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Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions

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by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The term “ritualism” means the conducting of religious worship according to a code of ceremonies. It may also mean the observance of external forms in the church liturgy or excessive devotion to such forms and to ritualistic detail.

Ritualism as here used means the recent development of a liturgical emphasis in every major religious body derived from the Reformation. One of the dominant features of the ecumenical movement among Protestant Christians is their reexamination of the role of the liturgy in the full concept of the church, and their desire to restore something of the ritual heritage that had been the common possession of Christianity before the sixteenth century. See Ecumenical Movement; Liturgy.

The term “ritualism,” formerly used with a derogatory implication, is now applied with favor by the three major streams of historical Protestantism in their search for Christian unity. They feel that liturgical agreement lies somewhere near the center of the ecumenical movement.

Restorations among Anglicans. In the Anglican Communion the liturgical revival was given its first great emphasis by the Oxford movement, led by John Keble, John Henry Newman, and Richard Froude. (See Oxford Movement). Although the full effect was slower coming in the United States, the impact was already felt in the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century, especially among the younger clergy. The American Book of Common Prayer was first revised in 1892 under the direction of William Huntington, who began at Harvard as a liberal and “as time went on, became more apostolic, more Catholic.” He was too ritualistic for the General Convention, which adopted only a fraction of his suggested modifications. Meanwhile an unofficial revision of the liturgy was going on. See Book of Common Prayer.

By the turn of the century, the Standard Directory of Episcopalian Ceremonies recommended such interpolations from the Latin Mass as Offertory prayers and the Last Gospel. Later the Peoples’ Missal advocated the admission of the entire Latin Canon and introduced a whole sequence of Introits, Secrets, Offertory Antiphons, and Communion Verses. See Missal.

Another revision of the Book of Common Prayer was made in 1928, this time from cover to cover; only the title page remained the same. Most of the changes took the form of a revision of the ultra-Protestant publication of 1552 and a return to the one published in 1549. New Collects, Epistles, and Gospels were added to the Eucharistic ceremony. In answer to the demand for non-biblical saints, a new Proper was included, corresponding to the Proper of the Saints in the Roman Missal. The requiem Mass was also made legal, and prayers for the faithful departed were formally sanctioned. In the same way the sacrament of extreme unction (anointing of the sick) was restored, at least in part, as a sacrament of healing.

While not all churches in the Anglican Communion have had equal liturgical development, the trend is unmistakable. More than half of the Episcopalian clergy in the United States are men who have transferred from other denominations, mainly those with less ritual. They have found in Episcopalianism a stress on an ordained ministry and the sacramental life that other bodies either do not have or have not yet officially approved. See Anglicanism.

Lutheran Worship. A liturgical revival began within the Lutheran tradition in Germany early in the nineteenth century. Churchmen were calling for a return to the faith of the Reformation and a restoration of the former balance between Word and sacrament in worship. So-called orthodox liturgies were prepared before the middle of the nineteenth century, and by 1900 there was a movement to correct the doctrinal and ritual compromise that had been forced on the churches since the Reformation. See Luther, Martin.

Many Lutheran churches in America are going back to the symbolic (creedal) books and reexamining all references to sacraments, confidently searching for a liturgical substance that belongs to the Christian faith. See Sacrament.

As a result, all seven sacraments are somehow replaced within the bounds of Lutheran theology and worship. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the mainstay of Lutheran ritualism and the focus of the modern revival. Alongside the service of the Word, people are again learning to meet the Lord “really present in the Eucharist.” Lutheran services are becoming more corporate, and their Eucharistic character is normally proportionate to the degree of doctrinal stress on the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. See Eucharist; Lutherans.

Calvinist Liturgies. Within other churches in the Reformed family, there is a corresponding if less noticeable rebirth of ritual. European churchmen explain that the protest of the Reformation was against the abuses of the Church at that time, not against such other aspects of Catholic faith and worship as the Mass and the priesthood. Calvinist biblical commentators observe that the biblical priest was neither preacher nor teacher, but one who offered sacrifice. See Calvin, John.

Consistent with this new approach, the new liturgies of Lausanne and Geneva, Switzerland, have given a liturgical form to the collection of gifts for the church. For the first time, an Offertory was introduced and concluded by appropriate words pronounced by the officiating minister.

A new Genevan collection of formulas for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper brings back the pre-Reformation scheme of the Eucharistic canon. The words of consecration contain a statement unknown in the Calvinist liturgy until modern times.

We remember, O our God, the sufferings and the death of Thy Son, His resurrection and His ascension, and while awaiting His return, we praise Thee for having regarded the sacrifice which He offered on the cross once for all, and for having accepted His perpetual intercession on our behalf in the heavens. Receive also the homage of our hearts, which offer themselves to Thee and consecrate themselves to Thy service in a living and holy sacrifice.

Reform liturgists refer to this new concept of a mystical relation between the Lord’s Supper and Calvary as part of the Christian heritage.

Behind the ritual renewal in world Protestantism as a new esteem for the sacramental system that ranking theologians say is the most important Protestant discovery of modern times. A proper concern for the sacraments offers a powerful resource for renewing the culture of our day. No living religion can survive, they believe, once it loses faith in the power of natural elements to symbolize and, in some mysterious way, communicate the divine energy. The ritual revival, therefore, is a spiritual renewal of Protestantism.

For further information read Protestant Reformation; Protestantism; Protestantism in the United States; Reformation in England.

Catholic Encylopedia for School and Home
Vol. #9, pp. 357-358

Copyright © 1999 by Inter Mirifica

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