Sistene ChapelLast month when I was watching the papal conclave begin I couldn’t help but notice the pomp and circumstance surrounding the proceedings. The cardinals, all dressed in red, filed into the Sistine Chapel two by two, took their assigned places and then, one by one, put their hand on the Book of the Gospels to make the oath of secrecy in Latin. It all seemed a bit pompous to me. But ritual like this is not meant to be pompous. And it’s not just a part of Catholicism. Ritual is part of everyone’s lives.

Saint Ignatius says that before we pray we ought to ritually make an act of reverence:

A step or two before the place where I have to contemplate or meditate, I will put myself standing for the space of an Our Father, my intellect raised on high, considering how God our Lord is looking at me, etc.; and will make an act of reverence or humility. (Spiritual Exercises 75)

This is ritual. Ignatius suggests that even before bed retreatants take a moment to contemplate the prayer they will make in the morning. Small rituals like this may not be necessary, but they give meaning to what we’re about to do.

If the cardinals all voted for the next pope electronically from their smartphones in their respective dioceses, it would suck a lot the significance out of the election of a pope. Similarly, if we approach prayer—or anything—without a certain kind of reverence or ritual, it can lose its significance. This is why we light candles before Mass. It’s why we begin our mornings with coffee. It’s why we have a less-formal ritual of engagement before the more formal marriage.

Preluding an important moment with a reverent ritual orients us toward what is about to take place and deepens its significance. Thank God for the conclave rituals. And thank God for my morning coffee!

Image by Sailko under Creative Commons license.


  1. Thank you, Linda. These are exactly my sentiments.
    Thank you, Andy and Bob.This is a gentle reminder of how beautiful formal rituals can be when done properly. Reverence in rituals fosters deeper meaning and significance.
    And in a different way so does my ritual of coffee in the morning. This brew helps open my eyes to greet the day, and pray! Thank you, God.

    • Coffee, Suzanne Marie… ah elixer of unrestful soul, soother of tremulous palate, and greeter with the morning dew. I just made my first decaf of the dayand I will toast a fellow drinker with first sip.

  2. Ritual is good, prepares us to have the proper attitudes towards a thing. We do ritual every day of our life without realizing it, all creatures do. Methinks however that Francis is going to change a lot of the pomposity that goes on, after all even the pope is man, not God and he knows it, bless him! Even his face is open and friendly and humble, reflecting who he is inside.

  3. Thanks, Andy. A good reminder. Formal rituals do add to the beauty and importance of significant events, be they electing a pope or getting ready for morning prayers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here