Ritualism, the science of the rites embodied in a ritual or book of rites. The term is popularly, though inaccurately, applied to a movement in churches of the Anglican communion, the three successive periods of which have been called by its opponents "Puseyism," "Tractarianism," and "Ritualism;" but its adherents assert it to be a catholic revival. The principles of ritualism as described by the latter are three. They say, in the first place, that it rests on the declaration set forth in 1571 by the same convocation of Canterbury which first required subscription to the thirty-nine articles: "that preachers should in the first place be careful never to teach anything from the pulpit, to be religiously held and believed by the people, but what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and collected out of that very doctrine by the catholic fathers and ancient bishops." This is held to establish the doctrinal identity of the church of England with the primitive church, and has led to elaborate commentaries by ritualistic writers on Holy Scripture, and to the reproduction of patristic teaching on all leading points of faith and practice.
The apostolic episcopate and sacramental grace are specially insisted on; baptismal regeneration is strenuously asserted; and the holy eucharist has been made the central object of teaching and the highest act of worship. The frequency as well as the splendor of eucharistic celebrations has steadily increased, and a fasting reception has been encouraged by early celebrations. The real presence of Christ in that sacrament - a presence spiritual as opposed to carnal, objective as opposed to the idea that it is only in the heart of the believer, and supralocal as opposed to the notion that it is contained within and limited to the species of bread and wine - has been incessantly advocated, until eucharistic adoration is now openly taught and practised. The voluntary use of private confession and absolution, as a preparation for the reception of the holy communion, has also made considerable progress. The second great principle of the ritualists is thus stated in the 30th canon of the English church: "So far was it from the purpose of the church of England to forsake and reject the churches of Italy, France, Spain, Germany, or any such like churches, in all things which they held and practised, that, as the apology of the church of England con-fesseth, it doth with reverence retain those ceremonies which do neither endamage the church of God nor offend the minds of sober men; and only departed from them in those particular points wherein they were fallen both from themselves in their ancient integrity, and from the apostolical churches which were their first founders." This principle, it is alleged, establishes the fraternal readiness of the church of England for visible reunion with other branches of the apostolic church.
The ritualists assert, therefore, that they are willing to do any and everything lawful to approximate toward the continental churches, from which the Anglican communion is now severed. The third fundamental principle of ritualism is found in the ornaments rubric, which has stood in the English prayer book, almost unaltered, from the beginning of the English reformation: "The chancels shall remain as they have done in times past. And here it is to be noted, that such ornaments of the church and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained and be in use as were in this church of England, by the authority of parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth." By this law, it is thought, the chancels as well as the vestments and "ornaments of the church and of the ministers thereof" should be precisely the same now as they were before the reformation, no change in them having been made in the second year of Edward. In the case of Liddell v. Wester-ton, the judicial committee of the privy council interpreted the law to refer to the rubrics of Edward the Sixth's first book, which did not come into use till Whitsunday in the third year of his reign.
That rubric, in the "Order for administering the Supper of the Lord and the Holy Communion, commonly called the Mass," reads as follows: "Upon the day and at the time appointed for the ministration of the holy communion, the priest that shall execute the holy ministry shall put upon him the vesture appointed for that ministration, that is to say, a white albe plain, with a vestment or cope. And where there be many priests or deacons, there so many shall be ready to help the priest in the ministration as shall be requisite; and shall have upon them likewise the vestures appointed for their ministry, that is to say, albes with tunicles." A further rubric of the same book orders: "Whensoever the bishop shall celebrate the holy communion, or execute any other public office, he shall have upon him, besides his rochet, an albe and cope or vestment, and also his pastoral staff in his hand, or else borne by his chaplain." As, in the opinion of ritualists, the three leading principles of the so-called catholic revival thus bind together the present church of England with the primitive, the mediaeval, and the continental churches, they profess to give prominence to everything which helps to make this union real, without violating their clear obligations as members of the church of England. There are six chief points depending more or less closely on the principles laid down: 1, the eastward position of the celebrant in the sacrament of the holy communion, with his back to the people; 2, the eucharistic vestments; 3, lights burning at the time of the celebration; 4, incense; 5, the mixed chalice, a little water being added to the wine; 6, unleavened (or wafer) bread.
The opponents of these usages have attempted to proscribe them through prosecutions in the English ecclesiastical courts. In the case of Liddell v. Westerton (1867), it was decided "that the same dresses and the same utensils, or articles, which were used under the first prayer book of Edward the Sixth, may still be used;" which left the ritualists in possession of the field. Suits were subsequently instituted against Mr. Mac-konochie (1868) and Mr. Purchas (1870), the latter of which was not defended. All the six above mentioned usages and some others were condemned by the highest court of appeal. The advocates of ritualism protested against the decision, which in their view impaired the authority of the court, and parliament has since provided for the establishing of a different tribunal for the hearing of ecclesiastical appeals. One decision, condemning the eastward position, was protested against in writing by about 5,000 of the clergy of the established church. Of more importance than these cases was that of the Rev. W. J. E. Bennett, vicar of Frome, who published a sermon in which he taught "the real and actual presence of our Lord, under the form of bread and wine, upon the altars of our churches." He stated "the three great doctrines on which the Catholic church has to take her stand" to be: "1, the real objective presence of our blessed Lord in the eucharist; 2, the sacrifice offered by the priest; 3, the adoration due to the presence of our blessed Lord therein;" adding: "I am one of those who burn lighted candles at the altar in the daytime; who use incense at the holy sacrifice; who use the eucharistic vestments; who elevate the blessed sacrament; who myself adore, and teach the people to adore, Christ present in the sacrament, under the form of bread and wine; believing that under their veil is the sacred body and blood of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." The court of arches, through Sir Robert Phillimore (who said that if he pronounced otherwise he "should be passing sentence, in his opinion, upon a long roll of illustrious divines"), having decided in Mr. Bennett's favor, his prosecutors appealed to the judicial committee of the privy council (1872), which, although manifesting a strong animus against Mr. Bennett and Sir Robert Phillimore, dismissed the appeal.
Encouraged by this doctrinal victory, the English ritualists have announced their determination to persevere until they have recovered what they consider their rightful heritage as a true branch of the Catholic church, in accordance with the professed principles, canons, and rubrics of the reformed church of England, as illustrated by the facts of her history. While devoting close study to holy writ, they have investigated the questions of liturgies and ritual in all ages of the church, especially the reformation era, have taken the lead in hymnology, and have produced many manuals and catechisms for the promotion of personal devotion. They have encouraged the revival of religious orders, mainly for works of charity; and there are many communities of women who under their rule have devoted themselves to life-long labor in hospitals and similar institutions, for the love of God and their neighbor. An evangelist brotherhood of preachers has also been formed, who devote themselves to the holding of missions in cities and towns. In this country there is more or less of sympathy with the English ritualistic movement, but with much less development of detail.
The attempts made in the general conventions of 1868, 1871, and 1874 to legislate against various usages regarded as ritualistic, were all defeated. In 1874 a general canon was passed (by many considered to be unconstitutional), which was regarded as a nearly unanimous expression of opinion unfavorable to ritualistic extremes; but no occasion has arisen in any diocese for putting it in force.