Rituals and symbols found in daily life as well as church


COLUMBIA — For Amy Florian, teaching about rituals and symbols is a way to make God’s presence tangible for children and adults. The liturgy and bereavement consultant recently spoke at “Sign and Symbol — Word and Song, and Celebrating Classroom Ritual,” a workshop sponsored by the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis.

“Catholics are a sacramental people, expressing and being continually formed in covenant with God through symbol, action, word and sacrament,” said Florian, an author with 27 years of experience in various church ministries and currently the head of liturgy preparation at Holy Family Parish in Inverness, Ill.

She began the workshop by giving the Webster’s definition of ritual, “a ceremonial or formal solemn act, observance or procedure in accordance with prescribed rule or custom,” and said the definition was too stagnant. She prefers one that is not so dry and narrow.

“Rituals define who we are, what we believe, who we belong to and our relationship with others,” said Florian, mentioning that life is full of rituals, such as birthdays, holidays and even the morning ritual of getting ready for school. She feels that these types of rituals can prepare the young for the important religious rituals they will encounter in the church.

“Amy provided some valuable insights to us regarding children’s delight and need for ritual in their lives. Often times we as catechists or teachers find it difficult to create rituals that will be meaningful with the children that we catechize,” said Paul Schroeder, director for the Office of Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis.

After defining ritual, Florian gave suggestions on how to have affective rituals in the classroom.

“Be people of prayer and ritual yourself. If it is not important to you, the children will pick up on it,” she explained.

She said that the ritual should be done daily (i.e. read Scripture, say the morning offering, or light a candle) and that all teaching should be woven in as subtle as possible or done afterward in a discussion format.

She also gave the “shape” of the ritual with a beginning, middle and end. The beginning of a ritual could begin with a prayer, sign of the cross or song. The end could be similar to the beginning or end simple with “amen.” The variety comes in the middle. “In shorter rituals, a simple prayer or ritual action would be appropriate,” she suggests, but longer rituals could also include intercessions, sign of peace or scripture readings.

She also pointed out the importance of symbols in the rituals. “Symbols point beyond themselves to something else, yet they also participate in the reality to which they point,” said Florian. One example she gave was the use of color and its place in the liturgical year. She finds it helpful to decorate the room and wear the colors that reflect the liturgical season or feast day. Such subtle gestures enforce the bigger message according to the speaker. “God is beyond every image, every picture, every symbol we can imagine. Any image can only partially reflect characteristics of God,” she said.

Florian feels that in today’s society that is on the constant go with the increasing numbers of broken families, the ideas of ritual is slipping away from the young. She feels these “ritual-deprived children” who don’t see, for example the difference between the Sunday evening meal and dinners during the rest of the week, may have a more difficult time grasping “the meaning of gathering around the table of love at liturgy.” It makes the catechist’s job more challenging in these cases and makes the church community’s role critical. She said that children long for something bigger than them and want to know “a God that counts every hair on their head.”

“Proper use of ritual is essential in the formation of young people and critical in maintaining and enhancing the Catholic identity of our schools and parish formation programs. We have been challenged by Amy’s presence to help make ritual a reality in the lives of all young people within the diocese,” said Schroeder.