The word symbol is derived from a Greek word which is related to the word compare whereas rituals can be defined as actions which have a deeper implication than what we perceive at first instant. Rituals can be as simple as a blinking of an eye or as complex as the opening of the inauguration ceremony of the American president.
There are various rituals and symbols found in the church; some carry similar meaning to those found in the world. For example, the initiation rituals performed in the church as well as in the world are meant to initiate the new member to the new environment in which he/she finds him/herself in.
In the Catholic Church, the three sacraments associated with initiation are the baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. These are necessary for new members as they serve to initiate them into the congregation and strength people faith and show their appreciation for the ransom sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ. Baptism signifies death and life; it means the person Baptist dies to all that is sinful and rise to live in Christ. The anointing with oil during confirmation signifies that the Holy Spirit has been imparted to the person in question whereas participating in the Eucharist means that one accepts Christ as his/her redeemer.
Initiation rites are important as they help us to adapt to the new environment. It thus becomes imperative for new members to participate in initiations rituals a way of learning how to behave in the new community, the church. It is impossible to proceed with our daily Christian practices without symbols and rituals. Rituals reinforce our spiritual common beliefs. Similarly as people go through the initiations rites as found in the world which may range from circumcision to removal of teeth, they are educated by their seniors on means and ways of lives which can help them survive in the world.
Sacrament is another mostly observed church ritual. Sacrament mostly denotes divine grace and so people believe that they receive grace by simply participating in it. The Eucharist is a public symbol. It is believed that the community develops a sense of inner peace and of public identity by participating in the Eucharist. The body of Christ is taken to signify the presence of Christ and that He is with his people all through. The bread represents Jesus’ body. The bread and wine are symbols which are a sign of Christ presence. Breaking of the loaf is a symbol of faith that we are in unity with Christ. The liturgical prayers offered during this period talk of sharing the bread and the cup of blood which is a symbol of our unity in the one Christ. And so the one bread is broken so that we can share it. The Eucharist also reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice to deliver us from sins.
The symbol of Mary, Jesus’ mother is of great importance to the Catholics. She is greatly honored and adored because of who she is, the mother of Jesus. As a result, she is mentioned in the opening prayers of most liturgies. She has been given the title ‘Mother of the Church’, which signifies that she is a mother to all. Mary is also considered as a model of faith to us as she believed in the angel message that she was going to get pregnant by means of the Holy Spirit and be the mother of Jesus who was going to be the messiah.
Rituals and symbols are fundamental to our everyday endeavors. They are not just mere symbols as some have tried to postulates but rather they are very powerful and effective in helping us to lead a good life. The symbol of faith helps us to continue believing in God promises even if we have never seen Him and also remain focused to our future live with God in heaven. The practice of sacrament is important especially for young people as it fosters the spirit of praying in them. Prayers are equally important as they encourage the youths to participate in liturgy. The ministry of prayer helps promote unity as it brings people of different ethnic groups together in worship.
Rituals are vital to almost all religions as they play an important role that of shaping one’s religiosity. Rituals as symbols help us to converse with God and fellow Christians. Their significance cannot be underplayed as they perform specific functions in the society. Sacramental symbols signify God’s manifestation of justice towards all. The sharing of wine, bread, water and the use of oil means that we are all equal in god’s eyes. Sacramental practices challenge us as individuals to be present to God’s presence. It also challenges the baptized to continue following the perfect example of our Model Jesus Christ.
Sacramental symbols seek to humanize and hence are more dangerous than the rituals. For example the symbol of grace requires us to scrutinize our perceptions and how we perceive others. Sacramental symbols suggest that we become new individuals committed to God’s kingdom. This is more serious because it involve seeking God’s kingdom first them the other things to follow which include material possession. It is becoming very difficult to live up to this principle in a world dominated by material possessions. Being a new creation we are supposed to interpret things differently from the others and from the humanness point of view, be able to respond to God’s presence. On the other hand, rituals deal with explaining our response: whether we want to benefit from the presence of Gods for example by going to church and participating in all the activities, and spreading the kingdom message.
Symbols and Rituals can be dangerous activities especially when extremely codified as they are reduced only to representative function and its expressive function is lost. This can result to imposition of abstract doctrines to Christians rather than reinforcing the religious truths emanating from such symbols. This can lead to ritualism, where symbols and rituals become objects of manipulation of an unfriendly authority. This can result to ‘obsessive-compulsive disorder’.
The relationship between the symbols and rituals of the world and the symbols and rituals of the church is that they both call for active participation from the members. As a country, we engage in rituals that strengthen our identity as citizen of that country.
Some culture and things of the world cannot help us to see the holy where as some culture reinforces the importance of being Christianity. A culture emphasizing on material wealth and property possession make it difficult for us to remain focused on the importance of seeking first the kingdom of God just as is a culture dominated by sorcery and witchcraft. A culture that rejects God does not offer us an opportunity to worship and glorify God. On the other hand, a culture that emphasizes on the importance of being honesty, loyalty, faithfulness, respect and generally being a good person will make it easier for us to conform to Christian values. A democratic country will provide us with a conducive environment to worship God.
In conclusion, rituals and symbols shape our everyday life and hence we cannot do without them. There are the only ways in which we can able to communicate with God and with our brother and sister in the church and world. There are fundamental parts of our life.
CHAUVET, Louis-Marie. Rituals and Sacrament Symbols. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1994.