“Christian initiation” refers to the ritual process employed by various churches in forming new Christian converts through catechesis (instruction) during the “catechumenate” to baptism, postbaptismal rites (including hand-laying and anointing, sometimes called “confirmation”), culminating in First Communion, and leading to the further integration of these newly initiated members into ongoing Christian life through “mystagogy.” Christian initiation is the story of diversity and change as the biblical images of initiation lead toward a rich variety of early Christian practices and theological interpretations, eventually coming to focus on Christian baptism as “new birth” or the “washing of regeneration” in water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5 and Titus 3:5) in early Syria and Egypt and baptism as participation in the death and burial of Christ (Rom. 6) in North Africa and other places in the West.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, after Christianity emerged as a cultus publicus, the rites of Christian initiation underwent a certain standardization and cross-fertilization as various churches borrowed from one another to construct rites that display a remarkable degree of homogeneity. These rites include a decided preference for celebrating Christian initiation at Easter, after a period of final catechetical preparation in Lent; prebaptismal rites with an exorcistic focus; an almost universal (Rom. 6) theological interpretation of baptism; and postbaptismal hand-layings or anointings associated explicitly with the gift or “seal” of the Holy Spirit, still leading to First Communion within a unitive and integral process. Another characteristic, thanks to the controversies faced by Augustine with Pelagianism, was the development of a new theological rationale for the initiation of infants, which focused on the inheritance of “original sin” from Adam. This would have far-reaching consequences for subsequent centuries as infant baptism became the norm for practice and theology.
If the Eastern rites underwent little further development in the Middle Ages, the West experienced what many have been called a sacramental dissolution, disintegration, and separation. Gradually, the postbaptismal rites of hand-laying and anointing, associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit and now with the physical presence of the bishop, became separated from infant baptism and were given at a later point. Similarly, the reception of First Communion also became separated and was often postponed until the canonical age of seven. This process was inherited by the adherents of the Protestant and Catholic reformations of the 16th century. Little was done to restore the unitive and integral process of Christian initiation from the earlier centuries and confirmation itself developed among the reformers largely into a catechetical exercise or rite with First Communion either prior to or after confirmation.
In the early 21st century, thanks to the Roman Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and similar rites in other churches, the unitary and integral process of initiation has been restored. What remains to be done, however, is the full integration of infants and children into this process, although in several Anglican and Lutheran contexts infants now are again recipients of the full rites of initiation, including First Communion.
Ruth A. Meyers
Weddings and funerals mark major transitions in human life. In these rites of passage, which effect a transformation from one status to another, an individual is separated from one state of existence, passes through a threshold or liminal space, and is incorporated into the community with a new status. In a wedding, individuals move from being single to being joined in a marriage, and in rites surrounding death, a person moves from the land of the living to become an ancestor. These rites of passage concern not only those making the transition but also the community. The ritual actions enable the individuals as well as the community to navigate momentous events in human life, they acknowledge and bring about a transformation in the community, and they offer an interpretive framework for the transition.
Weddings and funerals are not rooted in any single religious tradition. Rather, they are social and cultural events that may also have a religious dimension. Many religious weddings and funerals incorporate practices from different cultural contexts, and as social or cultural norms change, ritual practices may evolve to accommodate these norms. Wedding practices have changed to reflect modern Western notions of companionate marriage rather than arranged marriage, and, more recently, growing acceptance of same-sex life partnerships has led a few religious bodies to develop rituals to bless these relationships. Funerals express different understandings of life after death, and they are adapted to various practices for disposal of the body, for example, cremation or burial of the body.
Paul F. Bradshaw
The forms of Christian worship changed and developed considerably during the first four centuries of its existence, not least from a distinctive local or regional diversity to an increasing standardization of practice throughout the ancient world. One of the major factors influencing these changes was the eventual adoption of the New Testament as the Christian scripture, and another was the emergence of the church into public life early in the 4th century. Rites of initiation chiefly involving baptism in water marked the entry of new converts into the community of believers. The central observance was the Eucharist, celebrated every Sunday from at least the end of the 1st century. This was supplemented by services of the word on certain days of the week and by regular times of prayer each day undertaken by individuals or small groups of believers. Annual festal celebrations, the majority of which were associated with the anniversaries of martyrs and others who had died, also increased in number as time passed.
Christians understood the worship that they offered through Jesus Christ to be the spiritual fulfillment of the sacrificial cult of the Old Testament. Although at first insisting that they were not a religion like others around them—indeed, they were regarded as atheists by their contemporaries—they ultimately came to adopt the language, images, and terminology of standard religious discourse once their persecution had ceased and the Church had emerged as a cultus publicus in the 4th century. This also coincided with a shift from an understanding of worship as an essentially corporate action presided over by its appointed ministers to one where those ministers were seen as carrying out its liturgy on behalf of the people.
