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).