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Roman Republic: Res publica Romana • View topic - Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

This message board is dedicated to the ancient Roman Religion, the Cultus Deorum Romanorum. Here both historical practices and the living modern tradition is to be celebrated and discussed. The members of the Collegium Pontiificum and Collegium Augurum host this board as moderators and are happy to answer questions.

Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Gaius Florius Aetius » Sat May 28, 2016 5:07 am

Here in Germany we have the expression of "assbomb". That is someone who jumps into a simming pool ass first to make as much a big of a splash as possible. Somehow I can not shake the feeling my entry here might look like that, since you all are so esteemed and well versed Gentlepeople, and I am just green in these matters.

I came here as a noob to this respectful group. I am aware a lot of you have background, or so I hear in this Nova Roma or whatever. And I frankly tell you all: I know nothing about all that. So what I ask and say, comes from an entirely different way of life, so please have some patience while I try to elaborate.


I think of myself as a natural priest personality. My ancestor was a Priest during the life of Martin Luther, a friend of him and one of the first to convert, many in my family were Lutheran priests, and I became Asatru Priest at the tender age of 17, two years after becoming Asatru. (I am, for the record 45 now.) In the long years being Asatru, I held many festivals, a number of marriages, some child namings and two funerals too. So I can say I am experienced in the practical side. I led many a group of all sorts (Boy Scouts, Online Guilds), and I worked as Councilor for some time. So my experience is human interaction and organization. That is what I have to offer. The downside is: until recently I knew zilch about the Roman Religion.

That is a weird thing, given I am a Historian and Rome was one of my main topics, but the Roman Religion was just totally off my interest back then. I say all that not to brag, but to put into perspective, when I write my ideas and impressions: they come from years of practical experience with people.


Now when I quickly scan over the material here, and I read the books from some "L. Vitellius Triarius" (Religio Romana Handbook and some other book in green), I am impressed how much material there is. On the other hand, forgive me when I speak so plain (I am German, we are like that outspoken ^^), it all looks a bit formal and...dull. Now don't get this the wrong tube. But from the outside it looks like a group of people who know each other a very long time and who are quite used to formalities they established. And as a historian I know full well that the Romans were formal in their practice of the rites to the point which Mr Freud would call "anal". A miniature misspelling would have been a bad omen, and they would start it all over. I remember that from the lessons.

Now my view on what a Priest is supposed to be is less a Catholic one, and more a Protestant one, if I may take this comparision. A Catholic views himself as a servant of God alone. A Protestant however sees himself a an intermediate, someone serving God and men ALIKE, and while I am Pagan, this is a view that always has been more appealing to how I define my own Priesthood. And there is another thing I value from the Protestant idea over the Catholic. Now the Catholics are all centralized, one center defining all and the rest are mere servants to do as the Canon tells, whereas in the Protestant movement, beyond some basics, each Parish has it's own way, it's own independence in things, and I too found the latter more appealing. They are more a network, so people in the region have influence how things are down, within limits, and I think people today find that more appealing. Esp. in "Pagan" circles.



So let us take a look at humans first and leave the Gods outside just for a small moment. In what times do we live? What sort of mindset do people have today? And the reality, my friends, is, that people today are, I must say this as clear as I see it, VASTLY different in mindset from the people in Antiquity. Even if Roman city dwellers feel close to us, and relatively to some German tribesmen, of course a Roman city person is relatively closer to us, but by and large, the mundane as well as the spiritual view of modern man is fundamentally different. That is by and large also my main critique versus people who try to recreate a Roman Religion "as it was". Now mind you, I have the deepest respect towards that, and I too strife to be as authentic as possible, otherwise we just create a fantasy religion. But the saying to "be authentic" for me is more something of a PR thing. OF COURSE any religion says that. Islam says, they were the original religion, and the people just forgot. Wicca said, they were the continuation of the "Old Way". And we all know both is a load of hogwash, but it is what a Religion has to do. It has to say "we are the original". For some reason Religion seems to demand that, so I can play along to the outside. That must sound quite a bit a Machiavellian view, but then all good Priests also have been good showmen, and that's not disrespectful, after all, a Ceremony should be something people enjoy, something that evoke feelings and raises people above the mundane everyday life, for THEN they are truly connected to the Gods and the Community.

