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The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

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Thursday, June 20One of the highlights of the pilgrimage was a visit to Ettal Abbey, founded in 1330 by Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian, for the procession celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, a ritual dating back to 13th century Italy. The procession of parishioners, visitors, musicians, and clergy started after Mass by leaving the chapel and threading its way through abbey grounds, flower gardens and nearby pastures of sheep and cows. There was something so sacred about the singing, chanting, the aroma of incense, the sound of the sheep bells clanging as they walked or bent to eat. Not understanding hardly any words, there was still a deeper understanding that there was something holy happening here. The meditative walking and liturgical pauses along the way, a pilgrimage of sorts, were hints that this ritual pointed to something much more.

8 Wies Oberammergau Ettal

The Corpus Christi procession is a Catholic ritual, one of the hundreds that are celebrated during the liturgical calendar, but rituals can also be created by oneself or in small communities and groups to help commemorate or honor a special experience. Thomas Merton wrote that a ritual is “imbued with the beloved’s presence.”  James Finley, in Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere: The Essential Guide to the Contemplative Teachings of Thomas Merton, notes that “we need a holy place or thing to awaken us to the holiness of everything.” Rituals convey a sense of the spiritual and holy, if not during the ritual, oftentimes later when one is reflecting and remembering. Rituals connect us to something more than ourselves, not just with our intellect, but through our senses, our heart, and soul. Rituals are packed with divine meaning. (Read Fr. Mauritius Wilde’s ritual of embracing the cross as an example.) Continue reading “The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7”

Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude

Preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday can be a sacred ritual. Weeks in advance several family members begin planning the menu for our Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, there is little variation from year to year—turkey, dressing, dumplings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pies, dinner rolls, and so on—but an afternoon of list-making, guest-counting, and recipe-searching ensues. Some years, even a second planning session is required—to count plates and chairs, to create a map of the food line, or to scour advertisements for butter sales. The planning sessions have become part of the practice of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving planning sessions and meals that immediately followed the passing of each of Joe’s parents was bittersweet. We missed their presence. But the ritual itself, while grounding us in the present, was a reminder to be grateful even in our sadness and grief. Continue reading “Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude”

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