So you’re interested in living liturgically…
Go grab yourself a cuppa and cozy up in your comfiest chair because this topic is one of my favorite things.
Oh, you’re back? Splendid!
November is when I typically sit down and do an overview of the next liturgical year. The moveable feasts get added to my google calendar, that year’s Advent and Christmas plans are finalized, and then a few new ideas get added to my Holy Days Binder ( more on this to come in another post ). This is just a brief session as I’ve been slowly adding to our festal repertoire over the years. This quick look with everything gathered together really helps with spontaneity during busy weeks. On Sundays when I plan the next week and its upcoming feasts, I can just pull a couple things from my lists and be done with no stress. Since it’s that time of year, I thought it might help others to share how the liturgical celebrations of our family have been shaped and the methods I use to incorporate liturgically living into our home.
If you are just becoming acquainted with the Church calendar and the home commemoration of feasts and saints, below are a few ides for how your family can get started before the commencement of the new Church year. Yes, you still have time!
Many, many years ago…
For our family, liturgical living started while I was still in college and learning about the Catholic faith. My future husband and I would observe the major seasonal feasts and fasts of the year with Mass and related meals. Think simple things like meatless Fridays and Holy Week services. After our wedding and the added convenience of being married, we began to mindfully live out the Church calendar with a more earnest effort.
One day while browsing the little Catholic bookstore on the outskirts of my college campus, I picked up a thin (now out of print) booklet called Customs & Traditions of the Catholic Family. Put out by Family Life Bureau, and formerly entitled Your Home, A Church in Miniature, this fascinating read on the Church’s rich saint day traditions became my light reading while on the train to and fro classes. This welcome escape from the hectic demands of my last semester was a calming balm of peace for my frazzled soul. My rides were spent learning of regional customs like Luciadagen and dreaming of our own family’s festal celebrations once our first child arrived in a few short months.
Gradually we added some of these small saint celebrations to the liturgy of our life. I would keep a dry erase calendar updated with the month’s daily saints in the kitchen. With my class and work schedule and that of my new husband, supper with a couple hours in the evening was the only time we saw each other during the week. To use the most of this time, before we tucked into our nightly meal we would do our devotions, going over the saint of the day and asking for their intercession. If we were not familiar with the assigned saint we would read about them then. I began to make special meals in honor of our patrons and to form connections between the historical music I had been learning the past few years and the Saints and religious practices that inspired their composition.
Later, as our sons were named and baptized, the saints of those days were included in our family’s annual observances. Through the years others have joined our family calendar as the saints have found us or as members of our family have developed a special devotion to a specific saint. We have slowly grown the number of, tweaked, and even dropped some commemorations over the years. And, based on our season of life at the time, no two year’s celebrations have looked exactly the same.
Our family did not begin all our feast day traditions at one time and if your family is new to this idea you don’t have to either. In fact, I would heartily advise to the contrary.
I’ve heard repeatedly that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Then, being four weeks in length, Advent is the perfect time to begin practicing new family devotions. The fall school semester is winding down as the first Sunday in Advent starts the new Church year. The lead up to Christmas and the new calendar year provide down time for planning and easing into your family’s new chosen practices. But what feast day’s should your family make an effort to celebrate? How do you pick from the Church’s over 1000 canonized saints? In what ways can your family celebrate the chosen feasts? First of all pray, you may be surprised by which saints and feasts are laid on your heart.
Here are a few ways your family can choose to start:
Pick one suggestion and celebrate the next feast or season on the calendar.
If your family is not already, start living as a Sabbath people. Keep Sunday holy through Mass attendance and keeping rest a priority. You can also help bring back the communion of Sunday Suppers.
Institute the age-old, super simple practice of meatless Fridays or some other Friday penance to remember the crucifixion of Christ.
Commemorate Major Feasts and Fasts first – Advent, Epiphany, Lent, etc.
Choose feast days you family will recognize – Which saints are already familiar to them?
Incorporate days that are significant to your family – namedays, baptismal anniversaries, confirmation saints, and or patron saints.
Look at the feast days for the month, liturgical season, or the monthly dedication for a more comprehensive view, pick one a week or month to observe – This look ahead at the beginning will allow more time for budgeting and preparation.
Glean ideas by flipping through another one of my favorite liturgical living books, Jor another book on the subject. I will compile a list of some other lovely ones in a post soon.
These are the types of activities that we regularly pull from to celebrate a feast:
If you are new to this practice remember, there is no need to try and do them all for every feast. One or two each observance is plenty to create a meaningful, lasting memory that will help your family grow in the Catholic faith.
Through the ages Master Artists have looked to religious events as subjects for their works. These masterpieces in various mediums can be found through simple on like search phases like, “Visitation fine art” or “Crucifixion paintings.” Many of these images are in the public domain and may be printed for your family’s picture study use. Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa and Michelangelo’s Pietà are a couple statues we revisit through photographs each year. Giotto also has some beautiful frescos fit for Holy week.
Doing an internet search for “books for the feast of ______” will bring up several available suggestions for both children’s picture books and longer chapter books suitable for the whole family. This is also and opportunity to to learn more about the dedication of a specific month. You can start a monthly book basket with related picture book titles and or choose a chapter book for your family read aloud. St. Athanasius’ On The Incarnation is a versatile title that could be used in March for the feast of the Annunciation, or in December as a part of devotions around the Advent wreath.
