This article presents the first application of the Finite Calculus (FIC) in a Ritz-FEM variational framework. FIC provides a steplength parametrization of mesh dimensions, which is used to modify the shape functions. This approach is applied to the FEM discretization of the steady-state, one-dimensional, diffusion–absorption and Helmholtz equations. Parametrized linear shape functions are directly inserted into a FIC functional. The resulting Ritz-FIC equations are symmetric and carry a element-level free parameter coming from the function modification process. Both constant- and variable-coefficient cases are studied. It is shown that the parameter can be used to produce nodally exact solutions for the constant coefficient case. The optimal value is found by matching the finite-order modified differential equation (FOMoDE) of the Ritz-FIC equations with the original field equation. The inclusion of the Ritz-FIC models in the context of templates is examined. This inclusion shows that there is an infinite number of nodally exact models for the constant coefficient case. The ingredients of these methods (FIC, Ritz, MoDE and templates) can be extended to multiple dimensions