Catholics use rituals for their worship. These are words and actions conducted according to specific rules. The rules are determined by Church leadership and don't vary much from one place to another. To some people they may seem boring and mechanical. There are very good reasons for doing them.
First, rituals are part of daily life. There are simple acts and phrases that we all use. We don't always recognize them as rituals, but we all do them. For example, when we wake up we usually greet people by saying, "Good morning." Literally this is a wish that the others will "have a happy morning and a favorable rest of the day." We may follow up these words with a friendly action such as a kiss, hug, bow, high-five or handshake. This depends upon local custom and our relationship with the others.
Again, we may start conversations with clichés such as comments on weather, work, school, sports, or anything of common interest. The cliché ritual is simply an icebreaker to enter into a more profound discussion.
Other common rituals are birthday celebrations, holiday observances, sports rallies and even the clothing styles we wear to fit-in with our peers. So, daily rituals help us relate to others. They help us fit-in. They make us comfortable. They help us belong.
Second, rituals are part of human need. If something works, we tend to repeat it. We learn by routine. Animals learn usefull lessons by copying their parents. A young bird learns to fly by watching its mother. Scientists tell us that the earliest humans practiced ritual behaviors for survival. For example, they hunted game according to specific patterns. They made clothing according to memorized patterns. Thye passed on life-skill patterns to their children.
Finally, religious rituals developed quite early in human existence. Early people buried their dead using simple ceremonies. They may not have understood why they did it, but sensed that it was important. The most ancient peoples knew they were part of a world much bigger than their past experiences. Civilization made people aware of a hierarchy in society. They came to believe in an ultimate person. The person was known by many names, but is essentially whom we call "God."
So, rituals make us part of a community. We unite with each other in a shared life. This communal life joins us to God. We don't always have to understand each act or word, just that it is part of belonging.
[Source: St. Paul Roman Catholic Parish Bulletin, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, March 9, 2008]