Weaving the liturgical year into the fabric of family life

Kendra Tierney discusses her new book on bringing the Church’s feasts and holy days into the home.

Kendra Tierney is the author of "The Catholic All Year Compendium"

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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About Catherine Harmon 572 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.

10 Comments

  1. It gives me a real sense of warmth for this mother having given birth so wonderfully, but I am also conflicted. If the world scientists are correct the earth is or will be in decline. Pope Francis recently accepted the fact the planet’s ecology is threatened primarily by human activity. He said “we must be good Shepard’s of mother earth. When a major disaster, Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Florence blew up the Carolinas, we can observe these terrible events as part of the Planet’s cycle or we can approach reality and say the cause was mostly man made. Add to that the wild fires in California where many have died and thousands of homes were destroyed. I am not a tree hugger, I am a forest hugger. Lets hope that we can educate the masses to become good Shepard’s.

    I wish the mother and family God speed.

      • Yes! Not knowing your cavalier position I am so concerned that I have grown horse, as a single voice crying in the desert, trying to convince you naysayers. If you continue to think that the evidence is “FALSE REPORTING”, like a president I know, look at a picture of three Polar Bears, a mother and two babies on shore, in National Geographic’s where a mother tries to hunt from the water since the pack ice has disappeared. She can’t because the seals are too fast. She needs the ice to provide food for her and her family. Conclusion… all will die including the babies who depend on her. My fiercely Catholic brother-in-law might say “why do we need Polar Bears anyway”. His ignorance is overwhelming, he thinks that only humans should be attended to. I would respond saying “all of God’s creatures are connected in some way”. In the Polar Bear case they control the seal and Narwhal Whale populations. Sorry that I can’t continue, I’m losing my voice. But I will be back tomorrow!

        • The current birth rate in the US averages out to 1.8 children per woman. Large families aren’t even significant enough to be noticed in this particular statistic but are somehow going to be the ecological downfall of the planet. Furthermore, ( I would like to make it abundantly clear that I *DO NOT* advocate what I am about to state) if the environment is top priority then given the fact that the current global birth rate is only 2.4 (compared to 4.8 in 1960) excessive births are not the problem. If we look at global life expectancy (52 years in 1960 vs 72 years in 2016) we can clearly see that the elderly are the problem. There are currently more old people on earth than ever before. Based on the perceived need to limit the number of people on the earth to “save the environment” a more logical proposition would be to not treat illnesses in people over the age of 50 rather then limit the amount of children being born globally. You know, survival of the fittest and junk…

          • You can give any reason for population control except one fact. The Earth is a finite ball with no room for expansion while human population growth is INFINITE. It just make sense to understand the difference. I am saying I would prefer to opt on the safe side and remain a good Sheppard. God may forgive all.

    • Pope Francis is not a scientist, and his opinion about “climate change” and its causes is no more likely to be accurate than anybody else’s.

      “When a major disaster, Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Florence blew up the Carolinas, we can observe these terrible events as part of the Planet’s cycle or we can approach reality and say the cause was mostly man made. ”

      And don’t forget the Galveston hurricane, which killed at leat 6000 and is the deadliest hurricane in US history. Ooopsies, wait, that was in 1910.

      Try reading this, so that perhaps you will have some armor against the Gaea-worshiping pagans who think that man is a blight on the planet: https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2018/10/Lindzen-2018-GWPF-Lecture.pdf

      And before you get too distraught over the polar bears, this is from the National Geographic website, discussing the last “oh, looooook at the poor starving polar bears!” images: “As a whole, polar bear populations around the world are not in immediate peril. Nicklen has described seeing polar bears in Russia’s Arctic that are so fat they can barely walk. Scientists think that there may be more polar bears in Russia than anywhere else, but extreme remoteness and lack of resources have made formal surveys difficult there, leading to a lot of uncertainty and questions. And the bears aren’t faring equally across polar regions.”

      So, in other words, they really don’t have any idea what’s going on with the polar bears but they’ll use scare tactics anyway. Or here’s an article: https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/polar-bears-keep-thriving-even-as-global-warming-alarmists-keep-pretending-theyre-dying

  2. Back to the topic at hand…

    I’m excited to hear about this book. We already do a pretty good job of celebrating the Three Special Days with our sons but I am eager to include other saints and feasts into our lives. This book will be top of my Christmas list this year!

  3. Whenever I hear about the imminent decline of our earth I think back to the book written in the 70’s that predicted that by the year 2000 we would experience wide spread global starvation because the earth could not accommodate 5 billion people. That has proven false. Technology has allowed for better & more crop production. Those countries with starvation problems have corrupt governments not too many people to feed.

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