Friday, February 20, 2015

Ritual is Ritual

"AshWednesdayAltar" by Jonathunder 
This is going to sound strange, but - I just love Catholic mass.  I was raised in an Evangelical household but I attended Catholic school for four years, including mass every morning.  I can unequivocally place my love of elaborate ritual at the foot of that Catholic church.  The Stations of the Cross, the Candlemass throat-blessing, even the tinkling bells that rang out when the bread was supposedly being changed into the body of Christ - I loved them all.  Now, dogma wise I completely disagreed with the church and still do, but in my opinion that doesn't make the way they do ritual any less beautiful.

I think my favorite of all was Ash Wednesday.  The entire church processes forward (even those that aren't Catholic) and is marked with the ashes of last year's celebratory palms, as the priest intones "From dust you are made, and to dust you shall return."  I have always loved that phrase.  Usually read at funerals and on solemn church days, it has nonetheless always seemed lively to me.  Rather than an ominous proposition, it was a reminder of who I was - where I came from and where I was going.  As with all living things, I was made of and sustained by the cool soil beneath my feet; and when it came time for me to die, I would become part of that magnificent giver of life once again.  The phrase affirmed my place in the huge expanse of everything that is the earth.

I've written here before about being raised in a tradition other than Paganism, and how important I think it is to honor the words and ideas that first inflamed my passion for the spiritual.  I'm not interested in being a Christian with a Pagan veneer (honestly I feel like that ship sailed a long, long time ago for me) but I also don't want to toss out the baby with the bathwater.  Ian Corrigan has a wonderful Yule ritual over on the ADF website that perfectly mirrors the Tenebrae rite practiced in some churches on Good Friday - all candles are slowly extinguished but for one, which is used to relight all the others and bring light back into the world.  I love that sentiment, the power of the darkness and the returning of the light, and I've used a modified version of that ritual in my own Grove's Yule celebrations.  I'm so thankful that we as Pagans don't have to throw it out because of its association with a Christian ritual.

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