Living the Liturgical Year, Part 3: A How-To for Holy Days

If you’re just joining us, welcome! We’ve been discussing how to begin living into the liturgical year. Today, we’re going to the nitty-gritty. A practical how-to for celebrating holy days.

With so many ways to celebrate, and so much to learn, it can get a little overwhelming. Don’t worry; we’re keeping it simple, sister.

Liturgical Year Part 3

Before we dive into the details, I’d like to start with some quick apologetics. (No, not an apology.)

So we’re all on the same page, “apologetics” is just a high-falutin term for explaining what I believe.

I know not all my readers are Catholic, so I’m going to quickly explain why Catholics celebrate feast days in general and, in particular, why we celebrate saints.

I like to think of Catholicism as the bedrock of Christianity. Protestants have traditionally followed a particular teacher’s vision (Calvinist, Lutheran, Methodist) or pared things down to the biblical bare bones (Puritan, Fundamental). Catholicism is primarily geared toward building up, fleshing out. It’s the “more + and” of Christianity.

The lives of saints, particularly Mary, have been a part of Christian celebration from the beginning. But (some ask) is it okay for Christians to continue those celebrations today?

I think it helps to take religion out of it for a moment.

Do you celebrate birthdays? Do you observe memorial services for deceased loved ones? Is it okay to honor wedding anniversaries with a special dinner or a party?

If these things conflict with your beliefs, then celebrating the liturgical year is not for you, and that’s just fine. If, however, you’re okay with these observances, then you may be surprised to discover how enriching liturgical feasts can be for your faith.

Just to stress what I hope is the obvious: Catholics do not worship saints. We honor  and celebrate them.

The same way we celebrate a child’s birthday. The way Americans honor Martin Luther King, Jr. for his sacrificial and inspiring work and our mothers for their love-spent lives. It’s all about recognizing a race well-run while offering a hope and a prayer that we’ll cross that same finish line to see all their smiling faces.

Okay, you’re thinking, I’m ready to join the party, but I don’t know how. How do you celebrate?

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Personally, I don’t feel that every liturgical feast needs (or even should) be an elaborate occasion. You really can tailor the day to the needs of your family (or group of roommates, or bible study, or whomever you’re celebrating with).

There is no right or wrong, but if you’re feeling lost, I’ll submit what I feel are the 3 essential ingredients to a meaningful liturgical celebration.

1. Head.

In order to celebrate our faith, we need to know it. Most importantly, we need to know Jesus.

For a feast day celebration that really resonates, strive to learn (and teach) something new. Study the life of a saint, learn about his or her culture. Dive into the Scriptures, the catechism, or an encyclical and discover something rich to savor.

Use whatever you find as a pathway to draw nearer to God.

2. Hands.

This is key for young ones. Many people are kinesthetic learners, but all children need hands-on experience to tie their head and their heart together.

You could prepare a special dish (preferably as a group effort!) or meal, make a craft, go on a nature walk or mini-pilgrimage, or perform a skit. Just find something tactile and sensory that feeds your people and helps you each dig deeper into the significance of the day.

And if you’re forced to choose between fun and fancy? Choose fun!

3. Heart.

This is what it all comes back to. It all comes home to the heart, always, always. This is when we distill the meaning, reflect on what we’ve learned, cherish the fellowship and what our hands create, and find the deepest center of it all.

Pray, sing hymns, journal, or go to Mass.

This is the element that will draw you back, year after year, because this is how we are ultimately nourished. This is where we meet with God.

I’ve got it, you say. Head, hands, and heart. But what does that look like?

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What? You were expecting something profound? Personally, I think a trip to the zoo would be perfect for celebrating Saint Francis.

You know, I don’t like to overthink these things – I certainly don’t want you to feel you need to. So, I’m going to offer two simple examples: one for a saint’s feast and one for celebrating an event in the life of Jesus.

CELEBRATING SAINT PATRICK – March 17th

Head – Cuddle up on the couch to read this beautiful biography with little ones. With older children (or an adult roommate or faith group), you might learn more about Patrick’s slavery, memorize all or part of St. Patrick’s breastplate, or study the present-day “troubles” in faith-torn Ireland.

Hands – Cook up a meal of corned beef and cabbage. Cut out some Trinity Shamrocks. Or bake a batch of cookies. Let Pinterest be your guide. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just make it come to life.

Heart – You might gather around the guitar, sing a traditional Irish hymn. Pray for peace in Ireland. Commit to ending modern-day slavery and aiding those who are its victims.

CELEBRATING CANDLEMAS (THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD) – February 2nd

Head – Read St. Luke’s account from the gospels. Find out how candles are made. Study the way they are used in the liturgy. Discover something new.

Hands – Make your own beeswax candles. Take them to Mass to be blessed. Do a staged reading of the gospel account. Light candles at dinner – or breakfast! Remember, make it fun.

Heart – Say your evening prayers by candlelight. Attend Mass (with or without candles). Pray the joyful mysteries of the rosary, reflecting especially on the fourth decade. Like Mary, quietly ponder.

It really is that simple. Easy as 1-2-3.

Head + hands + heart = … well, you fill in the rest.

continue the conversation: Leave a comment below to share your favorite feast day celebrations! How do you nourish head, hands, and heart around your table?

stay tuned: Next time we’ll be looking at some of the best dates on the church calendar: YOURS!

To read the rest of the series:
Part 1: Where to Start?
Part 2: Cherry-Pickin’ Christian

5 comments

  1. Caitlin says:

    Adam and I studied abroad in France together in college and learned that crepes are a really big deal for Candlemas. Apparently because they look like a swaddled baby? Of course, most people have forgotten why Candlemas is important, but they still get excited about crepes for dessert 🙂

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