Rites and Ceremonies
Written by: J. Gordon Melton
Rites and ceremonies were secondary considerations for Scientology, which developed liturgies as needed. Meanwhile, holidays have been designated to commemorate important dates in the church's evolution.
Rituals and worship have not been integral to Scientology, but as the church evolved through its early years, it saw a need (as have other first-generation religions) to begin to mark important events in the life in a manner appropriate to Scientology's understanding of reality. In 1970, the Church issued an initial volume, The Background and Ceremonies of the Church of Scientology of California, World Wide. A mere sixty-six pages, it offered guidance for conducting services for weddings, the naming of a child, and funerals. There were also some suggestions for the holding of a celebration of a human rights day. Also, by this time, the church was initiating Sunday gatherings, analogous to Sunday worship in the dominant religions in the lands into which Scientology had expanded, in its local churches. The 1970s text covered Sunday services and offering some limited guidance in only a few pages.
Over the next quarter of a century, as the church continued to expand, additional thought was given to the role of religious gatherings in the context of Scientology, and in 1999 the church issued a massive new edition of its service book under the title, The Background, Ministry, Ceremonies and Sermons of the Scientology Religion. To the basic naming, wedding, and funeral services, a service for the ordination of ministers was added, while the great majority of the book was given to the Sunday Services, which in the new century have taken on a heightened importance, though not nearly to the degree of some more familiar religions such as Christianity. In Scientology, there is no virtue assigned to attendance at Sunday services. They are held for those who find them meaningful, which remain a small percentage of the faithful.
Sunday services have, since 1999, assumed a significantly more formal nature, consisting of a reading of the Creed of the Church of Scientology, a sermon (a reading from the words of L. Ron Hubbard), a simple Scientology exercise (process), and a concluding prayer, "The Prayer for Total Freedom," addressed to the "author of the universe." The various elements of the service leave almost no room for extemporizing, the ceremony book containing the full text of each component that is read by the officiating minister. Music at the beginning and end of the service is optional.
The several special services -- the naming of a child, weddings, and funerals -- are all conducted in such a way as to acknowledge the understanding that each person is a free spirit (thetan) who comes into a body, acts in that body, and eventually leaves it behind for another body.