By: Anjanette Barr
Liturgy – a word that has come to refer to the order of worship during our religious gatherings – means literally, “the work of the people.” The Liturgy provides structure for our time at Mass, moving us actively through the story of our salvation through God’s compassionate gift of His son. It is not a time for merely receiving God’s graces through the sacraments, but of participating as a priestly people in God’s work of redemption through Jesus Christ.
The Liturgical Calendar provides that same structure for us as we go about our daily lives all year long – and invites us to intentionally live the small role our great author has written for us in His story.
“In the Liturgical Year, the Church celebrates the whole mystery of Christ from the Incarnation until the day of Pentecost and the expectation of Christ’s second coming.” United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.
I love that the Church provides us with tools that help us focus, every day, on the eternal things. And I love that our culture as a whole still joins with the Church in community during at least this one liturgical season of Advent and Christmas. People of diverse religious – and even secular – backgrounds celebrate and embrace the birth of our Savior during the month of December. It is a special oasis in the calendar year for Christians who desire to live their faith more visibly.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and we all sense the atmosphere of anticipation during this season. Waiting is difficult, and Christmas decorations seem to appear in stores earlier and earlier each year. The whole world waits with bated breath – but only Christians understand what our hearts are truly yearning for. We long to say, with Zechariah:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” Luke 1:68-69
As Catholics, we celebrate the Advent – which means the coming – of God Incarnate at Christmas by preparing our hearts for four weeks prior to Christmas Day. During Mass, we read Scripture that reminds us of the events leading up to Christ’s birth and that foretell his second coming. We light advent candles, display special colors, and sing carols.
But Advent isn’t just a special time of festivities to close the year out on a happy note. Advent actually marks the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, which includes Advent, Lent, Eastertide, and Pentecost. Even during what is called “ordinary time,” the Church calendar is full of feasts and traditions.
Through the feasts and observations of the Liturgical Year, we are able to actively participate in prayer, worship, and service alongside the faithful all over the world – and even in Heaven. What a beautiful gift!
Measuring our time with remembrances – of the life of Christ and of the lives and deeds of those who have gone before us – is an antidote to getting caught up in consumption. We often find ourselves rushing through these moments we’ve been blessed with, even as we wish we could slow time and capture the memories we’re making – devouring rather than savoring them. The liturgical calendar helps us to order our days, just as the liturgy of the Mass orders our worship, moving ever forward toward what matters most – God’s selfless love for us. It reminds us of His desire that we participate in, rather than just consume, the time He has gifted us with.
“Christmas isn’t just a temporal celebration or the memory of a beautiful (event); Christmas is more … Christmas is an encounter!” – Pope Francis
And that’s what we are truly longing for an anticipating, isn’t it? The chance to encounter our God. To feel connected to the source of our hope – the source that can easily be obscured by the fog of busyness we are surrounded by in our fast-paced lives. Living liturgically – not just on Sunday, but every day – gives us practical ways to encounter Christ every season.
Take the time today to re-evaluate your plans for the holidays. How can you use this season to re-orient your life and home toward Christ? If you decorate your home, can you make your nativity the focal point of your decorations? Or incorporate the liturgical colors of purple and pink along with your greens and reds?
Rich traditions inspired by the Church calendar this season include displaying and lighting advent candles at home, saying the Saint Andrew novena each day until Christmas, telling the story of Saint Nicholas and leaving small gifts in children’s shoes on December 6th, putting special ornaments on a “Jesse Tree” to tell the story of Jesus’ lineage, pray or sing the O Antiphons each of the seven nights before Christmas, caring for the poor as Good King Wenceslas did on the feast of St. Stephen (December 26th), reading the Christmas story together from one of the gospels, and blessing your home on Epiphany (January 6th).
If living the Liturgical Year is a new concept for you or one that you haven’t really explored, start now – the beginning is a very good place to start – and start small. Choose just a few Christ-centered traditions to incorporate into this Christmas season, and use the momentum as motivation to look for and learn about the tools our tradition gives us for living liturgically all year long.
When you hang your 2019 wall calendar, mark your favorite saint days down right away, just like you mark the dates of family birthdays and anniversaries. Make it a habit to begin each month – or each new season – by brainstorming ideas for making liturgical dates special. It can be as simple as getting a picture book about a saint from the library to read to your children, or preparing a meal from the home country of the saint you are remembering together.
Our brothers and sisters in the secular world are looking forward to New Year’s Day for a clean slate, the chance to start over. But brothers and sisters in Christ, our new beginning is now! Now is the time to re-center our focus on the story God is telling and has been telling throughout all the ages.
“Let us rediscover the beauty of being together along the way: the Church, with her vocation and mission, and the whole of humanity, the people, the civilizations, the cultures, all together on the paths of time.” Pope Francis
Anjanette Barr is a parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle in Juneau, Alaska. She is a wife, mother, writer, and recent convert to the Catholic Church. Anjanette can be reached at http://www.anjanettebarr.com