But here on the inside, when we form something that fell out of practice 1600 years ago, we can't just pick it up where it was dropped. People have no Empire, no officials, nothing the Roman state had. But above that, the Pagans of old, they took their customs as "always existed traditions"; they did not need explanations or justifications, they took Religion face value. But now, we are having 1800 years Christian doctrines and about 400 years rise of individualism and what is called "modern thinking". Just as a man of 50 can not look at love with the same honest naivety, so we can not look at the Gods with the mindset of the people 2000 years ago. We are not them. That is a bit of a heresy I assume, but I always felt, people had to be honest with themselves if a "Spiritual Movement" in any sort would want to succeed, and ask: who are the people today we have to deal with?



In the years I was Priest, I always held three things in mind, which In find important in creating a cult practice which people like to join: Let them participate, be diverse and don't dominate the talk.

Let me start with the latter. For centuries the Churches dominated religion like this: In the front some dude would stand and monopolize the conversation. One priest speaks and the rest listens. And trust me, the vast majority of modern people these days are not really fond of this "frontal religion". At least not the majority of people who seek a "Pagan" religion. So a ritual should IMO, not have too much endless talk from one Priest person, but involve other people. Think of the singing you see in Churches. Or think how in some Churches every member is Priest now and then. Now I know this is a bit of a problem, because the Romans were VERY strict with many aspects of their Priests. So when I suggest as more... egalitarian idea, it may spell "evil heresy" in capital letters to some. But I think, while there should be Priests organizing the stuff, I do not think we should have such a sharp, formulaic division between "laymen" and "clergy" as in the Catholic Church. I guess the percentage of people who find listening to someone for hours, and sitting in silence attractive is quite microscopic. The authority of a modern Priest comes less from the title and rules, but from the personal charisma, what he has to say BESIDE the recited formula. The council he gives, the person he is. That is vividly important.

Which leads to Participation. During my ceremonies, I always found stuff to DO and less to just TALK. For instance, at the end of the year, Yule, I let people weave small chains of wool, where they said all the things that bound them in the Old Year and they wanted to leave behind, then each said what he wanted to leave behind and tossed the wool chain into the fire. "I give my anxiety to the old year" or whatever it was. That is what I mean by doing stuff. Let people DO things in a ceremony, not just sit and listen to some guy reading text from a paper. Trust me from 28 years of experience: nobody truly likes that, beside the guy reading. ;)

Finally Diversity. Sorry being no native English person, I know no better words. I means, that Rituals/Holidays/Feasts have to be individual and vivid to all the 5 senses. Don't be too formulaic. That is where the Protestants suck. Each festival is the same. Some dude talks. People sing. The end. Now look at a Catholic holiday! There are flowers and figures and water and hosties and incense and whatnot! Be rich! Be colourful! But most important, have stuff that distinguishses the Holidays, so people have stuff which feels specific, stuff people enjoy. Like hanging socks over the Chimney at Christmas and seeking hidden eggs at Easter. That is specific and differs the various holidays. Like gathering water and sprinkling house and hearth at Fontinalia, like gathering/buying flowers and decorating stuff at Floralia asf. So people have something tangible and unique for each feast, which they connect with, and a festival or holiday is not all the same formulaic pattern.


