Ceremony is, among other things, an occasion for our collective gratitude, a collective Via Positiva. It is utterly primal and primary. As Rabbi Heschel says, “praise precedes faith.”
If humanity is to wake up and resurrect before it is too late, we need to learn to praise—including honoring the wonderfully diverse ways of praise formulated in rituals, liturgies and ceremonies around the world. And to learn how basic and foundational ceremony is to our collective existence and survival. Healthy ceremony heals.
The Christian word “eucharist” names collective praise and derives from the Greek word for thank you.
Ceremony is about connecting to all our relations, all of whom are sacred. Now that post-modern physics is declaring that the depth of every being is about relation, our yearning for ritual or ceremony is heating up. Many efforts at ritual developed in the modern era are running out of steam. People are hungry for ceremony today.
That is the principle reason I became an Episcopalian some 26 years ago—to work with young people to create forms of worship that included the body and dance and post-modern art forms such as DJ, VJ, rap and other creations of the rave culture (minus the drugs) to render ritual or liturgy alive again. (The Roman Catholic church had no interest in creativity in ritual at the time—they censored Bishop Casigalida in Brazil for supporting an African-based version of the Mass among other things.)
Our “Cosmic Masses” (TCM) delivered on the promise to bring vitality to liturgy. Responses to them and healings occurring during them have exceeded expectations. About 500 people participated at our TCM at the most recent World Parliament gathering in Toronto two years ago, including Buddhist monks in orange robes and many others. One forty-something woman said to me afterwards, “this was the most powerful religious experience of my life.”
An atheist who attended our TCM for 1000 people at a Sounds True retreat in Colorado said to me afterwards, pointing at her heart, “something happened to me during the grieving practice. Something so shifted in me from my being a radical atheist that by the time communion came along I had to have some. This night has changed my life.” A man in his fifties who was CEO of a Silicon Valley company, said: “This is the first time I have understood the Mass or experienced its power” (and spontaneously pulled out a check book to support our work).
A drug counselor working with teenagers brought twelve clients in a van to a TCM we celebrated in Oakland. While driving home after the Mass, they said to her, “this is the first time in our lives we’ve gotten high without drugs.”
That is what good ceremony does: It gets participants high. Call it transcendence; call it mysticism; transformation; oneing; resurrection. Ceremony or ritual is integral to our humanity, our being human. In it we can rejoice together, grieve together, come together, let go and become empowered for good work in the world.
See Matthew Fox, “The Cosmic Mass,” in Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest, (Berkeley, Ca. North Atlantic Books, 2018), pp. 363-383.
Learn more about the Cosmic Mass at TheCosmicMass.com.
Banner Image: Matthew Fox and three concelebrants of African and Indigenous traditions celebrate the Eucharist at a Cosmic Mass at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Meditate on ceremonies or liturgies you participated in that got you high and where you tasted transcendence. What elements were common to all of those (if any)?