Ritual (from ritus, a ceremony) has been defined as "the external body of words and action by which worship is expressed and exhibited before God and man;" also "the book containing the particular ordinances of any single Church." The necessity of ritual, whether of a more or less elaborate kind, may be supported
(1) on historical grounds. Its traces may be found in all ages; and every form of religion, true or false — Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, and the different forms of idolatry — has had a ritual of its own.
(2) On internal grounds. From the two-fold constitution of man as body and spirit. As long as the body is an essential element of man, so long, it is urged, will ritual be a necessary feature in his worship. Objection is made that the Jewish system of external observances, and, by inference, all worship of a similar kind, was abolished by our Lord when he said, "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (Joh 4:24); and that all attempts to reintroduce a system of ritual are a violation of the genius and intention of the Founder of Christianity. This was the basis of the teaching of George Fox (A.D. 1647). But it appears, from Christ's own conduct in the institution of baptism and the Lord's supper, and those recorded acts of worship (Lu 18:13; Lu 21:2-3; Lu 22:4) which secured his sanction or approval, that the real object of his animadversion was a permanent external worship from which the heart and affections were absent. The special objects of Christian ritual are (1) to impart the historic truths of religion. By the various festivals (e.g. Easter, Whit-Sunday) of the Church and their attendant ceremonies, Christians have their attention drawn to the divine origin of their religion. (2) A constant witness to moral and doctrinal truth. Thus baptism shows the corruption of human nature and the necessity of purity, and is a symbol of the inward "washing of regeneration." Mosheim (Eccles. Hist. [Amer. ed.] 1, 84) states that Christ only "established two rites, which it is not lawful either to change or abrogate, viz. baptism and the Lord's supper," and infers from this that "ceremonies are not essential to the religion of Christ, and that the whole business of them is left by him to the discretion and free choice of Christians." In the 2d century ceremonies were much increased, for which Mosheim (1, 132) assigns the following reasons:
(1) To conciliate the Jews and pagans:
(2) to rebut the charge of atheism made against the Christians, because they had not the external paraphernalia of religion;
(3) imitation of language in the New Test., such as terms borrowed from the Jewish laws. The bishops were first innocently called high priests, the presbyters priests, etc. These titles were abused by those to whom they were given, who claimed that they had the same rank and dignity, and possessed the same rights and privileges, with those who bore them under the Jewish dispensation. Hence the splendid garments, and many other things.
(4) Among the Greeks and other people of the East nothing was considered more sacred than the Mysteries. This circumstance led the Christians, in order to impart dignity to their religion, to claim similar mysteries. Without discussing the general subject further, we present the rituals of the various prominent Christian churches.
1. Church of Rome. — The ceremonial of the offices of the Roman Church administered by bishops is contained in the books entitled Pontificale and
Ceremoniale Episcoporum. The priestly offices are detailed in the Ritual. In its present form it dates from the Council of Trent, which directed a revision of all the different rituals then extant. An authoritative edition was published by Paul V in 1614, which has been frequently reprinted, and of which a revision was issued by Benedict XIV. Besides the Roman Ritual, there are many diocesan rituals, some of which are of much historical interest. The most approved commentary on the Roman Ritual is that of Barrufaldo (Florence, 1847, 2 vols.). SEE BREVIARY; SEE MISSAL; SEE RITUALE ROMANUM
2. English Church. — Originally each bishop had the power to form his own liturgy, and to regulate its attendant ritual, provided that the essential features of Christian worship were retained, and that nothing commanded in Scripture or derived from apostolic times was omitted. St. Basil (A.D. 329-379) composed a liturgy for the Church of Ceesarea, which received the sanction of its bishop, Eusebius (Greg. Naz. Orat. 20). As a consequence, great variety existed, with a tendency to increase. Two early but unsuccessful attempts were made to introduce a uniformity of worship throughout England. The Council of Cloveshoe (A.D. 747) recommended the adoption of the Roman liturgy to all the English dioceses, but its recommendation was never more than partially carried out. In 1085 St. Osmund compiled the Sarum Breviary and Missal, which obtained a wide circulation, but were never universally accepted to the exclusion of those previously existing. It was, in a great measure, to remedy the inconveniences resulting from this variety that the First Book of Common Prayer, compiled by a committee of Convocation (first appointed in A.D. 1542), was issued in the second year of king Edward VI (A.D. 1549). This book, after receiving various additions and alterations in A.D. 1552, 1560, 1604, and 1662, is still the guide of the English Church in all matters connected with the performance of divine service and ritual. SEE COMMON PRAYER, BOOK OF.
3. Greek Church. — In the Greek Church, as in the other Eastern communions, the ritual forms part of the general collection (which contains also the eucharistic service) entitled EUCHOLOGION SEE EUCHOLOGION (q.v.).
4. The Methodist Churches. — The ritual of these churches embraces directions for public worship, for the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, for solemnizing matrimony, burial of the dead, reception of members, laying cornerstones, dedication of churches, consecration of bishops, and ordination of deacons and elders. The chief part of this ritual was prepared by Mr. Wesley, and was adopted by the General Conference of 1784. Methodists do not believe that any precise form of ritual is essential, but that, as far as practicable, a uniform system should be adopted for the sake of propriety and order. See Blunt, Dict. of Theol.; Chambers's Encyclop.; Simpson, Cyclop. of Methodism, s.v.; Mosheim, Church Hist. vol. 1; Barnum, Romansism.