If I may add one final thought: Trying to learn the CD I read about the many holidays the Romans had, and IMVPO we really need to make a list of 8 - 10 "High Festivals". There is a simple reason for that. Holidays in the sense of being Holy Days, need to be rare enough in the year that they function as sorting the time, like something rare enough to enjoy looking forward to. If people have 150 festivals each year, each of indiscriminate significance, it becomes a chore and nothing to look forward to with excitement, nothing that sort of parts the cycle of the year in any meaningful way. Ideal are 8, but no more than 10, I'd say. And these 8-10 should ideally cover different aspects of life: love, harvest, war, order, liberty... you know, the basic concepts of life. I am sure we can find Festivals which were important in Rome and which cover such basic ideas. I know it sounds a bit like a basic Theology, and it is, but then: modern people do interprete. We are trained to seek the "meaning behind" and the "meaning in the greater context". That is how we function. We do not look at religion as some face value "has always been so" thing. So while it is good and nice to have ritual text patterns which speak to the Gods, a Priest should also speak to the people. If we have the Mars Invictus festival, speak of the idea. What stands Mars for? What is the meaning of war, of struggle in life? What perspectives do we have on these things? On virility? Learn to speak free about such things to people coming to your Ceremony and it will be memorable and people will return, because you open your heart and speak. Not only to the Gods, but to the people. That doesn't mean to convert people to ideas, because we have no theological codex of what is "the finite truth", but that doesn't mean a Priest can not function as a sorf of Sage or Elder who uses the Cult to make people think about perspectives. Not like a top-down Master educating kids, but like an "Elder Brother" sharing his view with his Equals, for all people today have opinions and views. We are never in the position of "Overlords" berating the "foolish masses", we are as Priests servants of the people as much as servants of the Gods.



Now I am very sorry of that came off all high and mighty me being full of myself. Now if you guys all rise and say, Aetuis what you say is nice and dandy, but we do this all for years as we do, so shut the heck up then I'll shut the heck up and accept to be a laymen and congregate with you for friendship's sake as well as to keep in touch. But as someone who in my not so modest view is an experienced Priest, this is my 5 cents about the whole matter. Take it as a discussion base, just as inspiration from my weird walk of life.

Vale.
G.F. Aetius

PS: Sorry for typos, I always had difficulties to focus on text on monitors, I am more one of these old fashioned paper guys. ;)
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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Lucius Vitellius Triarius » Sat May 28, 2016 8:07 am

Ave Aetius!

First, welcome to the Res publica.

Second, this is exactly the kind of discussion that is needed here, IMO. The religio Romana is in a very early stage of redevelopment. There is an interest here in keeping with the old traditions, but reconstructing them into something that is compatible with the modern age. You make some very good and interesting points that should be seriously looked at and considered by all cultores as we continue down this path. I have read your post 5 times, and will probably read it another 50 times to absorb and ponder on it. It is a great and valued contribution to the efforts underway here. Keep relaying your thoughts. I like a guy who can speak his mind and speaks what he thinks...very Roman!

Optime valete,
L. Vitellius Triarius

P.S. Yes, I also agree. The book is a bit stiff and dull in places. Some others here feel the same way. What can I say...I'm a traditionalist, LOL! But hey, I'm always open to new ideas and practices that will improve the cultus deorum Romanum.
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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Gaius Florius Aetius » Sat May 28, 2016 9:33 am

Salve L. Vitellius Triarius.

Oh boy, you're the author! Ok, let me say I respect your work a LOT. I read your "red and green book" and both enjoyed them and learned a lot, and I think we really need more groundbreaking work like yours. I really didn't mean to offend you. The mass of work alone is stunning! And for me, I am a practitioner of all sorts of things for 30 years, so for me it is so difficult to imagine how overwhelmed a New person must be. I am in several Pagan forums, and ever so often new people ask stuff like "how do I pray to X?" And for me it is so difficult to step back and wonder how it might be. As such, your books do a great job guiding people to it. I am sure those books you wrote will be milestones in our development in modern time! And I am no person to flatter, so I mean it.

I have your books at my bedside and desk along with Confucian literature which I try to deepen my knowledge of. :) So you are I think in good company.


I am a bit that cowboy, with a Mark Twain-ish tone in my writing (and speaking^^), so don't mind if I sometimes speak with tongue in cheek. ;)


My way had led me through so many different things, that I tend to take in stuff, where others say "oh that is not original." I had started a "Workbook of Roman Religion", which was more focussed on leading the single practitioner, and I wanted to write down what ideas I would come up with. But alas, I am not as disciplined and hard working as you, heh. I firmly believe Paganism in general and RR in particular has so much to offer, esp to modern people, since it is a "City Religion" unlike the many more rural Paganisms, and it has a good "hearth aspect". As artist of sorts (maker of paintings, fashion, music) I would want ceremonies to be vivid for the senses. Something people feel strong afterwards.

