catholic
Church is there to ensure that there are/will be, no "surprises", no unforeseen contingencies:
no upsets. It too, provides predictability, yet leaves room for variation and spontaneity
depending on the occasion and on circumstances (such as different church/liturgical
seasons). Predictability" provides comfort through familiarity.
Ritual is also a "teaching tool" - each action has significance, or is a symbol of things.
The dance of the ritual
- The procession, therefore, is a capsule containing a teaching element. But it also is a
regular re-enactment or recreation of what it is all about. It is a "mini ritual" within the
larger ritual of the overall mass.
- Even the "vestments/regalia" (clothing) that each wears – as well as the decorations
on the altar, and other paraphernalia - have significance, as do candles, bells and incense.
Klaas Tuinman M.A.
Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Canada - Oct 2010/19
We achieve the deep sense of connection, continuity and familiarity through such
ceremonies as: Weddings/Marriage, Divorce, Renewal of vows, Baptism, Confirmation,
Commitment, Rites of Passage (e.g.
(for example, Transition into Adolescence, graduating from college, etc). Graduation
Exercises, Exorcism, Holy Orders, Funerals, Oriental tea Ceremonies, or such other
ceremonial events as the ritual of saying goodbye; and many others.
Routine is a detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed: for example, my
household chores have become a morning ritual, or a ritual glass of milk before bed. We all
have behaviours and habits in our lives. Each person has his/her routines (like brushing our
teeth after meals, or upon getting up in the morning. From the moment we are born we are
exploring how we can do things so we can feel some sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction
comes from doing something fast, precise, and correct. You try out different ways, and if you
want things to be done as smoothly and efficiently as possible you have to decide which way
works best for you and you will start to adopt certain routines.
These routines have the purpose to structure your life and have you waste as little time as
possible having to figure out how best to do something time and time again.
In religious, spiritual settings there are routines and habits as well. Collectively, we call them
"ritual": the prescribed form of conducting a worship ceremony such as the Mass. For example:
the ritual of the mass.
But beware - sometimes "liturgy" refers to the book of rites (order of worship) that are used - it
is a flexible word. There are, for example, the familiar "routines" of worship: the same building,
the same seats, the same decor, the same procedure and the same worship day, and a sense
of ceremony - something "special".
RITE Summary: Speech, action, singing, and other activities which often contain a symbolic
meaning, performed in a specific order - typically during a religious service. Rite is often
considered a synonym to ritual and ceremony.
A RITUAL, in the context here, is a formalised, predetermined set of symbolic actions
generally performed in a particular environment at a regular, recurring interval: it is a
ceremony. The set of actions that comprise a ritual often include, but are not limited to, such
things as recitation, singing, group processions, repetitive dance, manipulation of sacred
objects, etc. Virtually everyone engaged in a spiritual or religious activity follows some sort
of familiar, comfortable pattern: that pattern is a ritual - and the format of that ritual is
called a "rite".
|Klaas Tuinman M.A.
Life Self-Empowerment Facilitation
at Dawn Cove Abbey
Comments and Questions are welcomed