Ceremony, Latin caerimonia, a word sanctioned by Ciceronian usage, but of uncertain etymology, and variously derived:
(1) from Ceres, and the offerings made to her;
(2) from Caere, the Etrurian town, whither the sacred things and Vestals of the Romans were conveyed for safety from the Gauls (Forcellini, Lex. tot. Latin.);
(3) from Carere;
(4) from Carus and Caritas;
(5) from Cerus, an obsolete Latin word =pius, sanctus, i.e. pious, sacred (Scaliger);
(6) from Coira-=Cura (Georges' Lexikon);
(7) from Caelum, as though it should be Caelimonia.
Particular ceremonies are treated in this work under their appropriate heads. We propose only to consider here
(1) whether the term is a suitable one to denote Christian church services, and
(2) its import in creeds and symbolical books, making free use of Palmer's article in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. (Suppl. 1:314).
Whenever the word ceremony is used in an indefinite way of a religious act, we must not overlook the ditinction between the essential, necessary part of the act, without which no worship can be, and its accompanying forms, which only serve to give it greater solemnity, and bring out more strikingly the contrast with common life. This non-essential part only is ceremony. To illustrate farther: the religious act may be defined as something done in obedience to divine command, and therefore necessary to salvation; while ceremony represents man's voluntary work, the offspring of the connection of the religious impulse and his esthetic taste. Hence results the truly Protestant doctrine that these forms, because they are subjectively conditioned, may vary according to times and places. The Roman Catholic Church, in spite of her longing for absolute unity, is unable to prevent some freedom and variety in this respect, and allows that particular rites (ritus particulares) need not be everywhere exactly the same, though universal ones (ritus universales) must be observed always and everywhere alike. On this point Melancthon rightly says, "We do not fully understand what our opponents mean" (Non satis intelligimus, quid velint adversarii); for by the distinction of universal and particular rites, the Protestant view is, in fact, conceded to be correct, and the only question would seem to be, which rites belong to the one and which to the other class. Yet, under the Romish view, we have only to rank among the universals as many as possible of the most formal, unmeaning, and arbitrary things, and thus make them obligatory. In the distinction of the divinely commanded and the humanly devised, we must keep in view (1) that the Mosaic law made what we call ceremony the subject of divine enactment, and did not leave it to man's choice; and (2) that this choice is not individual caprice. Whatever, through the Church's tendency to improvement in matters of worship, has grown into ritual forms — whatever has become settled practice in the Church, should be respected by the individual, as a custom inherited from the fathers — with the condition, indeed, that when a ceremony has lost its original, correct meaning, or assumed a false one, or when its outward form has become opposed to the moral consciousness and condition of the Church, Christian freedom may assert its right to abolish, simplify, or replace such ceremony.
The distinction may be made clearer by the following illustrations: To baptize is not a ceremony, but a necessary church act; but the use of a cope and surplice, of a silver baptismal cup and bowl, of certain liturgically prescribed words, the laying on of the hands, the sign of the cross — these constitute ceremony. Again, we celebrate the Lord's Supper in obedience to Christ's command, but ceremony prescribes how we shall furnish a table, as a New Testament altar; what kind of vessels we shall use; whether, like the Lutherans, we shall give the wafer to each communicant, with the same words, or, like the Reformed, shall cut the bread, etc.; whether the communicants shall kneel or not, etc. These examples show that what is necessary and what is voluntary, what is divinely enjoined and what is pleasing to man, the kernel and the shell, cannot be mechanically separated; and that, though some ceremony enters into all religious services, it should never be mere empty, unmeaning form. What are called in public life court ceremonials are indeed such, but the minister of the Gospel may not be merely a master of ceremonies. In judicial proceedings ceremony may have real Significance: e.g. in the taking of oath, the raised hand and set form of words, the assumption of a black cap by the judge when pronouncing sentence of death, and the breaking of a staff before the execution, non- essential, yet symbolic acts, powerfully influence the imagination.
The application of the term ceremony to the rites of Christian baptism, marriage, burial, etc. is repugnant to our feelings, as implying excessive formality. The Socinians alone call baptism and the Lord's Supper ceremonies, regarding them as essentially unmeaning observances, though enjoined by Christ. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic and High- Church view assigns to certain ceremonial acts somewhat of saving efficacy, to attain which duly authorized forms must be observed. The evangelical Protestant, eschewing either extreme, accepts as helps in the Christian life such ritual forms as by their outward correspondence with the religious idea tend to edify; but he does not trust in them as having power to save; for him, far more important than sprinkled water, folded hands, chrism, or holy vessel, is the Word of God, understood by all, and pointing him to the sacrifice of Christ as his hope and salvation. We see, therefore, that the term ceremony is less frequently applicable to the services of the Protestant than to those of the Roman Catholic or Greek Church; and, indeed, in this sense the word is rather foreign to Protestant ecclesiastical and scientific language.
