By Aubri Hale
I was not raised in a liturgical church, and in my youth, Christmas and Easter were the only parts of the church calendar that I was familiar with. After being introduced to Lutheranism in college, I was exposed to more visible elements of church tradition: vestments and paraments that changed color throughout the year, images, crucifixes, kneeling and reverencing the altar. I began to think of these as little treasures or tools: visual reminders of what we believe, teach and confess. Somewhere along the way I realized that what we do with our bodies, our time, and our lives is a tangible witnesses to invisible faith.
As I began to learn about the various liturgical calendars, I decided to start including some of that tradition in my home. I wanted to do this especially for my children, hoping to teach them and anchor them in Scripture.
What is a liturgical church calendar? Here’s one definition according to Wikipedia: “The liturgical year or calendar simply consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches that determines when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read either in an annual cycle or in a cycle of several years.”
My husband, a pastor, explains it this way: “There is no single Church Year. Instead, there is a hodge-podge of various traditions accumulated over centuries that we can use discriminately. There is no doubt that not all days and celebrations were introduced in doctrinal purity. However, a tradition can be used in a God-pleasing way, even if not historically accurate or originally faithful to Scripture.”
A church calendar is a wonderful, rich and helpful tool, but there are some things that we should understand if we are to use it correctly.
1. Christians do not need to use church calendars. The feasts, fasts and seasons of the liturgical year do not make us more holy, spiritual or righteous. Sometimes they can actually be stumbling blocks, create feelings of guilt, and become manmade measuring sticks and a hindrance to the Gospel.
2. These calendars we use are man-made. There is nothing in Scripture that tells us when to celebrate Christmas, Easter or even to attend church. Likewise, there is nothing in Scripture that tells us which saints to commemorate or how they are to be commemorated. As with worship services, church calendars help create order. In fact, Christians in Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches around the world have slightly different calendars from one another (even different dates for Easter). Within our own Synod, churches can have different readings and feast days for a given service.
3. We can adapt these calendars to our own use. We are free in our homes and in our personal lives to use the tool of a liturgical calendar as we see fit for our own families.
4. Most importantly, church calendars and saints’ days should always be used to point to Christ. Jesus is the one thing needful (Luke 10:42). He is and must be the foundation of all our teaching. Use liturgical living to teach that Christ comes for sinners (Advent), that He became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary (Christmas) for all people (Epiphany), that He suffered under Pontius Pilate (Lent), was crucified, died and was buried (Good Friday) and on the third day He rose again from the dead (Easter). He then sent the Holy Spirit to give faith (Pentecost) and His Church grows through His Word and Sacraments (Time of the Church).
So what does it mean to keep or observe the Church year in the home? Simply put, it is taking what happens in church on Sunday and continuing to focus on that with your family throughout the rest of the week. It is letting God’s Word be central to our daily lives. By doing this we teach children that Jesus isn’t only for Sunday mornings but for every day and for every season of life. We remind ourselves that this world is not our home. The focus of our lives should be on the eternal life to come, not this one. These days and seasons unique to the Church calendar put a stop in the hectic routine of our weeks and months in this world. These reminders give us an opportunity to refocus our minds on things above.
Using the calendar your church follows gives a focal point, a simple emphasis and main theme with which to explore the riches of Scripture. If all you do is discuss what your pastor preached on Sunday morning with your children or what they learned in Sunday School throughout the week, that’s great. However you decide to focus on God’s Word and work with your family, know that the lessons you are passing along to your children are of great importance and eternal value. Children will learn what is valuable by watching what we bring into our homes. What we do (even if nothing) is a confession we make and an inheritance we give to them. They will learn by what we do or do not do.
Keeping the Church year in your home does not have to be complicated or extravagant. Actually, I would argue that simpler is better, especially with children.
Here are some easy ways my family does this. I’ve included links to resources as well. Please remember that these are just ideas. Each season of family life brings different levels of busyness, and each of us has our limits. Also, note that many of my resources are from Roman Catholics or Evangelicals. I do not endorse all of the practices and teachings these sources may provide. Take what is good and useful and leave the rest.
Try to have family devotions at some point each day or a few times a week. Include hymns and Scripture readings appropriate to the season. You can find a seasonal index of hymns in the Lutheran Service Book p. 993 and Scripture readings on the LCMS Church Year webpage. You can also use the Treasury of Daily Prayer and the Concordia Catechetical Academy which are excellent resources for daily Scripture readings, catechesis schedules, and prayers. Family devotion times are excellent opportunities to read parts of the Small Catechism to your children and have them begin to recite it back to you or to work on memorizing Bible verses and hymns according to the season.
Follow and Do Series Catechism picture books for young children.
Set up a liturgical table in the home. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Perhaps you can find a corner table or some space on a shelf or piano top for a candle or small cloth in the color of the current church season, a Bible, hymnal, and a picture of Christ or a crucifix. This table doesn’t have to be where your family prays or holds devotions, but can be used as a visible reminder of the current season. It can also be helpful to hang up rotating Christian art or images fitting to each season.
Celebrate baptismal birthdays. Remind your children of the day they became God’s child. In our home we have a little party that includes lighting the candle they received on their baptism day, a reading about baptism from Luther’s Small Catechism, singing the hymn from the day they were baptized and then having a treat. If your home is busy, how about just talking about baptism and eating a brownie with your child on their special day?
Celebrate name days. Most of my children have been named for particular saints in Scripture or after a sainted family member. I use the days these saints appear on the calendar or the anniversary of a relative’s death to teach them for whom they are named. Some families bake a cake or give small gifts or flowers to their children on their name day.
Meals we cook can reflect the season or day. I use food as a teaching opportunity. We might have Greek food on the day we commemorate St. Titus, a three berry pie on Trinity Sunday, or red flame sugar cookies for Pentecost. It’s a lot of fun to be creative with this one.
Coloring and crafting. This is a fun one for me and my young children. A simple picture, craft, or Bible lesson can be plenty for a particular feast or saint’s day. Children are visual learners and love hands-on activities. Providing historical artwork to look at or allowing them to make their own makes quite an impression on them.
In part two I will talk about how our family commemorates the saints on the Church calendar.
Aubri Hale lives in Bancroft, Nebraska. She is the wife of a pastor and a keeper of house, unmatched socks, and too many sippy cups. She and her husband have six children and a seventh due in April of 2015. She was raised in Texas and received a BA in History from the University of Texas at Austin, but always just wanted to be a wife and mother. She enjoys singing hymns, observing the church year with her family, baking muffins, reading if she can stay awake and drinking strong coffee. Aubri blogs at A Bundle of Myrrh and The Church Year in the Home.
Title Image: "Let the Children Come to Me," detail.