The Value of Tradition
In addition to being shaped by its historical and cultural context, every religion has a set of informal practices that have emerged. These customs support liturgy, sometimes softening it to become more spiritually accessible. They provide yet another vehicle for expressing faith. Call your religion a "faith tradition" instead and notice how rituals become infused with meaning that, in turn, reinforces your identity as a Catholic follower of Jesus the Christ.
Since its beginning, the Church has recognized, sometimes with great dismay, the customs of people it has embraced and, put more bluntly, conquered. Around the thirteenth century, the Catholic Church took more formal notice of sacramentals--signs, symbols, and activities that serve to enhance faith and identity. These include actions (e.g., making the sign of the Cross, praying the Rosary, novenas, nonliturgical blessings) and objects (e.g., Advent wreaths, holy water, medals, rosary beads).
Unlike the sacraments instituted by Christ, the Church determines the use of sacramentals, promoting some and demoting others at different points in history. Perhaps you're old enough to remember when St. Christopher was unceremoniously removed from car dashboards. A goofy example? Not to anyone who experienced and mourned his demise as patron saint of travelers! This example illustrates the Church's major concern about sacramentals and, by extension, folk customs: how to prevent mystery from slipping into magic. At what point does superstition eclipse substance? Since this is a book about celebrating ages-old customs, you'll want to give this issue serious consideration. To evaluate the value of any particular custom, ask yourself:
* Does this custom bring me into a deeper personal relationship with God the Creator, Christ the Redeemer, and Holy Spirit, the Divine Counselor?
* Does this observance reflect, strengthen, and sustain my Christian values and beliefs?
* Does this practice help me express my Christian faith and enhance my participation in the Body of Christ?
And keep this in mind: Don't reject a custom because it seems too enjoyable to be pious! Fun is absolutely compatible with faith. If you need biblical proof, search scripture for references to celebration, feasting, and joy. (Hint: Where did Jesus perform his first public miracle? See John 2:1-11.)
Your Catholic Home
Were you raised Catholic? If so, what do you remember about your childhood home? How about your grandparents' home?
If you came of age before 1965, you can probably rattle off a list of items that distinguished your home as being a Catholic one. There was probably a crucifix over every bed wrapped, depending on the time of year, in either fresh or dusty palm fronds. Rosary beads hung from a bedpost or were coiled on a bedside table. The family Bible was displayed and, depending on your family's devotional fervor, opened to the day's gospel reading. The Blessed Virgin Mother appeared on the family altar (if you had one) as well as the front lawn. Maybe you had a statue of the Infant of Prague (with outfits!) as well as one of Mary in your kitchen. Your whole family prayed the Rosary. Everyone said grace before meals and made the sign of the Cross--in front of company, no less. And that's just what you remember off the top of your head.
Chances are that if you were born after 1965 you'd be hard-pressed to identify many distinctively Catholic objects or activities in either your childhood home or the one you're creating today. The preceding inventory, parts of which probably read like a movie prop list, may trigger feelings of curiosity, nostalgia, or loss. What will it take to make your home the "domestic Church" it was historically intended to be? Take a tour of your home, asking:
* Does my home reflect my Catholic Christian faith?
* Have I created a place in my home and time in my life to celebrate my faith?
* What would I have to add--or remove--so my home strengthens the presence of Christ in my life?
It doesn't matter whether you have four kids or seven cats, Grandma in the upstairs apartment, or other single friends within walking distance. You are heir to a venerable structure for creating a Catholic home--the Catholic calendar. Commit to marking time in alignment with the life of Jesus the Christ, and watch your own life be transformed.
Faith is a treasure of life, which is enriched by
If you're reading this book, it's because you--or a well-meaning someone--has decided it's time to give fuller expression to your Catholic identity. Before you do anything else, you'll want to get or create a master calendar. You can either run off a calendar that you find on one of the many Catholic websites noted in Appendix D or visit a bookstore that carries Catholicalia. Somewhere, usually near the laminated prayer cards, you'll find a liturgical calendar that's snazzier than whatever your parish makes available.
Preprinted secular calendars generally note dates for big events during the year, but liturgical calendars also include saints' days and are color-coded for the season and feast days. Look for one big enough to include your personal notations about secular birthdays, name days, sacrament anniversaries, daily devotions, and other reminders. While you're at it, treat yourself to colored pens so you can make calendar notes in their proper liturgical colors! You'll need red, green, and violet.
As you'll soon discover, the Roman (or Latin) Rite calendar is a powerful tool for studying--and living--Christianity. Without a doubt, Catholics celebrate a greater number of events in Jesus' life than do Protestant Christians. Along with the Eastern Church, we have special regard for Mary, the Mother of God, and canonized saints. As a result, we are--or can be--very busy celebrating, memorializing, venerating, and adoring throughout the year. Following the Catholic calendar closely can teach you more--and more personally--about our faith tradition than attending CCD. And it can enrich your whole family's sense of faith, family, and tradition.
