After discussing the nature of liturgy, the essence of Christian spirituality, how the liturgy forms its participants in the spirit of childhood, and how monks and nuns apply the lessons of the liturgy to their daily life, we now turn to practical considerations for those of us living, praying, and working in the world.
I wish to be extremely careful in this portion of our series. There is no one-size-fit-all approach to incorporating the liturgy into our daily lives. Once again, we can turn to the Rule of St. Benedict for some guidance. St. Benedict often gives precise, legislative instructions to the monks. Yet, almost every place there is a legislative declaration, he follows it by stating that “it shall lie within the Abbot’s discretion and power….”1 In other words, St. Benedict knows the variety of temperaments, dispositions, and abilities of humanity. Although he legislates a great deal in principle, the local spiritual father or mother has the authority to adjust as necessary for the good of their children. Likewise, the Church gives us precise liturgical instruction for her worship (e.g., prayers to say, when to stand, when to kneel, etc.), but she does not demand any particular observance in the domestic prayers in the home.
Thus, I hope that the reader does not perceive any of these suggestions as prescriptions (certainly not from the Church!) but merely as what they are—examples of integrating the liturgy which my family (including my wife and three daughters) has adopted or that I have encountered others doing.
Celebrating Annual Feasts
Our own family tries to punctuate the year with annual traditions that are fun, pedagogical, and that stand out. Many of the customs we have adopted are old European traditions and there are plenty of books and websites discussing them. For example, we celebrate with several families the St. John’s Bonfire on the feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24th). It’s a massive bonfire with accompanying prayers and hymns. Additionally, we often prepare specific meals or desserts to correlate with the feast. For example, on the Feast of St. Lawrence we often make homemade barbeque in honor of his sense of humor when being grilled alive. For St. Thomas More (June 22nd), we make “St. Thomas S’Mores.” I’m not sure the origins of many of these ideas, but we have adopted them and found them useful. The goal is that certain dishes and desserts act as pedagogical tools for the family as well as an annual reminder of the liturgical feast.
Liturgical Propers at Home
When at home, we try to incorporate actual prayers from the liturgy. For example, historically, the closing collect of Compline (Night Prayer) was the exact same every night. Before bed, we first pray the “Now I lay me down to sleep,” “Angel of God, my guardian dear,” “Hail Mary,” and follow these with each speaking member of the family saying one thing we are thankful for and asking forgiveness for one thing we did wrong that day. We then conclude with the historical Compline collect (“Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord…”), the Marian Antiphon (which changes based on the season), and the post-antiphon collect. This is a small portion of the Divine Office, but it fits well into our family. Compline naturally lends itself to repetition.
Additionally, the Benedictine Office, as laid out in chapters 8-19 of the Rule, has a one-week cycle of Psalms. Thus, there are psalms specific to each day. We try to incorporate this in a minimal way at our home. We certainly do not try to make our children pray the full Office! Rather, we pray Psalm 51 each morning as instructed by the Rule, and we pray one of the Vespers Psalms each evening. We have found this both edifying and completely manageable in a busy household. The Psalms, being songs, in addition to their frequent repetition, lend themselves easily to memorization. It’s amazing how quickly our kids have memorized our weekly repertoire!
Sunday Texts through the Week
Finally, a practice in our family hearkens back to an old liturgical principle. The Church, at different points in time, has emphasized different disciplines to achieve different goals. The liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council decided to emphasize broader exposure to Scripture by 1) creating a three-year cycle of readings and 2) having unique readings every day of the liturgical year. Previously, during a significant portion of the year (e.g., during Advent, from Pentecost to Advent, and others), the collect, antiphons, and readings from Sunday were read every day of the subsequent week unless there was a high feast day which superseded these texts. So, if one attended daily Mass, the readings, the prayers—everything—would be absolutely identical to the Mass of the preceding Sunday. After the reform, however, every day of the year has different readings from the Bible, different texts, and different prayers. There are no longer weekdays identical to the preceding Sunday.
Although there may have been practical considerations (e.g., more repetition means less printing which means one book to celebrate Mass), there was also a legitimate theological rationale for such repetition. In Josef Pieper’s In Tune with the World, he points out that, for the early Christian Fathers, worship is an eternal affirmation of the goodness of creation—an eternal giving thanks for what God has given us. Tertullian, among others, points out, however, that we are too weak to rejoice continuously, and thus God and the Church have established a single, preeminent day of worship each week—Sunday. It is the model of all thanksgiving and ought to guide and color our weekly lives. For this reason, non-feast days that occur during the week are called feria. This bothered me for many years because feria is the Latin word for feast, yet it is used to designate a non-feast day. Pieper pointed out that these “feast days” are called feria because they are simply continuations of the Sunday feast throughout the week. And for this very reason, the liturgical propers of Sunday were repeated throughout the week—it was the extension of Sunday for our weak natures.2
Discovering this historical relationship between Sundays and weekdays and how the latter simply repeated the texts of the former granted me a whole new perspective on the liturgical year. The new lectionary strives to attain the goal of broader exposure to the Bible, which is obviously a good thing. When it comes to cultivating a family prayer discipline, however, I found that, in keeping with the principles of spiritual childhood we established already, the repetition of the Sunday propers throughout the week was very fruitful for our family. So, we pray the Sunday collect after our blessing at meals each day unless it is a saint’s day.3
In the course of this series, we have reviewed the nature of liturgical worship as the prayer of the Church, offered in adoration of God and for the instruction of his children. This prayer is ordered towards the sanctity of its participants and it attains this by forming us into a spirit of true childhood. The liturgy initiates us into the Sonship of Christ and forms us in this spirit by repetition of texts and movements. When we consider how to incorporate these lessons into our daily lives (which is more important now than ever since most of us only attend Mass one or a few times a week), we can look to the monastic tradition. Their vocation to simply live baptism as fully as possible is the perfect place to look for inspiration, adopting their practices to our own circumstances. Theirs is a life dedicated to spiritual childhood informed by and lived out in liturgical worship.
In the end, however, the way we live out liturgical childhood will vary in every domestic church. I have offered a few suggestions of how my family tries to live out liturgical repetition. We find that the prayers we say are not burdensome and are spread out naturally throughout the day. Yet, every family will be different. I do not pray that these suggestions I have given are simply adopted, but I pray that all who read these essays will find your own fruitful application of the great gift we have in the liturgy. May we never grow up but continuously mature in our childlike dependence upon God.
For previous installments of Steven Hill’s Spiritual Childhood from Liturgical Worship series, see:
- Part I: Introduction
- Part II: Monasticism and Christian Spirituality
- Part III: The Liturgy: The Prayer of the Church
- Part IV: Metaphysical Childhood
- Part V: Psychological Influence on the Spirit of Childhood
- Part VI: Childhood in Monastic Spirituality
Stephen Hill is an MTS student in Liturgical Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Prior to this program, he completed a BS in psychology and an MA in systematic theology. All of his research was inspired by several years of Benedictine formation, and the monastic tradition continues to influence his work. Hill strives to explore the intersection of contemporary psychological research and patristic psychological writings where both fields are most fully manifested: in the sacred liturgy.
Image Source: AB/Wikipedia. The Feast of Saint John, by Jules Breton (1875).