Relations Reflects on the Place of Rites in our Secularized Societies

This month's issue of RelationNovember 23, 2018 — In its most recent edition, the magazine Relations highlights the place of rites and rituals in our post-modern, secularized societies.

In the interview that he gave us last week, John Meehan, SJ noted the impact of the Quiet Revolution on the religiosity of Quebec’s Catholics, those who had in effect distanced themselves from liturgical and sacramental practice. Does this distancing from the Church go along with a total secularization of conscience? No, far from it, answered the prefect of the Church of the Gesù. Quebeckers may have distanced themselves from the Church, he said, “but not to the point of eclipsing the existential questions, the search for meaning, and spiritual exploration.”

What is true of spiritual searching is also true of rites and rituals. Several sociologists and anthropologists have highlighted the ritual deficit that is happening in our post-modern secularized societies. To speak of modernity is in effect to speak of a distancing from the Church and from a society or tradition where the sacred was omnipresent, and where the major stages of rural life, both social and familial, were marked by the sacraments and collective rituals. This “liberation” with regard to a tradition and a sometimes stifling religion has, however, caused a ritual deficit. How do we mark the major stages of personal and familial life? How do we mark the great joys (birth, marriage), and the great dramas (sickness, death, disasters) of our collective life? How do we incarnate this search for meaning in rites and rituals? What shape do we give to these rites and rituals? How do we inject the fullness of meaning and more soul into these rituals? And do it without being tied to the tradition?

This search for meaning and this ritual hunger have paved the way with a lot of patch-jobs. Let us consider here the new funeral rites, for example, but also the important (if not exaggerated?) place held by certain “rites” of passage such as convocations and graduation dances. In step with the personal autonomy proper to (post)modernity, these new ritualizations pose nevertheless a certain number of questions. First because they are sometimes narcissistic, and stripped entirely of any collective dimension, which is the essence of rites.

And then because of their lack of meaning and symbolism. Finally, because they have paved the way for new sellers in the Temple of our consumerist societies, for whom these new rites and their accessories are a business like any other; that is, a market to exploit, merchandize to peddle, and “experiences” to offer to their “customers”.

This edition of Relations offers then a foray into these new rites and rituals, to which it attempts to reinstate richness and complexity. But not without questioning hyper-individualism, consumerism and the lack of symbolism that sometimes characterizes these new ritualizations.




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