Kendra Tierney is a mother of nine who writes about parenting, family life, and living the Church’s liturgical year at her award-winning blog Catholic All Year. Her new book, The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life (Ignatius Press, 2018), compiles hundreds of ideas for busy families looking to incorporate the Church’s calendar of feasts and holy days into their day-to-day lives. Tierney not only includes recipes, activities, and crafts appropriate to specific feast days, but also focuses on the stories, traditions, and theological underpinnings of the liturgical seasons from Advent and Christmas through Lent and Easter and on into Ordinary Time.
Tierney recently took the time to answer a few questions about her book and what “liturgical living” looks like in her family.
CWR: You start your book with a reference to International Talk Like a Pirate Day; the larger culture no longer observes the feasts and holy days that once gave shape to the year, but, you write, “we as a society are hungry for community and shared experiences.” We don’t really celebrate saints’ feast days anymore, but we have National Donut Day and National Hot Dog Day and National Peanut Brittle Day, among countless others. Are we simply more frivolous and less holy than our forebears?
Kendra Tierney: I think that’s an easy conclusion to which to jump, but I’m sure every generation has had its fair share of frivolousness. I actually think that it’s because the celebrations of Catholic feast days had gotten pretty frivolous themselves that the whole liturgical year started being de-emphasized by the Magisterium. But we need religion and we need fun and we need community. I think there’s a way to get this right!
CWR: What effect has “liturgical living” had on your family life over the years?
Tierney: It has helped us create a strong Catholic identity and a strong family culture, which I think is the key to raising kids who can be happy and holy in any environment. My husband talks about family culture here in this episode of his podcast. Raising countercultural kids means they don’t have an expectation that they’ll be exactly like their friends and neighbors, or that our family will be like other families. There’s great freedom and opportunity in that.
And it means my kids know all these great stories of saints’ lives, and important events in the lives of the Holy Family and the early Church. My four-year-old has a much deeper understanding of tradition and doctrine than I did when I got married in the Catholic Church. But she’d never know she’d had a single lesson. It’s just a part of the fabric of her life.
I love the way the examples of the saints so perfectly contradict any attempt to say “this” is what holy people are like, “this” is what good Catholics are like. They are so beautifully different from one another. It’s such an inspiration to really use our own gifts to glorify God and grow in personal holiness.
CWR: How would you answer the skeptical person who doubts whether, say, eating saffron rolls on the feast of St. Lucy or having a bonfire on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist are spiritually edifying activities—who thinks maybe these things are just distractions from the work of growing in holiness?
Tierney: Well, back to the Catholic identity and family culture angles, when our oldest kids were little, we knew we wanted to make demands of ourselves and of them that were far beyond current cultural norms as far as morals, sacrifice, service, obedience, etc. But we realized that just expectations and demands were an incomplete picture of what Catholicism really is. It’s also joy and feasts and hilariously macabre patron saints. I really and truly believe that it’s intemperate and unbalanced to willfully eschew the joyful parts of our faith tradition and embrace only the thorny parts. It is our hope that by equipping our children with both sides of our faith, it will be such a part of themselves and their days that they won’t ever leave it.
CWR: Where’s the best place to start for someone who wants to bring “liturgical living” into her family’s home, but is intimidated?
Tierney: I think it’s easiest to start what is essentially a lifestyle and perspective shift with an inward focus, and then slowly broaden the scope. So what I suggest is beginning with what we call the “Three Special Days” for each person in the family. That’s birthday, nameday, and baptism day. Birthdays are the usual day that we celebrate a person in our culture, but historically, Catholics celebrated a person on the feast day of his patron saint, so we do that too. And the anniversaries of our baptisms are much more important, from an eternal perspective, than the anniversaries of our births. So we celebrate those as well. Even with 11 people in our house, it manages not to be too much, because we keep it pretty low-key. The special person for the day gets to choose what we have for dinner and dessert, and be the focus of conversation at the dinner table. We tell funny stories about when he was a baby, discuss his achievements, etc. On saint days, we also discuss the saint, and might have a saint-inspired meal if the special person chooses. On baptism days, we also all renew our baptismal promises.
Once those are going well, then I’d move on to keeping Fridays and Sundays as special days, and noting liturgical seasons, and observing solemnities.
CWR: In most families—though not all—it is going to be primarily the mother who coordinates and executes special meals and family activities for feast days. Is there a particular role for fathers in family liturgical living?
Tierney: One benefit to a dinner-table-based liturgical living approach is that, unlike a craft- or lesson-based approach, dad will hopefully be there to be a part of it. Our celebrations are basically food, prayer, and conversation. Dad can roll in from work and lead that, even if I did the planning and prep work ahead of time. And, with what the statistics show, the more involved dad can be, the better!
CWR: How can a family with strong traditions associated with the liturgical year share these with their larger Catholic community?
Tierney: Parties! Feast days are an excellent excuse to invite another family (or many) over to share a meal. We really consider dinner parties as an apostolate of food and chat. Letting people into our home and our traditions has inspired Catholic friends to start living the liturgical year, and lapsed-Catholic friends to start going to Mass again, and non-Catholic friends to become Catholic! And sometimes it hasn’t really changed anything, but it was still fun. That’s okay too.
CWR: Do you have a favorite feast day? Do your kids?
Tierney: I do get a kick out of the food pun ones, like Divine Mercy sundaes and St. Thomas s’mores, and cooking challenges like turducken for the feast of the Holy Trinity or haggis for St. Andrew. That’s how I roll. The celebrations that have been most fun and meaningful for our kids over the course of many years have been the Christmas Novena and our little At Home Nativity Play, praying for the dead in a cemetery in November, vanquishing a devil pinata on Michaelmas, and an “It’s a Boy” baby shower for the Annunciation.
They are a blast, and they are part of who our family is, and they’ve given us a deeper love for Jesus and the saints and the traditions and doctrines of the Catholic Church.
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