Customs and Rituals

What kinds of ritual objects figure in Christian worship and prayer?

In addition to the cross or crucifix Christians use a variety of ritual objects, more commonly in liturgical communities than in non-liturgical ones. The more elaborate the liturgical practice, in general, the more kinds of symbolic and practical implements are required. Most Christian churches have an altar on a raised platform in front of, or in the midst of, the congregation. Exceptions are Pentecostal and similar groups whose primary rituals revolve entirely around preaching, singing, and the ongoing interaction of the leaders with the congregation.

Churches such as the Roman and Anglo-Catholic, most Eastern churches and some Lutheran groups, feature a ritual that includes some reenactment of the Eucharistic prayer. Their ritual leader typically wears vestments and handles the sacred vessels. A large cup called the chalice, traditionally either made of or lined with precious metal, holds the wine (grape juice in some churches). A still larger vessel called the ciborium (Latin for “food container”), kept covered except during the prayers of consecration, holds the altar bread either in the form of small unleavened wafers (called hosts) or leavened cubes that can be dipped into the wine before dispensing to communicants.

Another common implement used in more elaborate liturgies is the thurible or incense burner, a small spherical container with a lighted charcoal for igniting grains of incense, which is swung from a chain in gestures of benediction. Less common but worth mentioning if only because of its artistic beauty is the ostensorium or monstrance, a large ornate device shaped like a spectacular sunburst or a small Gothic cathedral used for displaying the consecrated host during processions or for Western congregational adoration.


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