With the new liturgical year beginning this first Sunday of Advent, I am making a resolution to approach each liturgical season and day with more intentionality. In my collaboration with religious communities, I have come to admire the way they commemorate the life of their particular community within the rhythm of liturgical feasts and seasons. Their communal prayer is often guided by an ordo, a list specific to each community and/or diocese that organizes the dates of feasts (particularly those special to the community, such as patronal feasts or local saints), readings, and a necrology (the anniversaries of the deaths of members of the community) for each day. They also celebrate milestones and anniversaries of the profession of final vows and ordinations.
Why not approach the liturgical year in a similar way in our own family, our domestic Church? We too can strive to be more mindful about preparing for and celebrating special days within our Church and our family, taking time beforehand to plan which Mass to attend or finding other creative ways to observe a feast or special occasion. As we approach this new liturgical year, it may be a good time to look ahead and make plans to mark not only the big celebrations, like Christmas and Easter, but also every feast day your family may want to celebrate.
Certainly this includes birthdays and anniversaries, but it also means making note of
To find some of these dates, you may need to refer to sacramental records, such as a Baptismal Certificate, or consult family members. Personal planner templates available online can be customized to mark these dates, and once you’ve compiled a basic list, you can continue to add to it year after year. You may also wish to set aside a few special items for these celebrations, such as a bottle of holy water, a baptismal candle or baptismal garment, pictures from the event observed, holy cards, or images of the saints or family members commemorated. Children may particularly enjoy setting up a prayer space to reflect the occasion.
One helpful resource for planning is the Catholic Apostolate Center’s feast day website, which has information about the saints organized by feast day, region, time period, and more. Another useful resource is a book entitled Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It contains special blessings for birthdays, name days, and baptismal anniversaries as well as short daily prayers; seasonal blessings and prayers; blessings for life events such as graduations, birthdays, engagements, pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and moving into a new home; and prayers for times of sickness and difficulty.
You can even make it a practice to have a special meal on these days, choosing a menu related to the feast being observed or simply enjoying the favorite foods of the person being celebrated. Not only can you take the opportunity to share about your faith, but you can also share a bit of family history and bring the liturgical year to life in a more personal way.
By doing these things, we learn more about the mysteries and people of faith commemorated, even as we strive to emulate them. We also join in the age-old tradition of the “People of God [who] have observed fixed feasts, beginning with Passover, to commemorate the astonishing actions of the Savior God, to give him thanks for them, to perpetuate their remembrance, and to teach new generations to conform their conduct to them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1164).
This approach of gratitude, remembrance, and faithfulness may help us live the liturgical seasons more fruitfully, as we unfold throughout the course of the year the various aspects of “the whole mystery of Christ from his Incarnation and Nativity through his Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102 §2). May this new liturgical year truly be a “year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:19)!
During our marriage preparation, my husband and I made a mission, vision, and values spreadsheet for our marriage goals (nerdy, we know!). Part of our goals include living an authentic Catholic lifestyle, which we believe integrates the liturgical season into our new family unit. Some of my favorite memories from childhood include cooking and baking with my mom and having meaningful discussions with my parents about our Catholic faith. Traditions like these are important to my husband and me, and we look forward to continuing to build off of our parents’ traditions while adding our own.
To build traditions within our family, we’ve started with the idea of liturgical living. Liturgical living brings the life and breadth of the Church into our own homes and can be accomplished through certain prayers, celebrations, meals, crafts, and other traditions. This can also be described as building up the domestic church – which may be even more important than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic. As newlyweds, we have slowly added liturgical season traditions into our daily lives, such as celebrating saint feast days and preparing our house for Advent and Christmas. A New Year’s resolution we’ve set for ourselves in 2021 is trying to incorporate more of the Church’s liturgical seasons into our home to better appreciate the richness of our Catholic faith.
One of our favorite wedding gifts to help us implement our goal of liturgical living is The Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney. Tierney shares how her family celebrates the Church’s liturgical season 365 days a year. She starts off the book by encouraging families to begin celebrating what makes the Catholic faith most approachable to each family member – saint namesake feast days and Baptism anniversaries. Special meals and desserts, prayer, stories, activities, and conversations are different ways to make the celebrations meaningful.
