The Power of Wise Custom

Thomas Howard on Ritual & Ceremony

Two words cast a pall over the imagination of those who have grown up since 1960—during this 40 years, that is, when spontaneity, naturalness, creativity, sincerity, and what we might call the visceral, have been so earnestly extolled. The two words are ritual and ceremony.

Spirits wither straightaway. “Dull!” we hear from one corner. “Repressive!” from another. “An imposition! A straitjacket!” we hear from various quarters. “What we want is freedom to be ourselves—our natural, real, unconstrained selves. Ritual and ceremony are guaranteed to stifle all vitality and genuineness. They are a recipe . . .

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Thomas Howard taught for many years at St. John's Seminary College, the Roman Catholic seminary of the archdiocese of Boston. Among his many works are the books Christ the tiger, Evangelical Is Not Enough, Lead Kindly Light, On Being Catholic, and The Secret of New York Revealed, and a videotape series of 13 lectures on "The Treasures of Catholicism" (all from Ignatius Press).

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