Take Comfort in Rituals


Take Comfort in Rituals

by Associate Mary Kay McVey Christian, province liturgist

I have a confession to make, I am an addict. My morning caffeine is an addiction I do not intend kick. My coffee maker is programmed for a freshly brewed daily dose. But once in a while I treat myself to an overpriced cup of fru-fru cappuccino at the nearest Starbuck’s. Recently, I stopped by for my morning fix and a sign caught my eye. “Take Comfort in Rituals” it read, immediately capturing the attention and imagination of the liturgist in me. Starbucks is now selling, not coffee, not muffins but rituals in which we can take comfort.

Really? Yes, I believe this genius marketing strategy is very true. Human beings need rituals. They help us organize our lives. Rituals can be comforting. Doing the same thing, at the same time in the same place can offset the uncertainty and unexpected perils we encounter in the world. We devise daily rituals such as our morning routine or our exercise program or daily prayers. We may not even be aware of how many ritual behaviors help us successfully navigate everyday life.

Collectively we participate in rituals too. Attending church, sports events and public holidays all give us ways to gather, celebrate and connect with others sharing a common value, interest or belief. Whether we like to think of ourselves as creatures of habit or not, we all participate in some kind of ritual behavior. What stirred in me was a feeling of longing and sadness when I saw Starbuck’s openly manipulating the human desire for ritual behavior.

Many no longer find comfort or meaning in rituals we celebrate in the Church. Instead of being spiritually fed by gathering on Sundays, a growing number of us find our community at the local McDonald’s with neighbors sharing breakfast and conversation. Or we flock to the coffee shop where the barista knows we will order the Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte. The daily missal has been replaced with the daily paper, or for the younger of us, the blog on our laptops.

Some say it is the church whose ideas have become irrelevant. Others say secularization and laziness keep the laity from coming to Sunday mass. I believe this kind of oppositional thinking is unproductive. I prefer to reflect upon questions this shift in cultural behavior raises.

Why is Madison Avenue able to engage and activate people’s imaginations and actions more effectively than the Vatican? Why do people buy-in to a commercial version of community and ritual without critical reflection? What does the Church need to do to capture the hearts and minds of God’s people searching for community, comfort and meaning?

I think I’ll continue thinking about these questions over my Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte.

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