chapter  18
The sacramental life
Pages 24

A s much as the Parisian masters might argue the finer points of theology, the Christian account of the universe was more than just an abstract intellectual exercise. It was woven into a structured way of life for the church’s members. Through the sacraments and other forms of the liturgy, the major Christian beliefs were re-enacted or even recreated for individuals and groups. Medieval Christianity appealed to the senses as well as to the mind. Water, bread, wine, oil, music, stained glass, statues, incense, candles and distinctive clothing were among the visible features of the medieval Christian church. In modern times, the words ‘ceremony’ and ‘ritual’, particularly when joined with the word ‘mere’, take on a negative connotation. ‘Mere ritual’ is generally regarded as empty and without much connection to reality. But in the medieval world, ritual was central to religion and society. The ceremonialisation of life went far beyond what is ordinary in the twenty-first century. Ceremonies were not just symbolic displays, but were believed to be transformational, that is, they changed persons and things to make them what they had not been before. It was not just good but indispensable that every baby be baptised, that every priest be ordained, that every king be anointed or crowned and that every chalice be consecrated. In short, rituals brought about changes to the essence of things and persons.