The Reformers were not punctilious in this respect, however; but, in their symbolical books, used ceremony as synonymous with ritus ecclesiasticus, and named, as such, ordo lectionum, orationum, Vestitus ecclesiasticus et alia similia (Apol. Conf. 12; Hase, Libri Symb. p. 250). Frequently ceremony was confounded with traditiones, and what holds good of these applies also to it. Nevertheless, a clear perception of the import of ceremony, and its distinction from the essential church act, is shown in their doctrine that it is not "per se cultus divinus aut aliqua saltem pars divini cultus" (Form. Concord. Epit. cap. 10, p. 651), and that no general conformity therein is required by the practice of the ancient Church; and of more importance still, that no justifying or saving power belongs to the performance of ceremonial acts (Apol. 8, p. 206. Paulus ideo damnat Mosaicas ceremonias, sicut traditiones damnat, quia existimabantur esse opera, quae merentur justitiam coram Deo). If such an opinion of their value obtains, they must be abandoned (Luther, Tischreden, th., 11, cap. 10, 3). So we must not, for the sake of our ease or peace, take part in ceremonies which conscience disapproves. If those in use fail to effect the true aim of all ceremonies, i.e. the teaching the ignorant and producing harmony of worship, the Church may and should establish others; so that, on the one hand, the people lack not those seemly forms, which justly apprehended, "do serve to a decent order and godly discipline," and, on the other, be not so overburdened or misled by them as "in the bondage of the shadow" to lose "the freedom of the spirit" (Preface to English Prayer- book).
The Articles of Religion of the Church of England declare that "the Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies" (Art. XX): and "every particular Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies, etc." The Methodist Episcopal and Protestant Episcopal churches have similar articles. "If our reasonable service to God as Christians implies certain external acts of worship, these external acts must be performed after an external manner — that is to say, there must be certain forms and ceremonies in our divine worship. And those sects, like the Quakers, who have pretended to deny this fact, have proved, by their own quaint and peculiar ceremonies, that something of the sort is needful even to their form of Christianity. But as it is needful, so likewise is it advantageous to observe decent and orderly ceremonies in religion." Without such institutions, religion might be preserved, indeed, by a few of superior understanding and of strong powers of reflection, but among mankind in general all trace of it would soon be lost. When the end for which they are appointed is kept in view, and the simple examples of the New Testament are observed, they are of vast importance to the production both of pious feelings and of virtuous conduct; but there has constantly been a propensity in the human race to mistake the means for the end, and to consider themselves as moral and religious when they scrupulously observe what was intended to produce morality and religion. The reason is obvious:
ceremonial observances can be performed without any greatῥ sacrifice of propensities and vices; they are palpable; when they are observed by men who, in the tenor of public life, do not act immorally, they are regarded by others as indicating high attainments in virtue; and through that self-deceit which so wonderfully misleads the reason, and inclines it to minister to the passions which it should restrain, men have themselves become persuaded that their acknowledgment of divine authority, implied in their respect to the ritual which that authority is conceived to have sanctioned, may be taken as a proof that they have nothing to apprehend from the violation of the law under which they are placed (Watson, s.v.).
"The rites and ceremonies of the Christian Church, agreeably to the general rules of Scripture, ought to be of such a kind as to promote the order, the decency, and the solemnity of public worship. At the same time they ought not to be numerous, but should preserve that character of simplicity which is inseparable from true dignity, and which accords especially with the spiritual character of the religion of Christ. The apostles often remind Christians that they are delivered from the ceremonies of the law, which are styled by Peter 'a yoke which neither their fathers nor they were able to bear' (Ac 15:10). The whole tenor of our Lord's discourses, and of the writings of his apostles, elevates the mind above those superstitious observances in which the Pharisees placed the substance of religion; and, according to the divine saying of Paul, 'The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, aid joy in the Holy Ghost' (Ro 14:17). The nature of this kingdom is forgotten when frivolous observances are multiplied by human authority; and the complicated, expensive pageantry of Roman Catholic worship, together with the still more childish ceremonies which abound in the Eastern or Greek Church, appear to deserve the application of that censure which the apostle pronounced when he reprented the attempts made in his days to revive the Mosaic ritual as a 'turning again to weak and beggarly clients.' Further, all the Scripture rules and examples suggest that, in enacting ceremonies, regard should be had to the opinions, the manners, and prejudices of those to whom they are prescribed; and that those who entertain more enlightened views upon the subject should not despise their weak brethren. Upon the same principle, it is obvious that ceremonies ought not to be lightly changed. In the eyes of most people, those practices appear venerable which have been handed down from remote antiquity. To many the want of those helps to which they have been accustomed in the exercises of devotion might prove very hurtful, and frequent changes in the external parts of worship might shake the steadfastness of their faith. The last rule deducible from the Scripture examples is this, that the authority which enacts the ceremonies should clearly explain the light in which they are to be considered; should never employ any expressions, or any means of enforcing them, which tend to convey to the people that they are accounted necessary to salvation; and should beware of seeming to teach that the most punctual observance of things in themselves indifferent is of equal importance with judgment, mercy, and the love of God." — Hill, Lectures on Divinity (N. Y. ed., 1). 773). See also Palmer, in Herzog's Real-Enyklopädie, Supplem. 1:314; Farindon, Sermons, 2:130, 151; 3:27, 226; Common Prayer (Ch. of England), Of Ceremonies; Barrow, Works (N. Y. ed.), 1:593; 2:339; 3:168.