Rituals are an important part of our lives. We think of them mostly in terms of religious ceremonies, but they are more than that. Rituals are the traditions and customs that are woven into our lives at important times and events, like holidays and birthdays. Rituals ground us. They comfort us. They strengthen us. They are part of our stories and define who we are and who we belong to. They are part of our history and they carry us into the future.
When my children were young our Thanksgiving ritual was always at Grandma’s old farm house. We crowded into her small kitchen, with Grandpa, my husband and Uncle Tom still in their blaze orange deer hunting clothes, to dine on her turkey and stuffing. I brought the mashed potatoes and cranberries and she topped the meal off with her pumpkin pie made from scratch. All these years later I can still recall the aroma of baked turkey mixing with the dampness of the hunters’ clothes drying over the registers. The conversation always centered on the day’s hunt and the big buck that eluded them, along with tales from past deer seasons.
Stories change, however. Children grow up and start their own families and rituals and loved ones die. But, somehow we manage to hang onto some of the pieces and build new traditions around them. The story grows bigger holding the memories of the past while creating new rituals for today.
Our family is too large now and many miles prevent us from getting together on Thanksgiving, but our shared rituals keep us close in mind and heart. No one hunts any longer and Grandma and Grandpa have been gone for many years. We gather instead at my daughter’s home. She makes the turkey while I carry on the tradition of Grandma’s stuffing. My other daughter took over the cranberries, with an even better recipe, and my sour cream mashed potatoes are still a staple. Nana is part of our family gathering now, and everyone looks forward to her sweet potato pie. One of us makes the pumpkin pie but not from scratch like Grandma did!
My son has carried on many of the same rituals in another state. He and his sons now share stories of the elusive ten pointer and remember when . . .
The Church recognizes the importance of ritual and remembering each time the Mass is celebrated and in the many feast days throughout the year. May we also recognize the significance of our own family and personal rituals. I invite you to take a few moments to reflect upon them and how they may have changed and evolved through the years. They are important. They hold our stories. May we all give thanks to God in whose hands all our rituals and stories are gently and lovingly held.