Living the Liturgical Year
Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.
Our Catholic identity is shaped by the way we read the Bible. And we read the Bible in a special way: It—s called the liturgical year.
The liturgical year—the annual cycle of feasts and seasons—is not primarily about decorations (when to bring out the poinsettias and when to display the lilies and hydrangeas). Nor is it simply a way to add variety to the Mass so that it isn—t so repetitive (some days the priest wears green, other days purple). The liturgical year is about much more Catholic, all-inclusive issues. The liturgical year enables us to celebrate the whole mystery of Christ.
The Bible is our living contact with the mystery of Christ. The way we Catholics officially (liturgically) read Scripture creates our liturgical year. For example, the day on which the Church reads the Resurrection account becomes Easter; the day on which we proclaim Christ—s birth becomes Christmas Day.
The original and most important Catholic feast day is Sunday, the Lord—s Day. Jews find identity in Sabbath rest; Muslims, in Jumuah, the Friday prayer. We Catholics find identity in the Sunday eucharistic assembly. The Bible emphasizes the bond between the Lord—s Day and the Lord—s Supper. While our contemporary understanding of Sunday has incorporated elements of Sabbath rest, Sunday retains its primary and original meaning as a day of assembly. On the Lord—s Day, the day of Christ—s resurrection, we gather with other Catholics and celebrate the memorial of his paschal victory, the Eucharist.
Rich Biblical Tradition
At Mass on Sundays and holy days, during the course of a three-year cycle the Church proclaims some 500 passages of the Bible, passages from each of the books of both the Old and New Testament. The Church year enables us to hear from all parts of the Scripture.
There are two ways in which the Church decides which passages of the Bible to proclaim at the liturgy. Imagine one of your favorite and often-read novels, books of poetry or inspirational essays. You might read the book beginning to end; or, especially after you are familiar with the book, you might pick out certain passages that correspond to a situation or mood or need that you are experiencing at any particular moment.
The Church reads the Bible in both of these ways. On some Sundays the Church selects the passages in light of their theme. This manner of selection creates the liturgical seasons of Easter and Christmas. On the other Sundays throughout the year the Church reads various books of the Bible from beginning to end in a continuous (or a semi-continuous) fashion.
The liturgy enables us to pass from our past-present-future time frame to enter into God—s "time of salvation" so that the grace and mystery proclaimed in the Scripture reading and in the feast are made present. The African-American spiritual asks, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" Yes, I was there! Or, more accurately, I am there now! At the Easter Vigil we sing, "This is the night when Jesus Christ rose triumphant from the grave." We don—t sing, "We remember the night long ago when..." We sing, "This is the night!"
Jesus: Alive Again
We Catholics today do not have to feel disappointed because all the really wonderful events of Christ—s life happened long ago before our lifetime. The liturgical year enables us to be present to those wonderful events now. The liturgical year makes the mysteries of the Lord—s life, death and resurrection present in a mysterious way so that Christians of every generation are enabled to come into contact with them and be enriched by their particular graces.
The mystery of Christ is so rich that no one, single celebration can do it justice. The liturgical year enables us to experience saving events of the Christ event in a more Catholic, all-embracing, universal way so that we can enter into these mysteries and thus be enriched by God—s saving love.
Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., has a doctorate
in liturgy and sacramental theology from the Institut Catholique
of Paris. A popular writer and lecturer, Father Richstatter
teaches courses on the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana)
School of Theology. His latest book is The
Sacraments: How Catholics Pray (St. Anthony Messenger
Next: Who Are We Called to Be?
Special Sunday Gatherings
up, I spent every other Sunday at my grandmother—s house. What I remember most
is playing with my cousins after dinner. Time after time we went to the ragbag
for costumes or used an old sheet for a tent. The coal bin became a pioneer
house or a castle. I remember all of this, but I don—t remember a single
Now that my children are grown, we have our own Sunday
gatherings, and I know why I have no memories of grandma—s meals. We adults
sit, eat and talk at the table for hours, but the children are gone in a flash.
Plates are put in front of them, but they are too intent on escaping to the
playroom to eat. They are making their own memories, but like my cousins and
myself, it—s not the meal or table-fellowship they—ll remember.
Eucharist is also a family gathering. It is the ultimate meal
and experience of table-fellowship, but the ritual is an adult celebration. As
at family meals, we can set a place for children, expect good manners and be
certain they get at least a taste. Most important is they leave our Sunday
gatherings with their own positive memories.
I am not suggesting we let them leave Mass early to play, but
parishes can provide Liturgy of the Word for children so they can worship and
pray with their peers. Occasionally parishes can sponsor coffee and donuts
after Mass, allowing adults to enjoy refreshments while youngsters have time
for their socializing.
It was my memories of the good times at my grandma—s that led
to the next generation of Sunday dinners. Will it be the same for our Church?
If we leave our children with positive experiences, perhaps as adults they will
return on their own to appreciate the meal, the sacrifice and table-fellowship
of Sunday Eucharist.