So on the one hand I was so afraid to write before such an experienced audience as this! I really want to learn about historical things more, but I would really love to see our movement get some momentum, too and not be content with the status quo. I believe if we can make it attractive so people love it, there is a good potential to have our way flourish again. And I am sure the Gods would love that too. ^^

And thanks. Praise from a Veteran of the movement means a hell lot to me. :)
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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Marcus Grattius Frenzius » Sat May 28, 2016 8:15 pm

This is precisely why ritual needs to be addressed in context of its given holiday. Each day provided its own sacred actions which were mad sacred by their performance during sacrificial ritual. And yes, even Ancient Rome allowed participants to partake of ritual actions by joining the pompa, conducting a procession, bathing the deity, performing as a choir, bringing forth their own offerings, partaking of the primary sacrifice by extending the hand out, etc. Look at the Lupercalia where the sacrifice is of a dog and a goat, but you have the running of the Luperci, the ritual whipping, etc. A Roman ritual is more than burning incense and pouring libations in a sequence and that is what I've seen so much of and most notably of Nova Roma after my teacher Piscinus left the organization. The sacrifice is certainly the central rite of Roman religion, but it's what else goes on in the context of the sacrifice which is also important. If you look to Roman Catholic ritual, the sacrifice of the mass is a re-enactment of the canon, it is a literal sacrifice in that moment in recognition of the original sacrifice, and it is the spiritual means by which Roman Catholics become saved. So far, I've seen most cultores utilizing the first two quite well. It's the last piece that I struggle to bring to light for others.
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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Gaius Curtius Philo » Sat May 28, 2016 10:22 pm

First of all, salve Aeti!

Seriously, I loved your text lol It is very refreshing to wake up one day to that wall of text that actually means something! I read it with much interest and, like Triarius, will end up reading it many more times later on.

In all sincerity, we have a lot of experienced cultores here (like Triarius, Brutus, Gratidius, Philo, etc), but from what I felt in this community, we "noobs" are not looked down upon nor are we ignored when we have questions and criticism. On the contrary, as you can see, the community is very receptive and wants to be more then it is. This Republic is like a child waiting to grow and it doesn't care if it has to eat some bad tasting vegetables if that means it'll grow strong! lol

I agree entirely on what you said, and I truly believe that that is the way the Cultus will be drawn in this Republic. As Gratidius rightly said, the CD is a dynamic religion even though it is formulaic. Its formality cannot blind us to the activeness or participativeness of their rites. His example was perfect. In the Lupercalia people got WHIPED by two naked blokes running around the city lol It can be crazy sometimes. And sincerely I think that's the way we need to go (well, maybe without the Being Naked part, because that can wierd some people out lol). We need to truly dip into the individual rites of the Gods and look for what made each one unique and emphasis each sacred moment and celebrate it in its uniqueness. And the idea of focusing on certain rites for more public and community-oriented display is truly wise. Your reasoning is very good and shows that you have a lot of experience dealing with people.

Regarding talking about the Gods, I like how you emphasised that it would be done as equals. Because believe it or not that translates very well with roman thought. The CD is an Orthoprax religion, not an Orthodox religion. That means that theological and philosophical views of the divine are exlusively of a personal nature. The emphasis is not on that, but on the carrying of the rite in a particular and consistent manner. That is a very freeing thing, because it means that it is very hard to consider something roman "heresy". Your particular view of hte divine is yours and you have all the right in the world ot think of it that way. And it would be very good that priests in gatherings started discussion groups about the gods and talked about these things, in a very unimposing manner, in which everyone can share and learn with each other. That is in the spirit of the CD.

And regarding centralized priesthoods: In truth, in ancient Rome, anyone could be a priest lol All he had to do was say so. Every head of a family was the priest of his family. And anyone could make a temple and become its priest. The modern Sacerdotes of the RR are not to be actually imposers of only one order, but they are to be individuals that will be taught by the Collegium Pontificum and who have assumed a duty to serve the Republic as priests and to serve the community in the same manner, teaching about their designated god or gods and doing their rites in the name of the Republic. It is not to be a prison, but a school and a vote of confidence.