Technically, our liturgical year officially begins at Advent. It starts with this season for one obvious reason: Jesus is born; the Word is made flesh to live among us. And yet, as your own devotions deepen, you may find yourself "beginning" the year at different times, sometimes beginning again and again during the very same year. One year, it'll make perfect sense to start with Advent. Perhaps after experiencing a loved one's death, you may wonder why the liturgical year doesn't commence with Easter Sunday. If you earnestly celebrate your saint's feast day, you may secretly believe that the year should begin then!
In any case, this temporal cycle follows an unbroken succession of seasons commemorating events and mysteries of faith organized around the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Sunday, the new Sabbath affirmed by the risen Lord, is the key marker for determining:
Advent: Four weeks of preparation for the birth of Jesus the Christ
Christmas: Season celebrating the birth of Jesus the Christ
Ordinary Time: Weeks between the Baptism of the Lord and Lent providing time to contemplate and live the lessons of Christmas and prepare for Lent
Lent: Forty days of Easter preparation
Holy Week: Starting with Palm Sunday, a week of commemorating events leading up to and through the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ
Easter: Fifty days of celebrating the resurrection and ascension of Christ
Pentecost: Celebrating the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church
Ordinary Time: Weeks between Pentecost and Advent providing time for living the lessons of the preceding great feasts
Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present. The Paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated. It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration, there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present.
At the same time, the Catholic calendar is organized according to a sanctoral cycle of days honoring men and women who have lived extraordinary lives in the service of Christ. By Vatican Council II (1962-1965), the calendar was crammed with saints and devotional feasts, especially ones to Mary. It was reconfigured in 1969 to reemphasize the temporal cycle, relegating a fair number of saints' days to local and regional celebration. Except for saints' days providing seasonal markers (e.g., the Feast of St. Andrew marks the end of Ordinary Time), we'll focus on the temporal cycle in this book. We'll also zoom in on daily devotions that are not necessarily linked to the calendar, and also home-based ways to prepare for celebrating the sacraments.
In sum, the Roman (Latin) Church's year of worship, beginning at Advent, is jam-packed with holy seasons and feast days of various types, inspiring and requiring various levels of observance. Some, like holy days of obligation, are feast days devoted to Mass attendance, rest, and contemplative renewal. Others, like the seasons of Advent and Lent, are times of fasting and penance. Virtually all have centuries-old church rituals and folk customs that infuse each celebration--and our hearts--with special meaning.
Holy Days of Obligation
These six holy days of obligation provide opportunities to restore body, mind, and soul. Easter isn't on this list because Sunday is already a holy day of obligation.
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God January 1
Ascension forty days after Easter
Assumption of Mary August 15
All Saints' Day November 1
Mary's Immaculate Conception December 8
Christmas December 25
The Value of Ritual
Religious rituals--activities that help create a sense of the sacred--provide continuity and comfort for faith communities. God knows, there's no shortage of ritual for Catholics to learn and follow. The challenge is keeping ritual not only alive, but also vibrantly well.
Consider Mass liturgy, for example. Non-Catholics seem somewhat stunned by the unwavering predictability of the Mass and its constituent rituals. Predictability does not, however, mean forever unchanging. Before Vatican II, the Mass was criticized (by outsiders and insiders) for its seemingly obscure formalism and way of excluding laity. These days, Mass is served in local language, priests face the pew-bound faithful, and both men and women are encouraged to participate more. Not that any of this automatically guarantees your full participation. No doubt, you've caught yourself zoning out at least once during years of church attendance.
At church, either the material or mystical can keep you from drifting too far. Perhaps there's something about the building itself--the vault of the ceiling or the unique olfactory blend of wood polish and incense--that invites you to become present. You might notice how a change in vestment colors shifts your sense of season. Sometimes the rhythm of the lector's voice recaptures your attention to God's word. At other times, music transports you deeper into the land of worship. You might find yourself mindlessly reciting the profession of faith when suddenly a word, phrase, or entire section comes to life--your present life--in a new way. The Host is held high and you are through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
All of it--the physical structure of God's house and the rituals performed within it--serves to shepherd your meandering mind. But you face another challenge once you hear, "The mass has ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and each other." This is the challenge of bringing your Christian faith into daily life and, more specifically, creating a home that reflects your Catholic identity. Here's where traditions help construct and sustain meaning.
The spiritual tradition of the Church also emphasizes the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of one's being, where the person decides for or against God.
CCC 368From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould. Copyright © 2004 by Meredith Gould. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.