Joanne M. Pierce
The liturgy of the medieval Christian West (ca. 600–1500) provided the structure around which life in Western Europe was structured for almost a thousand years. Rooted in Christian antiquity, in the early central liturgical structures of Initiation and Eucharist, the private and public observance of daily prayer, and the development of a liturgical year, the long medieval period that followed saw a broadening elaboration and expansion of the liturgical life of Christians in many different directions. By the year 1200, theologians had defined seven of the Church’s liturgical rites as primary sacraments: Baptism and Confirmation (from the ancient initiation sequence); Eucharist; Penance (with the emphasis on private confession of sins); Ordination (through various minor orders to the three major orders of deacon, presbyter, and bishop); Extreme Unction (anointing of the sick, now reserved for the gravely ill); and Matrimony (as the liturgical rites for the originally domestic rituals of marriage become more elaborate and set in the church rather than the home). A more fulsome cycle of the liturgical year developed around the ancient feasts of Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and Epiphany, augmented by an elaborate calendar of commemorations and feasts of saints. Monastic influence resulted in a daily round of liturgical prayer, the Divine Office, in which various “hours” of prayer during the day and night were marked by liturgical “offices” of psalmody and scripture—some longer, others more brief. One of the major ways this liturgical growth and diversity can be studied is through an examination of the various liturgical books compiled and used during these medieval centuries, books used for the celebration of the Eucharist (the Mass), for the Divine Office, and for other liturgical rites. In addition to the volumes containing rubrics and prayers for liturgical celebrations, a separate cluster of books contained music to be used during these rites, in a style known as chant; Gregorian chant became the dominant form. The full impact of medieval liturgy as it was experienced in the Western Europe, however, extended far beyond the “bare bones” contained in these books, intertwined as it was with the development of art and architecture, law and commerce, and the political/socio-economic developments that would take Christian society and religion from the twilight of late antiquity to the dawn of early modernity.
Adam Bajan and Heidi A. Campbell
New and emerging media has played a pivotal role in Christianity throughout history. In early times, the Christian message was disseminated directly from Jesus and his followers to growing numbers of worshippers in the ancient world. This unmediated form of Christianity, while effective as a method of proselytization due to its immediacy and intimacy, was limited by how far its early disciples could travel to spread the Gospel of Christ. As communication technology developed through a series of paradigm shifts spread over several centuries of human sociocultural development, Christianity capitalized on these shifts in a variety of ways. This fostered significant structural changes to the religion due to steadily increasing levels of technologically rooted mediation over time.
In its most current form, Christianity is mediated through a variety of secular digital media with online capabilities. Media are utilized by increasing numbers of Christian churches throughout America due to their potential as platforms for efficient dissemination and ability to reach large numbers of worshippers with relative ease. As churches integrate secular digital media into their structures, a third space of interconnectivity emerges in which the boundaries between on and offline lived religious practice are bridged; blended; and at times, blurred, depending on the context and level of mediation. This third space that emerges is quantified as a digital religion in which Christianity becomes redefined as a cultural practice and site of collective and individual meaning making.
James F. Puglisi
Several important works on the history and theology of ordination have been published in the English-speaking world, among the most recent of which is one by Dr. Paul F. Bradshaw.1 The questions touching on ministry are absolutely essential for the resolution of questions regarding the unity of the church. The mutual recognition of ministry among communities is fundamental if they are to recognize one another as authentic apostolic churches. Although ministry is not the only question for the apostolicity of the church, it is a fundamental one, given that ordination rituals articulate an effective structuring, as well as an auto-definition, of a church. This fact begs, therefore, an exploration of the theological meaning of the “process of ordination” as a whole, as well as careful consideration of the content of the ritual and prayers. The attempt to recognize theological equilibria, which are articulated through the relation of the lex orandi, lex credendi, and the Trinitarian dimension of the process of access to the ordained ministry, leads to an understanding of the originality of the ordained ministry in the context of a plurality of ministries in a church that is itself fully ministerial. Finally, the importance of ordination resides in the fact that it is a process that represents, in a demonstrative way, the structuring of each church, because the process is not only an ecclesial act but also a confessional, epicletic, and juridical one.