All in all, I'm eager to hear more from you and I hope the experienced cultores hear what you have to say!

Vale,
C. Atius Victor
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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Lucius Vitellius Triarius » Sun May 29, 2016 4:00 am

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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Sun May 29, 2016 12:16 pm

Salvete!

If we like it or not, this is how the Cultus Deorum actually was - formalized and boring just like the Catholic Church. It is called "Roman Catholic", because it represents exactly this Roman mentality. The Roman culture lives on in the Roman Catholic Church.

The more I look into the history of the 4th century, the more I get the impression that the transition from the Cultus Deorum to the Catholic/Orthodox Church was rather smooth. The Catholic liturgy has much in common with the Roman one. They only replaced Iuppiter Optimus Maximus (or Sol Invictus, who was quite popular at the end) with the Jewish god and the rest of the pantheon with the Catholic saints. The Romans could just continue with their cultus as they used to do. And if they wanted, they could personally interpret Jesus as Sol Invictus. Both had their sacred day on Sunday and their birthday on December 25.

The sacra publica of classic Rome fulfilled simply the same function as the Roman Catholic Church for the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages. It maintained the cultural unity of the Empire. It conducted the rituals and ceremonies of the public life - name giving, marriage, funeral, coronation of the Emperor etc. In the East it was the Orthodox Church that had this function for the Byzantine Empire and after its fall Russia.

This sacra publica is of course not very attractive from a religious point of view. But for the really religious aspects there was the sacra privata.
I think this part of the religio should not be underestimated. It was probably the real religion of Rome. And it was a private issue. It was conducted in many different ways in every household. It allowed a great tolerance. But with all the differences of the sacra privata, the Roman people were still united by their common respect for the sacra publica. This is something even our modern society can learn from. Diverse and tolerant on the one side, but united on the other.

Valete!
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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Gaius Florius Aetius » Sun May 29, 2016 1:31 pm

C. Florius Lupus, I understand of course what you mean. Naturally any form of religious cult always has a base level of formality to it's ceremonies and rituals. We are Romans, not Chaos Mages. So of course you are right.

However we are the heirs of the Romans, not their slaves. If you study the history of the Catholic church to expound on that particular example, the Church and it's doctrines and rituals changed *considerably* over time. The "funny" thing is, they just hid that very well, and pretend that things they do "have always been so", when they just didn't. Like the Pope being called infaillable in religious matters, which today is by a wide public SEEN as one of the defining elements of the Catholics, when in reality is just from 1870. Or the idea that the clergy has to be unmarried, whereas way into the Middle Ages a lot of the clerics actually had their own families, some even all the way down to the Renaissence. We have that saying in German to be "more Papal than the Pope", and I think that is something we need to take heed. A part of the "magic" of religion has always, in Paganism and in Monotheism, been the case to "pretend" to do things as they "always have been". If we look at the historical fact, we know that it is just not so.

Tradition is always something living, growing, changing, it isn't a dead body like a Mummy which you can converse and sort of freeze in time. Take, again, the Catholic Church. They have the greatest problems in Europe now, because their inflexibility appeals less and less modern people. And somehow I do not think a great number of people we can appeal as Pagan Movement in general are such kind of "old fashioned" people who actually want to visit a Ceremony the way you visit a Church as in "sitting 2 hours and listen to one guy talking".

So the dilemma, if we may call it that is, to achieve a healthy balance between being as authentic as we can, and as open and progressive as our modern times require. We can not toss the traditions out of the window, of course, but if we take tradition as a chain, we would confine us to a relatively small audience. Now I respect when someone says, that's what I want, I want the "orthodox original faith" as it was at the day of Cicero and Caesar and thats the end of it. In the end, believing in Democracy, I just try to argue for a more... flexible approach, more taking in people to acitivty and less of a "frontal preaching" approach, and then leave the decision to the "vote", generally speaking.