After noting namesake feast days and baptisms, Tierney recommends starting slowly and gradually, adding in other feast days important to each family and doing things that already fit into existing daily routines. The free calendars given out at church for the new year have these dates with the liturgical year, such as Ordinary Time, Lent, etc. A fabulous Christmas present I also received last month is the Blessed Is She planner that incorporates feast days and the liturgical year. This is all a process that takes time and can be added upon each year or changed. It shouldn’t be meant to overwhelm.
In our annual family planning meeting for 2021, my husband and I went through each month and picked which feasts we’d celebrate after our saint name days and baptisms. Our church even made our first feast day celebration easy by providing us blessed chalk and a prayer to say while marking 20 + C + M + B + 21 above our front door mantle for Epiphany on January 6! We’ve also added making “king cake” cinnamon rolls for dessert as part of the tradition.
How do you plan to incorporate Catholic liturgical living into your family’s routine this year? What are some of your favorite liturgical living traditions? If you practice liturgical living already, how has this helped your family learn about the Catholic faith?
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I can recall from a very young age pondering what it means to be Catholic. We were supposed to somehow be different from secular society by the way we lived our lives, but how or why was that any different than simply being a good, kind, and moral human being? Can “normal” domestic life be holy? Why is the domestic church—the Christian family—so vitally important to our faith?
Throughout my life, this question has been answered in various ways and degrees. However, nothing has been so powerful as what I have witnessed in the past few months. In the late fall of last year, my mother-in-law underwent unexpected surgery and was unable to attend Mass. During our family’s Thanksgiving visits, I witnessed an incredible moment of our faith: my mother was able to distribute the Sacred Body of our Lord to my mother-in-law. Tears fell from my mother-in-law’s eyes as my husband, father, mother, and I encircled her, reciting prayers together in preparation for the distribution of the Eucharist. I was struck by the immensity of this moment: as I witnessed the woman who gave me life distribute the source of eternal life to the woman who gave my husband life, the depth and vital importance of the domestic church began to come into clearer focus for me.
The Christmas season would bring me another unexpected intersection of family and faith and another reminder of the significance of the domestic church. My father was hospitalized between Christmas and New Year’s; I found myself once again in the midst of a family circle of prayer as this time I witnessed my sister ministering the Sacred Body of our Lord to both my father and mother. My husband, nieces, nephew, brother-in-law, and I encircled my father’s hospital bed. Again, I found myself struck by the immensity of the moment unraveling before me; there is something very profound in witnessing the physical, tangible presence of Christ enter into vulnerable family space. I held these moments in my heart and in my mind, reflecting on them as the days rolled by between the holidays and the beginning of Lent.
This year, our parish announced that they are encouraging families to consecrate themselves to the Holy Family. Ah, the Holy Family, the perfect model of the domestic church! It is within the context of the family that we learn about our faith and see examples of faith lived out. Christ Himself was born into a family; it was a vital part of his plan of salvation.
We are each called to sainthood and each of our paths to sainthood will look a bit different. Lent is a beautiful time to really evaluate how close we are to following that path and what we can do in our lives to stay the course. No matter what path our calling leads us on, all paths lead back to the family—whether that be our own family by blood or our brothers and sisters in the faith.
How do we live out each day as a domestic church and bring that holy reverence to our everyday lives? We are called not only to love one another but to LIVE for one another. I witnessed this profoundly over the holidays when I saw different members of my family live for and serve one another. But there are also opportunities being presented throughout our everyday life to grow in holiness and spiritual maturity—especially now during this Lenten season. Lent is not only a time to deny ourselves of those things that keep us from our path to sainthood but also a time to invite the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and hearts to opportunities of everyday holiness and saintly domesticity. Christ wants to be a living presence in our homes and in our families, but we have to open the door for Him and invite Him in. I saw the effects of Christ’s presence in my family in those moments when He was brought physically to my parents and mother-in-law. Christ brings unity, service, strength, love. Just as in our physical lives we can manage the stresses and craziness of ever day life better when we fuel our body with proper nutrition and exercise, so too are we called to fuel our spirits and our family bonds with the Bread of the angels and on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
What spiritual exercises can we work through together as a family this Lenten season? How can we work to call one another to a life of saintly domesticity?
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