My sons are not big on crafts and glitter, but if your children are, Pinterest has a plethora of ideas that can be organized into monthly or seasonal boards. You can check out mine here. I prefer to have the tangible projects at my finger tips, so I usually go ahead and print the very few things we will be using and place them in my Holy Days binder. Like Pinterest, Catholic Icing is also searchable has many traditional craft ideas by saint and season as well. My second son (6 years old) is especially fond of the free coloring pages from Paper Dali.
This category seems to be the most popular for families to implement. We tend to include a food related to the day’s feast because on hectic days everyone still must to eat. In addition to those mentioned above, there are a few ways we go about making liturgical connections through food including, serving the cuisine of a saint’s native land, mission field, or a place that holds them as patron. Some saints shared their favorite food, for example, St. Therese is said to have loved eclairs. Other feasts, namely the Transfiguration (grapes) and Fig Monday during Holy Week, have foods that were customarily associated with them. Several dishes have also derived their names from a religious context. For instance, angel and devil’s food cake, or the scrumptious, savory-sweet hors d’oeuvre of bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and pecans called Devils on Horseback. Finally, other connections can be made between meals and what a saint did or the events of a particular feast. Two of our family’s most treasured traditions are stabbing our dragon bread on the feast of St. George and barbecuing for the feast of St. Laurence.
Home Decor –
Most of us are participating in the Church year through this category without even realizing it. The is especially true during the holiday season, when you gather your family around an Advent wreath, put up a Christmas tree in your home, or exchange Christmas gifts. A simple way we continue this practice throughout the year is by lighting candles at meals and switching between a small number of tablecloths that mirror the color of the liturgical season – purple for Advent and Lent, a blue and white pattern for May and Marian feasts, one with a bit of green for ordinary time, red for a martyr, etc. These have be acquired over the years from various sales. If you have a chalk or dry erase board, it can be used to display seasonal hymn lyrics or a quote by the saint of the day. Lighting a child’s baptismal candle at supper on that anniversary makes the day even more memorable.
Thanks to a dear friend, indulgences are a practice that our family has recently added over the last couple of years. Many common prayers and pious acts have been given a partial indulgence, and several are connected to certain feast days. You can find ones for November in this All Souls Day post. An extensive list can be found in The Enchiridion of Indulgences.
This category is where I lump all the audio and visual resources not related to music. We have come across several wholesome films based on different saint and feasts. The 1943 film The Song of Bernadette is a gem. A Man for All Seasons from the 1960’s, inspired by the English Reformation Saint Thomas More, is another worthy classic. My sons also enjoy the older, but still lovely, animated religious DVD’s put out by CCC of America. The Odyssey and St. Nicholas are the two they request most often. I have heard a lot of good things about the Glory Stories CD’s by Holy Heroes but have yet to make that investment.
If you have visited this little corner to the “interwebs” before, you probably know how significant music is to me and therefore our family culture. Due to my childhood and educational background, this is the area in which I am most familiar. When planning the musical aspect of a feast day I look for ways to connections through four genres: Hymns, Children’s Bible Songs, Chant, and Classical works. I select a piece for that day’s Concert Hour or Dinner Music that was written either by or about the saint, generally about their character, or about the events of the day itself. My prayer is that this blog is a resource to you in this department. If you are looking for an easy way to add music to your liturgical practices this year, please take a look at my musical Advent devotion, Awaiting the Messiah: An Family Advent Journey with Handel’s Messiah.
It is so much fun to come with the ideas for this category! Some things that we try to do, deranged Texas weather permitting, is to visit the zoo near the feast of St. Francis and have a picnic at the grave of our fourth son on All Souls Day. Bowling for the feast of St. Therese has also been a hit in our home. Why not plan a camping trip and hike in honor of the great outdoorsmen St. John Paul the Great or Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati? I also include the less exciting activities like dropping off clothing donations for St. Martin and St. Vincent de Paul Day and making it to confession on the feast of St. Padre Pio in this section.
This can be as simple as adding, “St. ______, pray for us!” to the end of your blessing before a meal. Many saints have also composed prayers that can be found with a quick online search, while other feasts have related prayers, like All Saints’ and the Litany of the Saints. We like to have a litany for each month that corresponds to the monthly dedication. These are a big hit for our non-readers because they can still follow along and know what to say. Novenas are another option to incorporate prayer to match the rhythm of the liturgical year. The Pentecost novena, dating back to the Ascension of our Lord, is one not to be missed. Of course, many of the saints pinned prayers and those are easily found by internet search. St. Bernard and St. Francis are two off the top of my head.
Read a summary of the saint’s life and historical setting at a meal. Most of these can be found online for free. Saint of the day (modern calendar) and Per Ipsum (traditional calendar) will send you an daily email of the commemorated saint. The daily office is wonderful resource in this regard and many writings by individual saints can be found online in the public domain as well. Additionally, the daily Bible readings will match up to major feast and can be found on websites like The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
If you are a long-time observer of the liturgical year, I hope our family’s practices have given you some new ideas to include this year.
Whether this is your first year following the feasts of the Church or to your twentieth, may God bless your endeavors as you strive to bring your family closer to Him through the liturgies of your everyday life.
How do you go about planning the festivities of the liturgical year in your home? I’d love to hear about your particular method in the comments!