If you travel the Catholic areas of Europe, France, Italy, Spain asf. which had been Roman, you see what a vivid and "pagan" form of religion the people have; how much it is colourful and personal. Now sure, we have the Sacra Privata. But the simple factoid reality is, I would guess 90% of all CD followers today are single practictioners. So instead of just saying "do what you want in private and do what you are told in public cult", why not try to intersect the spheres a bit? What I find inspirational is the idea of a Cultus Deorum starting as a Network more from down to up, and less as a decreed "Church" from up to down, for the simple reason that it attracts modern people much more likely. The way I see it, our task would be to write a book or two, and give that as suggestion, as a set of tools, of practices to do, stuff which is pleasing to do, not just feels like a "duty" to fulfill. So the reality is the vast majority of practice WILL be the Sacra Privata for any long time.

Look, I just do not think you can create a living religion from top down. It took the Church centuries to find even remotely the form we know. It wasnt before the Council of Nikäa in 325 until "a Church" even began to exist, and from there it took century of often harsh infighting and backstabbing until some authority was established. I mean, yes you can form a Senate and announce a High Priest and whatnot and then these handful of people can say "we have the authority". But let's be honest. That is just not the way it works. People in Antiquity had the authority. We don't. Because we know modern people are not functioning like that. I mean, I don't mind that such offices are formed. But we can not presume they will have even remotely the authority to decide a finite view that others would feel bound to. THEIR authority of old came from the office, from the Nation they formed. Any authority today only would come from the personal charisma of the Priest. Just saying "do it that way because it was written so by Cicero" would in itself not move a whole lot of people. We need to offer some "extra" on top of that. Something that appeals to people. We are just making baby steps, so it doesn't really make sense to plan for our doctor grade already. I say, let things grow. Encourage local groups to form, give them leniency and SUGGESTIONS, not orders. Take Wicca as inspiration how you can spread a Religion in our modern age: They have a clear line of initation. You can only call yourself Priest, if you got the "title" from the lineage, and there is a certain set of basic ideas what belongs and what does not belong into it, but beyond that the local "Covens" are encourage to form their own specifics. I have the strong impression in our modern, individualized society that is the only way to actually have success. That is what I meant when I wrote, we are not the Romans of Old. If our elected Priests get authority, they have to earn it. We are the Roman Republic I think for good reasons, for as in the days of the Republic, officials are servants not masters. As a Priest I offer a service to the Gods, but also to the people. So I have to somehow take them in. That can only be a process as I see it, and less that we make the "Council of New Rome" in 2017 and then swear what we decide there has to be the Sacred Law forever and everyone, to say it a bit ironic. ;)

We will always need the traditional voice like yours, who measures and holds in check the sometimes overbearing vision of wildcards like me. Yes, we need unity and tradition, but I think we have to extend, evolve what we inherited. Carefully, but with courage to create something people feel involved into and not just "serviced". A Public Ceremony should not be like you visit a movie, where you sit 2 hours in silence to the stage guys talking. Not when the most likely group size in any Public Ceremonies will likely be a handful or a dozen max. I mean, can you imagine how weird that is, when 8 people who are also friends, meet for Festvial X and then 7 of 8 stand in silence while one speaks for an hour alone? Keep in mind, the Romans of Old was when hundreds or thousands met. Of course those thousands could not all be involved in a Ceremony, because it would not be possible. Of course a large public religion can't be organized different than seperating the doing into the Private. But that is not where we stand. Where we stand, IMVHO, is that the strict division between Sacra Publica and Sacra Privata for the time being makes little sense, unless we have regional groups that count in the hundreds and the likely size of any regional group will be between 3 and 12.
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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Marcus Grattius Frenzius » Sun May 29, 2016 4:40 pm

Yes, the Roman Catholic Church has preserved the ritus Romanus quite well and mirrors much of what scholars like John Scheid have devised of Roman ritual. I have spent a very long time looking at and dissecting Roman Catholic services and have found the various steps present in the mass. Heck, the Stations of the Cross are less a story and more an acknowledgement of the pompa and proceeding of the sacrifice to the altar, something Romans of the time would've understood. However, if you cannot see the spirituality within the sacrifice of the mass, you will also never see the spirituality of the Roman ritual of sacrifice either.
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Re: Thoughts about the Cultus in our modern days

Postby Lucius Vitellius Triarius » Sun May 29, 2016 4:44 pm

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