In the Church, we have a timely liturgical schedule of feasts, seasons, and commemorations. Each year, we practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during the season of Lent in order to prepare ourselves for the Resurrection of the Lord at Easter. In Advent, we hear readings from Isaiah that help us to turn our attention to the coming of Christ both in his nativity at Christmas and at the end of time. In addition to these seasons, we also celebrate individual days as part of practicing our faith. On St. Therese’s feast day, we ask for roses to cross our path to confirm her intercession for us. On All Souls’ Day, we remember those who have died and pray for their sanctification.
According to paragraph 102 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, or Sacrosanctum Concilium, in celebrating these feasts and seasons, the Church “unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord.” In other words, the variety of feasts and seasons allow us to contemplate the life and mystery of Christ from different angles. For example, at Christmas, the Church looks with awe upon God becoming human in the Incarnation. On the feast day of the Annunciation, we reflect on God’s total initiative to redeem the human race with the collaboration of Mary’s fiat. Celebrating the witness of the saints on their feast days inspires us that we too can witness to the love of God in large and small ways in our lives. Each of these examples gives us glimpses at aspects of our faith and renews our devotion to “the whole mystery of Christ.”
Why is it important to mark particular days and seasons as days to commemorate certain aspects of our faith? Further along in paragraph 102 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, we find the answer: “Recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord's powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving grace.” In short, celebrating these feasts and seasons help us grow in grace. We hear readings that help us think about what the feast commemorates. We pray particular prayers that ask for the intercession of the saints we celebrate. We participate in special traditions, such as creating offrendas during All Souls Day, or preparing large feasts on the feast day of St. Joseph. Because of the liturgical calendar, we are invited to stop and be drawn into contemplation of the love of God.
The love of God is not something we are invited to contemplate only on days or seasons marked by the official liturgical calendar. In addition, we can also continue to allow our attention to be drawn to the love of God in the feasts and seasons in our personal lives. For example, we might keep vigil on a particular date each year to remember the death of a loved one. We might even mark the difficult or challenging events of our lives, such as the date of a breakup, the date of a move away from a former home, or the date of a medical diagnosis. On the other hand, we may call to mind particular dates of joyful occasions, such as the acceptance into a school, a proposal or marriage, or coming home from military service.
Just like formal feast days, the informal feast days of our lives also allow us to contemplate the mystery of Christ and the love of God through different lenses. The date of a breakup might remind us of the pain we went through, but the eventual freedom we may have found later on by trusting in God’s providence. Commemorating the date of the death of a loved one each year might give us the chance to reflect on the gift of friendships and relationships in our lives and how they have contributed to our growth and becoming. Keeping memory of the date of an initial medical diagnosis might allow us to think about our reliance on God and remind us to unite our suffering with Christ’s suffering. The anniversary of a wedding or proposal punctuates our lives with gratitude for a partner or spouse.
In keeping our own personal liturgical calendar in addition to the Church’s formal liturgical calendar, we are invited to contemplate the “whole of the mystery of Christ” in our own personal lives. We can reflect upon the love and providence of God made manifest not only in the feast days of the Church’s formal liturgical calendar, but also in the significant events in our lives that have drawn us deeper into the mystery of our own relationship with God and others. By punctuating our lives with universal and personal liturgical feasts, we call to mind Christ’s words in the Gospel of Matthew in a profound way: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
What are some days or seasons in your life that you might add to your personal liturgical calendar? In remembering these dates, how are you being invited to contemplate God’s love for you?