Food Plays Big Role in Religion

June 9, 2007

Author: Jerry McCoy

Source: The Peoria Journal Star

Q: The Eucharist or the Lord's Supper is perhaps the single most important ritual in Christian worship. Does a ceremonial meal play a similar role in other religious traditions? If so what are those meals and what role do they play? - P.R., East Peoria.

A: Food, because it is necessary for all of life, has also been a particularly powerful symbol with meanings on many levels. Religious scholars have increasingly recognized and discussed the important role which food and ceremonial meals play in religious life and rituals.

The indigenous religious tradition of Japan is known as Shinto. For the most part it is a religion that is practiced on an individual basis. However, Shinto also has public festivals known as matsuri when the whole community comes together to honor the kami.

On these occasions the chief priest will open the doors to the inner sanctuary of the shrine, where the symbol(s) of the kami are kept. All the priests will then engage in a ceremony of passing special food offerings from one to another and eventually place these offerings before the symbols of the kami. Later, the food offerings are removed, the doors of the inner sanctuary are closed, and the laypeople come forward to receive portions of the food offerings that were made to the kami.