Catholicism - Rituals

This GCSE RE quiz on Catholicism takes a look at rituals. We should distinguish between Rites (the formal words and gestures prescribed for Baptism, and in equivalent manner for the other six Sacraments) and Rituals, which to Catholics mean the book/s in which these Rites are codified. In a broader sense, the term ‘ritual’ is usually used to refer, generally or in specific detail, to formal religious ‘habits’ such as crossing and genuflection ~ in which a posture or gesture contributes extra meaning to the words of the Liturgy.

Rightly or wrongly, Catholics are widely taken to be ritualistically-minded. For instance, by the time a Catholic believer is sitting waiting for the start of Mass, they may well have done three or four things (including saying preparatory prayer/s) that practicants of ‘lower’ denominations would not bother with, but to a Catholic these are important and necessary stages of their churchgoing ‘etiquette’ and certainly not trivial nor dispensible.

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Catholics are not the only ones to seek and discern a link between body, mind and soul; while St Paul frequently characterised the human dilemma as a struggle between such elements in our mortal existence (‘the spirit is willing, yet the flesh is weak’), doing our best to achieve harmony in this respect ~ individually and collectively ~ as we come to meet God in worship does seem at least a sensible step.

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  1. Catholics will always (at least, as long as physically capable) go down on their right knee as a sign of homage when arriving for Mass. What is the technical term for this action?
    Answers 1 and 3, at least, are relevant to the Mass; but only no.2 is the correct term
  2. The symbolism of gesturing a 'cross' shape onto oneself is probably fairly obvious, but what wording (often under the worshipper's breath) usually goes with it?
    It is this clear Trinitarian prayer, usually spoken 'in time' to the shaping of the upper points of the Cross
  3. One of the major differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine is that the Roman Church requires belief in Transubstantiation ~ i.e. that in the Mass, the representative 'tokens' of bread and wine, through divine action, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus: while the taste of these items in the mouth remains as it would have been, their inner essence is understood to have been changed. Which of the following is the theologically correct term to explain this distinction?
    Philosophically, the term 'accident' covers the apparent disjunct between what the outward senses perceive, and what the deeper essence and meaning truly are
  4. The all-embracing qualities of a well-presented Mass, of course, include visual symbolism through actions and posture of the celebrant and congregation. But meanwhile, colour plays an important role in helping the church interior feel special and 'other'. Which of the following is NOT a consideration in the Catholic use of colour?
    This is more to do with light than colour, though clearly of kindred visual interest
  5. What is the principal difference between the Crucifix (cross emblem) you would see in a Catholic church ~ or even worn, in miniature, about the person of a Catholic believer ~ and the variant preferred by Protestants?
    Answer 4 has a measure of truth in it too. Certainly if you happen to be at a major Catholic pilgrimage site (e.g. Lisieux) and look in the nearby shops, you will find all the crucifixes on offer have (as a curious child once put it) 'a little man on'. As and when Protestants use the crucifix emblem, they generally prefer an empty cross (emphasising that death could not, and did not, defeat Jesus; and it's also simpler, and less aesthetically risky, to manufacture)
  6. Many faiths have their ways of invoking, or at least symbolising, cleanliness when entering their place of worship. What would probably be the first such distinctive sign of Catholics arriving at their church?
    After this, they will then probably cross themselves (Ans.2). Ans.1 was a decoy more applicable to Muslims, and Ans.3 (genuflection) can only usually come after they have reached the interior of the church. Water, of course, carries all sorts of symbolism ~ principally of baptism and the associated cleansing; Holy Water has a number of other uses and significances
  7. What is a rosary used for?
    The rosary consists of a series of beads which act as reminders for a traditional, set and efficacious series of prayers. There is a range of variant uses within branches of the overall Catholic tradition
  8. The long-term version of the Service Book (as formerly used, in Latin, by priests at the altar, and containing all the various texts, rubrics and instructions) is known as the Ritual. This function is usually now superseded by duly approved vernacular versions (i.e. in the local living language) ~ many of which are published, for greater ease of use, in separate physical sections for the various rites such as Mass, funerals or whatever. What, meanwhile, is the name of the slightly handier version that congregants would have in their pews?
    All the fanciful alliterative titles were pure fiction. The Missal (a word obviously related to 'mass', somewhat by analogy with a Hymnal in other churches) is also, indeed perhaps more usually, known as the Sacramentary
  9. When ~ after all those centuries ~ did the Catholic Church mostly stop using Latin at its services?
    Assuming 'do-ers' of our quizzes are probably mostly of school age (and hence more or less 'millennials' in broad chronological terms), you would have to go back to your grandparents' generation or before to find anyone in your family that had been brought up on the old Latin ('Tridentine') Mass ... quite coincidentally, Britain changed its currency from the old 'pounds, shillings and pence' at around the same time (15 February 1971), so those two indicators mark something of a cultural stratum!
  10. 'What is that peculiar, distinctive smell you usually get in Catholic churches and rarely anywhere else?'
    Incense (burned in a censer or thurible) is an important sensory element ~ no pun intended, honest! ~ of the 'specialness' of the Mass. Quite incidentally, it is widely claimed that the condensing particles from burning this amalgam of gum and spices have a deterrent effect on woodworm ~ though from the organist's point of view [please excuse your writer, though this is from years of experience in a 'high' Anglo-Catholic parish church] it is potentially a nuisance when the gum does recondense on delicate parts of the organ mechanism: some of the inner wind-issuing valves and 'lips' function on very fine tolerances (else the instrument would be a brute to play), and anything like 'sleepy-dust' can interfere with that

Author: Ian Miles

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