A ceremony ( UK: // , US: // ) is a unified ritualistic event with a purpose, usually consisting of a number of artistic components, performed on a special occasion.
The word may be of Etruscan origin, via the Latin caerimonia .
According to Dally Messenger and Alain de Botton, in most Western countries the values and ideals articulated in both church and civil ceremonies are generally similar. The difference is in what Messenger calls the "supernatural infrastructure" or de Botton the "implausible supernatural element".
Most churches and religions claim some extra advantage conferred by the deity e.g. Roman Catholics believe that through the words of consecration in the mass ceremony, God himself becomes actually present on the altar.
Both church and civil ceremonies share the powerful psychological, social and cultural influences which all ceremony seeks to attain. Obviously, the style of music played, words used, other components and the structure vary.
As Edward Schillebeeckx writes about the marriage ceremony, there are a surprising number of ancient traditional elements in both church and civil ceremonies in the western world. Key ceremonies date from the pre-Christian Roman and Greek times and their practices have continued through the centuries. For example, from pre-Christian Roman times in the marriage ceremony, we inherit best men and bridesmaids, processions, signing of the contract, exchange of rings and even the wedding cake.
Writer and philosopher Alain De Botton maintains atheists should appropriate many of the useful insights, artistic treasures and symbolism inspired by religion. He argues that the secular world can also learn from the religions the importance of community and continuity.Messenger agrees, and points out that the success of civil celebrants in Australia has been partly due to their espousing of these principles, both in theory and practice, since 1973.
The main impetus to the development of quality civil ceremonies in the Western world was the foresight of the Australian statesman, Senator and High Court Judge, Lionel Murphy. In 1973 in Australia the civil celebrant program entrusted appropriately selected individuals to provide non-church people with ceremonies of substance and dignity. This initiative to a great extent has now been followed by New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and some states of the US.
According to Dally Messenger III secular ceremonies are “roadmap” influences which lead to an acceptable, ethical and dignified life. Ceremonies contribute to the unseen ingredients of psychological stability, a sense of identity, reassurances of life's purposes, and the personal sense of self worth. The mysterious cultural power of quality ceremonies lead our society along an honourable and ethical path. Lionel Murphy considered that personal genuine ceremonies were central to a civilised, stable and happy society. Here he echoed the conviction of the renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell who had maintained the strongly asserted generality that the level of civilised behaviour in a society is directly linked to the practice of ceremonies and rites of passage.
Ceremonies are the time and place setting wherein people communicate seriously. For example, in front of witnesses the groom tells the bride that he loves her and wants to be with her for the rest of his life. Such a statement has much more force than if said privately.
It is in the ceremony that groups of people come together. It is in the ceremony that they make compacts, recognise achievement, assert identity, establish connections, declare love, pay tribute, express grief.
In addition Messenger makes the following observations:
To be powerful and effective, such ceremonies, in the view of all the scholars in the field, : 3 had to have impact. This occurred when the ceremony was framed by the visual and performing arts. Great care had to be taken in creating and choosing the poetry, prose, stories, personal journeys, myths, silences, dance, music and song, shared meditations, choreography and symbolism which comprised a ceremony. To reinforce the psychological and cultural power of ceremony it should be enacted, as far as possible, in a beautiful interior and exterior place. Beauty is the essential core of ceremony, having always been part of “raising the spirit” and embedding the good in the memory. : 3–8
Ceremonies, as they always had been, are historically the bridge between the visual and performing arts and the people. Murphy and his followers, and international practitioners such as David Oldfield of Washington DC understand that ceremonies are core expressions of the culture. Done well, they can assist in major decision-making, bring emotional security, strengthen bonds between people, and communicate a sense of contentment. To quote David Oldfield
Rituals and ceremonies are an essential and basic means
for human beings to give themselves and others
the necessary messages
which enable the individual to stay human.
They communicate acceptance,
love, a sense of identity, esteem,
shared values and beliefs
and shared memorable events.
Every ritual contains tender and sacred moments.
And in those moments of sensitivity
We are taken out of the normal flow of life,
And out of our routines.
We are then in an event
that is irreplaceable and sacred.
In ritual we participate in
something deep and significant.
They are moments which move our heart
And touch our spirit.
Lionel Murphy also knew that the superficial, the unaware, were not the right persons to bring this about. The civil celebrant needs to have a rich skill-set and knowledge base. Murphy is on the record as asserting that the civil celebrant needed to have a “feel” for ceremony and be professional, knowledgeable, educated, creative, imaginative, inspired, well presented, idealistic, and well practised.
The civil celebrant should be a person inspired to improve lives at a deep and lasting level. For this reason they must be carefully chosen. The ideal is that they be educated in the humanities and trained to expertly co-create, creatively write and perform ceremonies. : 16ff
The funeral ritual, too, is a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved. Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.
Naming Ceremonies existed in human culture long before Christianity or any of the major religions came on the scene. Every community has a ceremony to welcome a new child into the world, to give that child recognition, and to celebrate the birth of new life.
Other, society-wide ceremonies may mark annual or seasonal or recurrent events such as:
Other ceremonies underscore the importance of non-regular special occasions, such as:
In some Asian cultures, ceremonies also play an important social role, for example the tea ceremony.
Ceremonies may have a physical display or theatrical component: dance, a procession, the laying on of hands. A declaratory verbal pronouncement may explain or cap the occasion, for instance:
Both physical and verbal components of a ceremony may become part of a liturgy.
