By Andrea Perkins
Editor’s note: One of the questions we often discuss is how to bring the life of the Church into our homes. We all wish to dedicate our whole lives to Christ and that means making the traditions of the Church our family traditions. We are going to dedicate several blog posts to this topic, especially as we enter a new liturgical year. In this two-part series, Andrea Perkins first introduces the liturgical year and its practice in the home. Then, in a second installment, she introduces Advent and give suggestions for celebrating it.
“The life of the Church in her liturgy, discloses to our senses the continuing mystery of the Incarnation. The Lord still lives in the Church, under that same form in which He was once manifest on earth, and which exists eternally; and it is the function of that Church to make those sacred memories living, so that we again witness and take part in them.” - Evelyn Underhill, Worship
The liturgical year (or Church calendar) is the Church’s way of recollecting the sacred memories of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is important for Christians to be attentive to the Church calendar because it provides our faith with strength and stability. Living the liturgical year helps transform the common stuff of life into a living sacrifice—our daily lives become part of the life of Christ through participation and perpetuation.
Background of the Church Year
The practice of marking off time through the celebration of feasts is rooted in Judaism. The Church has a rich history that borrows from ancient Jewish practices. Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites are admonished to “not forget,” and frequently a monument or feast of some sort is established to help them remember. It should not come as a surprise that we continue to be a people in need of remembrance.
The commemoration of Easter dates back to the earliest days of the Church, although the dating of the feast wasn’t standardized until sometime in the later second century. Pentecost, being Jewish in origin, also dates back to the Church’s conception. The rest of the calendar developed gradually, but the central parts were in place by the end of the 5th century. These 1500+ years of Christian tradition (not to mention the Jewish roots of feast-keeping) further reinforce the significance of the liturgical year.
The liturgical year begins with the season of Advent and proceeds through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity. Feast days memorializing the lives of the saints are recognized throughout the year. By regularly commemorating the Christian men and women who have gone before us, we keep in focus the passion and dedication with which they devoted their lives to Christ. They illuminate our way and strengthen us in our own commitment to Christ and his Church. We are “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,” as the author of Hebrews writes (12:1). It is a comfort to remember we are not alone.
Marking the Seasons in the Home
Ritual-making and ceremony in the home require a leader. As parents, it is our duty to lead our children in these traditions so that their faith might grow and be strengthened. Evelyn Underhill refers to the seasons of the Church year as “vehicles of God’s continuing self-communication and man’s response” (Worship). Romano Guardini adds that in the liturgies of the Church “the memory of the life of Christ is constantly remembered and the redemption re-experienced” (The Art of Praying). It is our responsibility not only to expose our children to God’s continuing self-communication but also to help them understand, internalize, and digest the revelation of God. Thankfully, we have many tools at our disposal!
When introducing children to the liturgical year I’ve found it helpful to talk about each season as a period of time, drawing out the clear, specific purpose of each one (see table above). A calendar for visualization is also helpful. Try making a “Liturgical Calendar Wheel” to help explain the year and follow the different seasons. You can print off this pdf template to help! It is also a good idea to have an Ordo Kalendar for everyday use.
Living the Church calendar happens amidst the mundane realities of day-to-day life. We learn its rhythms as we attend to individual feast days and to the particular nature of each liturgical season. In the second part of this series, we will consider the nature of Advent and how to commemorate it in the home.
Andrea Perkins lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband, Fr. Mark, and two daughters. She is the operations manager for Three Notch'd Road: The Virginia Baroque Ensemble.