"This gem is both deep and wide. It's an encyclopedia of ideas for living liturgically at home. But it's also a personal story of one woman's deep love for the Catholic faith and how she brings it to life for her family." - Elizabeth Foss
Making the Liturgical Year Your Own
One of the many things I love about the Catholic Church is how she manages to be universal and particular at the same time. When I attend Mass in a different parish, or even a different country, the order and the parts of the Mass are the same. Even though there might be unique traditions and practices and languages particular to that part of the world, the Mass still feels familiar. I love that artists in every age often render Jesus and Our Lady and the saints with the artists' own ethnic features and in their own local dress, yet they are still recognizable to all of us.
Liturgical living in the home is a lot like that. It can look different but be the same in different homes. Your time and budget constraints, your abilities and preferences will inform how you choose to bring the rhythm of the Church year into your family life. And that's a good thing. Working or stay-at-home, homeschooling or brick-and-mortar, rich or poor, big or small — no matter what terms apply to you and your family, you can find a way to bring a bit of the tradition of our beautiful faith into your home.
One important note: for a Catholic, all of this stuff can be very fun and meaningful, but it is secondary to getting to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and participating in the sacraments. That is the meal. This is just the garnish.
Remember that you don't have to do it all, and you definitely don't have to do it all at once. I grew up Catholic, but liturgical living in the home is something I discovered as an adult and slowly began incorporating into our family culture. So, here at the beginning of this book, I want to give you a practical guide for implementation.
The resources you have on hand — picture books from the library or from your own collection, craft supplies, movies, local places to go on family outings, and prayers you already have or can find online — can be chosen to celebrate whichever saints' days happen to be coming up. Whether dining out, ordering takeout, or cooking and baking in your own kitchen, the things your family eats can be selected to fit the feast. In other words, whatever you have available and usually do can be liturgically tweaked a bit. If crafts or baking or outings aren't feasible for you right this second, don't sweat it. Do the things that work for your family.
How to Begin
If I were starting completely from scratch, I would follow the steps below. How quickly you go from one step to the next will depend entirely on how well each step goes. Feel free to hang out at any step for however many days, weeks, months, or years it takes for that practice to feel like a part of your family routine. These steps are listed not in order of importance but in what I think is the order of "doability" for a family with no liturgical-living experience.
1. Start with the liturgical living you're doing already.
Choose a couple of practices to add to your family routine for the liturgical seasons that come before and after the two major feasts you're already observing: Christmas and Easter. Do them. See if you like them. If you do, do them again next year. If you don't, try something else next year. As you get more comfortable, try adding additional practices as well.
2. Begin celebrating baptismal anniversaries.
Find out the baptismal date of each person in your family. Dig out your kids' baptismal certificates or call your parish office and ask for copies (you'll need copies for the rest of your kids' sacraments anyway). For your own baptismal date, call your mom or your hometown parish or see if you can figure it out. If you can't, just say a prayer, choose a random date, write it down, and use that. In our house on a person's baptismal anniversary, he chooses a special meal and a dessert, and he holds a candle while the whole family renews their baptismal promises and are sprinkled with holy water. Ideally, he holds the candle he received at his baptism, because you wrote his name on the box and put it where you could find it again. But if you're not one of those magical unicorn moms who does that sort of thing, any candle will do. Add those dates to your family calendar (with a reminder ahead of time) so you will remember to remember them each year.
3. Begin celebrating name days.
Choose a patron saint for each person in your family. Usually this would be a saint whose name a person shares, but it could also be a confirmation saint or just a saint the person particularly likes. Look up some information about the saint and find out his feast day. Add the feast days of your family's patrons to your calendar with reminders. On each person's name day, either let that person choose a special meal and dessert or have a special meal in honor of the saint.
4. Remember Fridays and Sundays.
If it isn't already a part of your family culture, somewhere amongst these early steps, begin observing Fridays and Sundays in your home. Every Friday is a mini Good Friday. Consider abstaining from meat on Fridays.1 When that isn't possible, make an alternate Friday sacrifice, if that's permitted by your bishop. Every Sunday is a mini-Easter. Have a feast on Sundays. Use the good dishes, spend time together as a family, refrain from your usual work as much as possible, consider not patronizing businesses, and eat dessert. Consider cutting out desserts on days that aren't Sundays or feast days, so that Sundays and feast days will feel special.
5. Start observing days that have better-known traditions associated with them.
- St. Nicholas' Day: December 6
- Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras): the day before Ash Wednesday
- Ash Wednesday: forty-six days before Easter
- St. Patrick's Day: March 17
- Spy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday: the week before Easter
- Michaelmas: September 29
- All Souls' Day: November 2
6. Begin observing solemnities in your home.
Solemnities mark the most important days of the liturgical year. On a solemnity, Mass is celebrated as on a Sunday, with readings proper to the feast. Some solemnities are also holy days of obligation, and these vary from country to country.
There are feasts that are raised to the rank of solemnities for some Catholics, but not universally. The feast of the patron of a religious order, parish, city or country is raised to a solemnity for members of that order or parish, or residents of that place. For instance, the feast of St. Dominic is a solemnity for the Dominican Order, the feast ofSt. George is a solemnity in England, the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieuxis a solemnity for members of St. Thérèse parishes, and the feast ofOur Lady, Queen of Angels, is a solemnity for people who live inLos Angeles.
