December 1, 2003

Chesterton on Ritual

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Here’s a snippet from one of Chesterton’s essays, which seems to me to be as applicable to the church and her worship as it is to the rest of life:

I made some observations a week or two ago about the desirability of some gorgeousness and pageantry in the opening of Parliament. I am pleased to find that there was plenty of it. But as some friendly philosophers have differed from me upon this point of the desirability of grandiose ritual, I can illustrate my sense of its human necessity by a very topical parallel.

Compare, for instance, the ceremony of the King opening Parliament with the ceremony surrounding Miss Roosevelt’s marriage. There you have conditions in which originally ceremonial has been abolished. Theoretically, the President’s daughter is nobody; theoretically, there is no pageantry surrounding her. Actually, there is an enormous pageantry surrounding her; only it is a vulgar pageantry.

Human nature demands ritual everywhere. Abolish your ritual, and you get an inferior ritual. Destroy your impressive ceremony, and all you get in return is an unimpressive ceremony. King Edward has borne in front of him a Sword of State. The Sword of State is useless as a sword, but as a symbol it is simple, poetical, and popular. The American bride was presented with an enormous rifle in solid gold. It was useless as a gun, and as a symbol it was not simple or poetical or anything else; it was a symbol of nothing except blank bathos and bad taste.

Do not let us talk of getting rid of symbolism: it is impossible to get rid of symbolism — but you can get rid of good symbolism if you like. — G. K. Chesterton, “Importance of Ritual and Symbolism,” The Illustrated London News, March 10, 1906.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:55 pm | Discuss (0)

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