As a family share what you like most about your parish and your best parish memory.
Just out on DVD is an exquisite gem of a film, The Butterfly, that every family, with and without children, will enjoy. One limitation: a viewer must be old enough to read English subtitles, since the movie is in French. The story is told by writer and director Philippe Muyl with utter simplicity, avoiding melodrama and sentimentality and drawing the audience in through love of the characters.
This is a movie about the journey of three individuals to find their beauty within. In particular it—s the story of a crusty curmudgeon, Julien, who collects butterflies and only allows a cat into his life; and Elsa, the nine-year-old daughter of a single mother who moves into the upstairs apartment and upsets his hermetic life.
Julien, played by noted French actor Michel Serrault, is obsessive about his butterflies. The one butterfly that has eluded him is an extremely rare type named Isabella. Elsa (Claire Buanich, remarkable in her first role) is a precocious child who stoically endures the inattention she receives from her mother until, one day, Elsa—s mother doesn—t come home overnight. Elsa decides to run away and manipulates an extremely reluctant Julien into taking her with him on an expedition to the mountains where the Isabella butterfly can be found only three weeks a year.
While not a comedy as such, the film is filled with gentle humor as Julien tries to keep the irrepressible Elsa from insinuating herself into his affections as the two of them hike up the mountain.
Gradually the barrier between them begins to erode as Julien becomes a teacher of life lessons and Elsa continually asks questions. In aphorisms he teaches her about the meaning of love, about true riches and about life and death, among other things. But Julien is also a learner, taught by the wisdom that springs from the mouth of a child when she turns his words back on him.
Early in the journey we get a hint that there is more to the reticent Julien than we see, when Elsa asks him what a nightmare is. "It—s a dream gone bad," he says, "like children." We will later learn that his obsessive hunt for an Isabella butterfly was triggered by the request of his mentally ill son who eventually committed suicide.
Julien and Elsa—s journey is intercut with the young girl—s distraught mother triggering a police hunt for the daughter she believes has been kidnapped.
When an Isabella butterfly is finally found, then lost, Julien blames Elsa, causing her to run away. When he finds her the next morning she has fallen into a deep crevasse. He seeks police help, only to find himself arrested as Elsa is rescued.
In the end the butterfly becomes a metaphor for both of them, as well as Elsa—s mother, as they watch a beautiful butterfly emerge from the chrysalis that confines it. "We both went far away to find something," Julien says, "but discovered it was waiting for us here."
What values do you find in this film?
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
St. Faustina (1905-1938)
God often turns to unlikely human instruments to convey his divine will. In St. Maria Faustina he chose a quiet young woman who spent most of her 33 years working at behind-the-scenes tasks that many might view as unimportant.
Born into a large, poor Polish family, she had only three years of formal schooling. By her teens she was working as a housekeeper but she knew there was more she wanted to do with her life. At age 20 she entered the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, taking the name Faustina.
For the next 13 years she worked quietly as a cook, gardener and porter. It appeared her days were routine, even monotonous. But as Faustina went about her ordinary tasks she was developing a rich interior life. Like the other sisters, she spent hours in prayer and contemplation. But God singled her out—appearing to her and urging her to convey his plan of mercy for the world.
The God who revealed himself to Sister Faustina was not the strict judge so many had come to know, but a God of mercy and forgiveness. Many of the words of hope and comfort he spoke to her are contained in her diary, later translated into many languages. Among the words of Jesus she recorded in her own hand: "I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart."
Sister Faustina died of tuberculosis in 1938 at the age of 33. Pope John Paul II canonized her on April 30, 2000, calling Poland's first female saint "a gift of God to our time" and "to the whole Church." Since then, the Second Sunday of Easter is celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. St. Faustina's feast day is October 5.
If she hadn't been looking for something to read during a long train ride, Nancy Scimone might never have befriended St. Faustina. The New York-born actress and singer developed an "instant bond" with the Polish saint when she found and read a simple book located in the back of her parish church 10 years ago.
Over the next decade Ms. Scimone learned more about her new friend from other books. But when she encountered Faustina's diary—published in English as Divine Mercy in My Soul—the bonds of friendship were solidified.
"Faustina's words became part of my morning prayer," Ms. Scimone told Every Day Catholic. Over time her appreciation of the beauty of Faustina's life and spirit deepened, including the saint's devotion to Confession and Eucharist, Mary and Joseph, and to the God of mercy who appeared to her. Ms. Scimone became convinced that Faustina's words "needed to be heard aloud."
"This is not my interpretation of St. Faustina. I seek to honor what she said. It's just coming through a human being who happens to be me. I 'disappear' into Faustina," said Ms. Scimone, who typically performs the drama at Catholic parishes and conferences.
Her hope is that her play prompts audiences to read Faustina's diary, pray the "Chaplet of Divine Mercy" and take time for more reflection in their lives. "That's when we hear God's voice."