Frank C. Senn
The Reformation era was one of the most fertile times for liturgical revision in the history of Christianity between Late Antiquity and the late 20th century. New theological ideas, based on a study of the Bible and combined with humanist historical and literary scholarship, created dissatisfaction with the received medieval rites. Each of the great reformers undertook the work of liturgical reform, often producing two or more liturgical orders. Important Reformation liturgical work includes the reform proposals of Martin Luther, their implementation in official church orders, the very different approach to liturgy in the orders prepared by Ulrich Zwingli at Zürich, the worship of sectarian groups of Brethren and Anabaptists, the mediating Protestant liturgies that evolved in Strassburg and their influence on John Calvin in Strasbourg (there were German and French congregations in this city that straddled Germany and France; to indicate Bucer’s and Calvin’s liturgies, I use both the German and French spellings of the city) and Geneva, the liturgical changes that occurred in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, the work of the Scottish reformer John Knox among English exiles on the continent during the reign of Queen Mary Tudor and later in Scotland, the compromises of the Elizabethan settlement, the efforts of the Catholic Church to respond both to the Protestant attacks on traditional teachings and practices and to the frustrations of their own clergy with liturgies that had become overburdened with accretions of dubious historical veracity and literary quality and the complications of a cluttered calendar, and two final examples of Reformation liturgy among the New England Puritans and the Westminster Directory in the 17th century. The Reformation was a time of growing divisions between Christian people, especially in practices of public worship. But Protestants and Catholics were also responding in similar ways to cultural challenges that they themselves could not see. In their various ways they were turning away from rituals that concerned the body and toward doctrinal issues that engaged the mind. Reformation worship, both Protestant and Catholic, increasingly focused on informed (i.e., catechized) participation in new rites nurtured by a clear proclamation of the word and administration of the sacraments.
Christian rites for reconciliation and healing are intimately related to one another in that individuals and communities are healed and made whole through divine action In ecclesial rites, this divine response is in cooperation with prayer and ritual that operate within understandings of health and salvation for the whole person, inclusive of spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, and social healing. The historical rites and rituals of the church have undergone tremendous changes throughout history, reflecting differences in what it is that was desired and prayed for, and whether the ritual work was to reincorporate a member back into the church or into health and wholeness. The various ritual processes emerged from the intersection of these theological intentions with scripture and scriptural interpretation, with cultural patterns established or emerging, with geographical availability of physical elements and climate possibilities, and with other religious systems as well as from political and population shifts linked to all of these aspects.
Rites of reconciliation were ritual responses to theological assumptions about the free will of humans, human nature and sin, the love of God, and the authority of the church as the body of Christ to challenge members when their words and actions were counter to the unity of the community and the teaching articulated by the appointed leaders. Rites of healing were ritualized acts of the prayer of faith, imitating one of the primary ministries of Jesus himself in healing people into the fullness of life, proclaiming healing as sign and symbol of the reign of God, and assuring all the members that “the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up” (James 5:14).
Both of these rites, while ritually evolving as theologies and contexts changed, were always concerned with the reconciliation and healing of individuals to themselves, as well as reconciliation and healing in relationship to their communities and to their God. Of these three constituencies—God, community, oneself—one aspect or another would often take precedence in a particular time period, giving a discernable emphasis to the rites in their historical contexts. This tripartite emphasis was met with other factors that shifted historically, such as who may receive these rites, who may administer the rites, and the relationship to the church and to God as perceived by different voices. All of these factors shape the rites of reconciliation and healing over the centuries of Christian practice, contributing to the diverse practices found in Christianity today.
Timothy M. Thibodeau
The liturgy of Western Christendom (c. 1000–1400) was the product of sweeping ecclesio-political and religious reforms that had a broad and lasting impact on the content and performance of the rites of the Latin Church in the later Middle Ages. Beginning with the reforms of monasticism at Cluny and culminating in the reformed papacy in the age of the Investiture Controversy, a sharp division between the clerical order and the laity was imposed on Christian society. This fostered a heightened sense of divine mystery in the liturgical rites (principally, the Mass) that could only be administered by properly ordained clergy, under the authority of the pope. The triumph of the clerical rule of Christendom coincided with more concrete expressions of the real presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements in both formal theology and liturgical practice. The Mass liturgy became the summit and quintessence of liturgical piety in this era, eclipsing other forms of liturgical service and becoming the focal point of sacramental theology. With the construction of monumental new churches in the Gothic style, from the 12th through 14th centuries, liturgical performance (including costly vessels and vestments) achieved levels of ostentation that caused some conflict between ascetically minded reformers (the Cistercians) and the proponents of lavish liturgical spaces (the Cluniacs). A thriving tradition of liturgical exposition or formal commentary on the divine offices worked in tandem with these dramatic architectural and artistic developments in the liturgical spaces of Europe. Despite the new scholastic methods of the universities, allegorical exegesis of the liturgy, following a tradition that began in the 8th century with Amalarius of Metz, continued to predominate in the lengthy treatises of expositors who worked in the peak period of scholastic theology, down to and including William Durandus of Mende (c. 1296). The performative aspects of the liturgy also witnessed major advances with the introduction of polyphonic chant, liturgical drama, and para-liturgical processions (such as the Feast of Corpus Christi).