Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ritualism vs Spiriual Message of the Gospel

Q. Doesn't ritualism, in either worship or morals, distract from the pure and simple spiritual message of the Gospels?

A. Only when the "pure and simple spiritual message of the Gospels" is watered down and distorted. For example, if you take the "spiritual message" of Christianity to be "God loves you, Jesus is nice, be nice to each other" then you might see the ritual of the Mass or the obligations of the moral law as "distracting" from this message. But, that isn't the real message of the Gospels. The real message includes sin and repentance (i.e. living a moral life) and proper worship (i.e. ritualized liturgy). Can some people follow the law without love (like the Pharisees in the New Testament)? Of course, but that doesn't put a black eye on morality, but on lovelessness. Can some people love the rituals of the Mass more than they love Christ? Yes, again, but that doesn't call out for abandoning the rubrics, instead it calls for a greater love of Christ. As the medievals would say, abusus non tollit usum - abuse does not take away the proper use of liturgy or the moral law. In fact, if a view of the "spiritual message" of Christianity pits its creed (what we believe), code (morality), and cult (liturgical worship) against one another, it is an infallible sign that you've gotten the "message" all wrong. Remember, it was Christ Himself who instituted a ritual and commanded (not suggested, but commanded) us to follow it (cf. Lk 22:29) and it was Christ Himself who declared that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (cf. Matt 5:17) and in so doing raised the standards of the moral life (cf. Matt 5 - 7). For Catholics, and indeed all followers of Christ, words, works, and worship can never be separated from love because they all flow from the One who is Love (1 Jn 4:8).


  1. Well said! I did a post on my blog this past week about rituals as well--http://thelindenvalley.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/ashes-to-ashes/

    I've noticed that even Christians who claim to look down on formalized, ritualistic worship services nonetheless have rituals of their own, even if they don't recognize them as such. They also overlook how some rituals (holy communion being a perfect example, as you pointed out) are mandated in the New Testament. Besides, they're really presenting a false dilemma: it's incorrect to insist that we have to choose either liturgical practices or 'the pure and simple Gospel'. The liturgy and the gospel message walk hand in hand, rather than being in opposition.


    1. You absolutely right, Evan. People crave ritual and when non-Catholic Christians eliminate the God given rituals of Catholicism they end up creating their own rituals, truly the "traditions of man" that they so loudly denounce. Thanks for sharing your post on ritualism, I guess Lent must bring the great rituals of the Church to mind! God bless!