Living the Liturgical Year as a family

Jared Staudt

Christmas and family go together as we gather to celebrate one of the holiest feasts of the year and to honor each other with presents and meals together. Christmas involves many family traditions, but the liturgical year should shape our family life year-round. There are a few recent books, including the re-release of a classic, that can inspire us to enhance the faith life of our family.

Kendra Tierney’s The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life (Ignatius, 2018) gives helpful practical suggestions. Tierney, a mother of nine, offers insights from her own experience to extend the celebration of the feasts and seasons into family life: making each Friday and Sunday distinct, remembering baptism and name days, and developing family traditions for the important days of the Christian year. She engages questions of how to navigate Advent as a time of preparation, how to integrate St. Nick and Santa, when to put up the tree, how to give presents, etc., but also looks at how to bring the same level of festivity to the Epiphany, Fat Tuesday, Lent, Easter, All Saints, and the feasts of saints throughout the year.

Sophia Institute Press has just released some important books on this topic as well. The first one is from Maria von Trapp — yes, the real-life star of The Sound of Music — entitled Around the Year with the von Trapp Family (1955, republished 2018). She explains how her family’s Catholic traditions were the soil that sustained them in their trans-Atlantic flight from Nazism, noting that “they have grown out of times and from people who found it natural to carry over their beliefs into the forms of every day life. . . . If some of my readers find in this book hints that will make Catholic home life more warm and expressive of our religion, bringing children and parents closer together, I will feel happy in the thought that the transplanted tree has been able to thank its new country by passing on some of its strength that the earth brought here around its roots” (xx-xxi). The book also offers practical suggestions for the liturgical year, but I recommend especially the final three chapters on Sunday, daily life, and making family customs a feast in themselves.

The ever-insightful Father James Schall offers a more theoretical explanation of the liturgical year in The Reason for the Seasons: Why Christians Celebrate What and When They Do (Sophia 2018), explaining the historical, cultural and spiritual underpinning of the great feasts. Schall defends the festivity of Christmas against those embarrassed by its true meaning: “We are joyful. We experience a sense of hilarity because the faith is true. We dance, sing, laugh, and are rowdy because we  discover that the risk of God in creating and redeeming all of us was worthy of Him” (19). Yet, he also points to the equally important need for the stillness, peace, and rigor of penance to anticipate true festivity, found in the Advent and Lenten seasons: “Lent is not the season ‘to be jolly,’ though it is not a time of sadness either. Rather, it makes us aware that we are involved in a mystery of disorder that passes through each of our souls” (116).

Sophia also offers us a helpful reference in Helen Hoffner’s Catholic Traditions & Treasures: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (2018). Unlike the other texts, it does not focus exclusively on the “Church Year” (which it treats in chapter three), but provides an overview of the exterior forms of the Church, including her hierarchy, sacraments, devotions, art and books.

Sections such as “Catholicism in the Home,” “Devotional Aids,” and “What Catholics Wear” will also help us to live the faith in the home. For instance, Hoffner relates that “Catholics are encouraged to set aside space in their homes for prayer. . . . Prayer corners in a home show the importance of prayer. A comfortable chair and a table with a Bible and a rosary remind family members to pray throughout the day” (74).

Finally, Michael Foley’s Drinking with Saint Nick: Christmas Cocktails for Sinners and Saints (Regnery, 2018) enhances our cheer with a sequel to the wildly popular Drinking with the Saints. Like the first volume, Foley offers drinks to accompany the liturgical year, this time focusing on Advent and Christmas. Given the reprint of her book, we can take Maria von Trapp’s punch recipe as an example, given by Foley for the Twelve Days of Christmas. The recipe calls for sliced pineapple, oranges, lemon and orange juice and rinds, cherries, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, water, claret, rum, and champagne (see page 108 for proportions).

Christmas is a wonderful time of year to connect with family and to celebrate our faith. Let’s keep up the festivity all year as we integrate the liturgical seasons into our daily life.

COMING UP: Helping our kids become Catholic Readers for Christmas

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I’ve been writing the Catholic Reader column for about a year and a half now and it’s been quite enjoyable sharing a great variety of books that I hope you have found interesting. Books can be a great Christmas gift and can be a chance to draw our kids into reading more about the faith. The key to engage our kids is to enliven their imagination using dynamic stories and beautiful images that draw them into truth and goodness. TAN Books in particular has released a number of very good books for children in the past few years that would make great Christmas gifts.

First, I strongly recommend two books produced jointly by former students of mine from the Augustine Institute, author Katie Warner and illustrator Meg Whalen. First, a board book, Cloud of Witnesses: A Child’s First Book of Saints (2018), contains short prayers and sayings of the saints combined with simple and striking images. Second, I Went to Mass: What Did I See? (2018), also for younger children, walks them through all the major steps for understanding the Mass more, from the popular holy water font on.

Another series for younger readers details the life of monks in an accessible way, showing the monks’ daily routines and also their approachable humanity.

Sylvia Dorham and artist Christopher Tupa team up for The Monks’ Daily Bread (2015) and The Monks’ Stormy Night (2017), both of which show how the monks learn to trust God through problems which strike the monastery. Children will enjoy the pictures and rhymes and receive a lighthearted and faithful introduction to religious life.

Moving to a slightly older audience, Carrie Gress helps youth encounter Our Lady in Marian Consecration for Children: Bringing Mary to Life in Young Hearts and Minds (2018). I made a consecration to Jesus through Mary when I was 15 years old, following the method of St. Louis de Montfort. Gress does a great service in making this spirituality available at even younger ages, explaining the lives and spirituality of the saints, helping youth form habits of prayer, and using good literature in her explanations.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was one of the greatest Catholic writers of the past century. Chesterton is still known for his Fr. Brown detective series, which has been turned into a Hollywood movie, staring Alec Guinness, and two different television series. Younger readers, about middle school age, can experience an early introduction to Chesterton as three sisters encounter him on their summer vacation in a mystery novel, Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Chestertons and the Golden Key (2016). High schoolers may enjoy one of Chesterton’s own novels, The Ball and the Cross, with new illustrations by Ben Hake (2014), which, with Chestertonian wit, engages the timely topics of the confrontation of atheism and Catholicism and tolerance gone awry.

Another TAN book that you may consider, though not written primarily for children, deals with C.S. Lewis’ immensely popular children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia: Joseph Pearce’s Further Up & Further In: Understanding Narnia (2018). The Narnia books are popular with children and adults alike, as Pearce tells us that “there is . . . something primal in our need for fairy stories which becomes more acute as we lose the innocence and naiveté of childhood. In other words, adults need fairy stories even more than children do. Adults need to have their sense of wonder rekindled, whereas children, especially very young children, are already ablaze with it” (6). By deepening our own imaginations, we can help form our children’s imaginations, keeping them from the many webs that would cloud out their innocence and creativity. Reading The Chronicles of Narnia out loud to our children is a great experience on both sides and will bring about many fruitful discussions, especially as we unpack his allegory and symbolism. For those who have already been deeply immersed in Lewis’ vision, Pearce’s book can help you dive deeper into the Christian meaning of the stories. My own teenage daughter, Mariana, a big Narnia fan, gave the book her endorsement!

I must commend TAN Books for offering such a splendid array of visually and intellectually inspiring books for our children. Consider giving some of them as Christmas gifts this year.