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A funeral is a ceremony connected with the final disposition of a corpse, such as a burial or cremation, with the attendant observances. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember and respect the dead, from interment, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. Customs vary between cultures and religious groups. Funerals have both normative and legal components. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved; additionally, funerals may have religious aspects that are intended to help the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife, resurrection or reincarnation.
Secular humanism, often simply called humanism, is a philosophy, belief system or life stance that embraces human reason, secular ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.
Religious humanism is an integration of humanist ethical philosophy with congregational rites and community activity which center on human needs, interests, and abilities. Self-described religious humanists differ from secular humanists mainly in that they regard the humanist life stance as their religion and organise using a congregational model. Religious humanism is sometimes referred to as nontheistic religion or christian humanism.
A rite of passage is a ceremony or ritual of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. In cultural anthropology the term is the Anglicisation of rite de passage, a French term innovated by the ethnographer Arnold van Gennep in his work Les rites de passage, The Rites of Passage. The term is now fully adopted into anthropology as well as into the literature and popular cultures of many modern languages.
Humanistic Judaism is a Jewish movement that offers a nontheistic alternative to contemporary branches of Judaism. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people rather than a religion, and encourages Jews who are humanistic and secular to celebrate their identity by participating in relevant holidays and rites of passage with inspirational ceremonies that go beyond traditional literature while still drawing upon it.
Humanist Society Scotland is a Scottish registered charity that promotes humanist views and offers Humanist ceremonies. It is a member of the European Humanist Federation and Humanists International.
An officiant is someone who officiates at a service or ceremony, such as marriage, burial, or namegiving/baptism.
The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association is a humanist lifestance organization in Iceland, that promotes secularism, offers celebrancy services and contributes to the spreading of humanism in Iceland and abroad. It is a member of the European Humanist Federation and Humanists International.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to humanism:
In Australia, celebrants are people who conduct formal ceremonies in the community, particularly weddings, which are the main ceremony of legal import conducted by celebrants and for this reason often referred to as marriage celebrants. They may also conduct extra-legal ceremonies such as naming of babies, renewal of wedding vows, funerals, divorce, becoming a teenager, changing name, significant birthday, retirement, and other life milestones. Officiating at a marriage requires that the celebrant be an authorised marriage celebrant under Australian law, or the law where the marriage takes place, but officiating at non-legal ceremonies does not.
A marriage officiant is a person who officiates at a wedding ceremony.
A humanist celebrant or humanist officiant is a person who performs humanist celebrancy services, such as non-religious weddings, funerals, child namings, coming of age ceremonies and other rituals. Some humanist celebrants are accredited by humanist organisations, such as Humanists UK, Humanist Society Scotland (HSS), The Humanist Society (US), and the Humanist Association of Canada (HAC).
Celebrancy is a profession founded in Australia in 1973 by the then Australian attorney-general Lionel Murphy. The aim of the celebrancy program was to authorise persons to officiate at secular ceremonies of substance, meaning and dignity mainly for non-church people. Up until this point legal marriages were reserved only to clergy or officers of the Births, Deaths & Marriages registry office. These appointed persons, referred to in the Marriage Act of Australia as "authorised celebrants", create & conduct weddings, funerals, namings, house dedications, coming of age and other life ceremonies for those who do not wish to be married or have other ceremonies in a church or registry office.
Secular coming-of-age ceremonies, sometimes called civil confirmations, are ceremonies arranged by organizations that are secular, i.e., not aligned to any religion. Their purpose is to prepare adolescents for their life as adults. Secular coming of age ceremonies originated in the 19th century, when non-religious people wanted a rite of passage comparable to the Christian Confirmation. Nowadays, non-religious coming-of-age ceremonies are organized in several European countries.
In Belgium, organized secularism is the local associations and organizations which provide moral support for naturalist, atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, freethinking, Bright, or irreligious and non-confessional citizens. A person who subscribes to such entities or ideologies, or at least espouses an interest in "free inquiry" apart from religious traditions is described as a "secular" or "free-thinker".
The Birmingham Humanist Group was formed on 23 May 1962 at the Arden Hotel, New Street, Birmingham, England, at a meeting convened by Dr Anthony Brierley. It changed its name to Birmingham Humanists in 2000 and voted to become a Partner Group of the BHA, which changed its name to Humanists UK in 2017. It holds most of its meetings at the rooms of the Community Development trust in Moseley, Birmingham.
Dally Messenger III is a civil celebrant, author, publisher, commentator, and a founder and chronicler of the civil celebrant movement which originated in Australia. He is the grandson of the rugby union and rugby league footballer Dally Messenger, aka Herbert Henry "Dally" Messenger, whose nickname "Dally" has become his grandson's given name.
A civil funeral celebrant is a person who officiates at funerals which are not closely connected with religious beliefs and practises. They are analogous to civil celebrants for marriage ceremonies. Civil celebrant funerals began in Australia in 1975. As secular (civil) wedding ceremonies became accepted, first in Australia and then in other Western countries, a similar process for funerals has since been established in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Civil funeral celebrants are often also civil marriage ceremony celebrants.
Remi Barclay Messenger, aka Remi Barclay & Remi Barclay Bosseau (b.1946) was a founding member of three prominent professional theatre companies in the New York City area – The Performance Group (l967–70), with Richard Schechner, Whole Theatre (1971–1990) and Voices of Earth (1988–2000), the latter two with Olympia Dukakis as a co-director. Her theatre work included years of acting, directing and teaching as well as creating workshops for a wide spectrum of institutions, schools and universities.