A blessed Advent to all! This is one of my favorite times of year, and I'm so glad it has come around again.
We just got back to town after a long Thanksgiving trip, so I haven't yet dug out the Advent wreath or Jesse Tree, or all the other great little treasures packed away in my Advent box.
But I did pull out my huge stack of children's picture books for the season. I know some families like to wrap all their Christmas books in wrapping paper, and have the kids pick one to read each day of Advent. Sounds like a nice way to space them out and build up anticipation and all that, but...."Aint's nobody got time for that" (as they say) around here. Instead, they'll just sit in a stack in the basement and the kids will be able to choose what to read each day. I counted up our books, and we have over forty! Yikes. Too many books for just one per day, so I'll be letting each kid take a turn to pick two books to read each day until we run out.
I've been doing some thinking about how our family should observe the Church's feast days. It seems like a lot of the Catholic moms on the internet these days observe so many of the days in the Liturgical calendar with a special craft or fun treat for the kids. You can find online for observing ideas for even the most obscure of holydays. For awhile, I felt like I needed to do that too.
I think it's great that there is a renewed interest in the observation of the Church year. Based on the publication dates of some of the "classic" books on this topic (Maria Von Trapp's. Mary Reed Newland's, Fr. F. X. Weiser's), I suspect there was a similar cultural movement like this back in the 50s.
But after trying - and failing - many times to come up with and remember to do fun activities with the kids for each major feast day that came up, I realized it wasn't exactly what I wanted for our family. Something about it all seemed forced, artificial.
And anyways, the best and most traditional way to celebrate the feasts is to attend Mass on that day, and pray the special prayers that the Church has chosen (as well as participating in the prayers of the Divine Office).
Conclusion: attending Mass with your family to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is better than eating tacos on that day just because she appeared in Mexico. Or, baking a cake for the feast of St. Linus (a rather obscure Saint) because you have a son named for him is better than saying, "oh, tomorrow is the feast of St. Benedict!" (who you admittedly don't much much about, and have never had a personal devotion to) and scrambling to find an excerpt about him to read the kids from one of their Saint books, and researching the various traditional ways different countries/monasteries have celebrated the day, and trying to throw a special dish together at the last minute with food items you already have in your pantry. You know what I mean? (though let me be clear - eating tacos as a way to observe a feast is not bad)
At Mass yesterday, the first day of Advent, the priest said some things in his homily that struck me. Firstly, he was talking about our daily family prayers, and how we needed to ramp them up during Advent. He mentioned a daily Rosary, referring to it as "the basics", that it was what we should all already be doing. How many Catholic families are making the time and effort to fit in a Rosary every single day? Are you? How can you make it happen this Advent?
Father suggested, if families aren't already, to add in the prayer of the Angelus each day this Advent - saying it once morning morning, noon, and 6pm, if you're able.
Father also talked about the penitential nature of Advent, and how we should consider a way to make it more penitential in our homes. It got me to thinking about how rarely I offer any personal penances, or observe any fasts. With the exception of the bare minimum required by the Church - fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstaining from meat every Friday - I don't have a good habit of offering sacrifices. (if you are Catholic, and are not consistently abstaining every Friday of the year, please be aware that this is required. If you live in the US, you have permission to substitue a personal penance instead of abstaining from meat. We prefer to follow the traditional course. I have heard it argued that there is greater virtue in performing a penance not chosen by yourself, one that is accepted from above out of obedience)
All this started me thinking of the Liturgical year again, and how there used to be so many more days on which fasting/abstinence were required - more stringent fasting rules for Lent, the Ember days, fasting on the eve of many major feast days, and so on. We are not required to observe many of these fasts anymore, just as we are not required to observe most of the feast days on the calendar. But if I want to try to revive the celebration of some of our favorite feasts in our home - Assumption, Our Lady of the Rosary, Epiphany, etc. - then I feel we should really be taking on more of the penitential days as well.
It just suddenly feels wrong to enjoy celebrating all the feasts without also sacrificing during the fasts.