Anthropologists have long observed that people across cultures tend to perform more rituals in times of uncertainly. Stressful events such as warfare, environmental threat and material insecurity are often linked with spikes in ritual activity.
In a laboratory study in 2015, my colleagues and I found that under conditions of stress people’s behavior tends to become more rigid and repetitive – in other words, more ritualized.
The reason behind this propensity lies in our cognitive makeup. Our brain is wired to make predictions about the state of the world. It uses past knowledge to make sense of current situations. But when everything around us is changing, the ability to make predictions is limited. This causes many of us to experience anxiety.
That is where ritual comes in.

“Our brain is wired to make predictions about the state of the world. It uses past knowledge to make sense of current situations.”

Rituals are highly structured. They require rigidity, and must always be performed the “right” way. And they involve repetitition: The same actions are done again and again. In other words, they are predictable.
So even if they have no direct influence over the physical world, rituals provide a sense of control by imposing order on the chaos of everyday life.
It is of little importance whether this sense of control is illusory. What matters is that it is an efficient way of relieving anxiety.
This is what we found in two soon-to-be-published studies. In Mauritius, we saw that Hindus experienced lower anxiety after they performed temple rituals, which we measured using heart rate monitors. And in the U.S., we found that Jewish students who attended more group rituals had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (1)

The Corpus Christi procession, the great feast of Toledo, complies with the provisions of Pope Urban IV who, in 1262, to give way to the growing devotion to the Host Consecrated in the Eucharist, decreed that processions be held with it so that the faithful manifest their faith. If initially these processions were limited to the temples, they soon took to the streets, exciting popular religiosity and the participation of all the faithful.
Although a Catholic religious holiday incorporated into its liturgy, the participation of believers reaches all levels, public or private, not only religious, but also civil and even military. In Toledo, the city and its neighbors have been turning since 1342 to ensure that the presence and participation of all is as splendid as possible, passing through the city full of ornaments and always under the presidency of the Archbishop and complying with the provisions of the Cathedral Chapter, as responsible for the order and processional protocol. In total, more than 60 different participants, including brotherhoods, brotherhoods, institutions, public and private corporations, animated by various musical, civil and military bands. They come to express their devotion from all parishes, even from distant lands.

The prominence of the Sagrada Forma is enhanced by its exhibition inside a processional monstrance that is one of the great jewels that faith has created to express the greatest devotion and respect, the custody of Enrique de Arfe. Created by arrangement of Cardinal Cisneros at the beginning of the 16th century as an openwork Gothic tower, it is made up of 183 kg of silver and 18 kg of gold, with 5,600 pieces fastened with 12,500 screws and adorned by 260 small sculptures.
The entire length of the route is covered with awnings, to protect the Sacred Form as requested by the liturgy, and the streets in which it runs, scented with fragrant herbs on the pavement and in hanging garlands, are adorned with motifs of all kinds: lights in artistic lanterns, flowers forming colorful and fragrant bouquets, rich ornamented fabrics, such as shawls, confectioners, flags and other hangings, as well as many other ornaments of all kinds. To get everything ready for that day, the religious and civil institutions have the collaboration of the Pro-Corpus Christi Toledan Board, an altruistic institution with more than half a century of existence adorning the city. (2)

  1. Dimitris Xygalatas, “Why people need rituals, especially in times of uncertainty” in The Conversation, March 25th, 2020.
  2. Corpus Christi History from the official website.