If a solemnity falls on a Friday, Catholics are not required to abstain from meat or to do a different act of penance. It's a Meat Friday, and we get to celebrate without making an alternate sacrifice.
There are twenty-three solemnities on the universal calendar. That averages out to a couple of days per month. Many of them fall on Sundays or are days you probably already celebrate (such as Christmas). These are celebrations of the most important people, events, and mysteries of our long faith tradition.
- The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: December 8
- The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): December 25
- Mary, Mother of God: January 1
- The Epiphany of the Lord: traditionally January 6, transferred in the United States to the Sunday between January 2 and 8, inclusive
- St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary: March 19
- The Annunciation of the Lord: March 25
- Resurrection of the Lord (Easter): the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21, eight solemnities, Sunday to Sunday
- Ascension of the Lord: the Thursday forty days after Easter; transferred in most dioceses in the United States to the following Sunday
- Pentecost: the Sunday fifty days after Easter
- The Most Holy Trinity: the Sunday after Pentecost
- The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi): the Sunday after Trinity Sunday (formerly celebrated on a Thursday, but now mostly observed on a Sunday)
- The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus: the Friday after Corpus Christi
- The Nativity of St. John the Baptist: June 24
- SS. Peter and Paul: June 29
- The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: August 15
- All Saints: November 1
- Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: the last Sunday before Advent
Add these dates to your family calendar, with reminders. You can find liturgical calendars for your phone or tablet that will add the movable feasts on the correct date each year. If you prefer paper, there are beautiful Catholic calendars and planners that include feast days. Definitely get to Mass if the solemnity is also a holy day of obligation. Try to get to Mass even if it isn't.
Use our family's traditions or create some of your own that your kids can look forward to each year. These celebrations can be as complicated as throwing a bonfire for the neighborhood on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist or putting on a pageant and carnival for your child's school for All Saints' Day, or as simple as having cookies and discussing with your kids the importance of the feast.
I recommend beginning to observe baptismal anniversaries and name days before solemnities. Even though those days are perhaps not as important to the universal Church, I found it easier to begin liturgical-living celebrations by focusing on our family first and then widening our focus to the Church.
7. After that, it's really all gravy.
We observe the seasons and the feast days in steps 1 through 6 every year, unless illness or scheduling conflicts prevent us. We observe other feast days as we are able.
Some Thoughts on Planning
As I plan my meals and make my grocery list for the week, I peek at the upcoming feasts, note our family schedules, and plan to have a meal associated with a saint's day whenever we can.
We might schedule a family activity, such as a hike or a trip to a museum, that fits in somehow with the feast day. We talk about the saint or the event over dinner. If we have a book about the saint, we'll read it at story time.
There are many traditional prayers associated with particular feast days, and all the saints on the universal calendar have a special Collect (pronounced kol-ekt), the prayer said by the priest to conclude the introductory rite of the Mass. You can find the words to the Collect in a daily missal. If there is a special prayer associated with the day, we'll add it to our Grace before Meals or to our morning or evening prayers.
All the fun stuff is really a jumping-off point. It's a way for all of us to learn about the lives of Jesus and the saints, the events of the Bible, and the history and the tradition of Christianity. It's a way to bring our faith into our dinnertime and story time and conversations. Trying to answer my kids' questions is how I have learned just about everything I know about the saints. Through our discussions about theological concepts and heroic martyrdoms, our whole family has grown in our understanding of and appreciation for our Church. It's my hope that liturgical living in the home will mean that the Catholic faith will continue to be a part of the daily lives and the yearly routines of my children as they grow into adulthood.
This is what living the liturgical year looks like in our home, after a decade of baby steps:
- I decorate our home to reflect the current liturgical season.
- We do special practices throughout each season.
- We celebrate three special days each year for each person in the family: birthday, name day, baptism day. On those days the special person gets to choose what we have for dinner and dessert.
- We observe a mini-Lent each Friday.
- We celebrate a mini-Easter each Sunday.
- We remember family traditions for Christmas and Easter and for the other solemnities of the year. Whenever possible, we involve friends and family members in our solemnity celebrations. Whenever convenient, we eat fun food and have fun discussions on other feast days as well.
That's it, and somehow it manages not to be overwhelming, although it does seem like a lot when it's all written down! I have found liturgical living in the home to be a beautiful way to connect with my family, my faith, my community, and the long history of our Church.
Kendra Tierney. "Liturgical Living for Life." from The Catholic All Year Compendium (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018): 15-21.
Reprinted with permission from Ignatius Press.
Kendra Tierney is a wife and a mother of nine children from newborn to teenager. She's a homeschooler and a regular schooler, and an enthusiastic amateur experimenter in the domestic arts. She writes the award-winning Catholic mommy blog Catholic All Year, is a regular contributor to Blessed Is She Ministries, and is the voice of liturgical living at Endow Ministries. She is the author of The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life and A Little Book about Confession for Children.Copyright © 2018 Ignatius Press
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