Nov 9, 2011
In Early Christianity, it was a crime to attend the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. Such activity was outlawed under pain of death because Christians rejected the pagan cult of the state. But they could not live without the Eucharist. They held fast to their weekly worship, met together, kept vigil from Saturday night until Sunday morning, and celebrated the Eucharist. They risked their lives for the sake of the Eucharistic liturgy.
In the Middle Ages, the Church’s liturgical life guided the lives of the faithful. Together, they lived the Church’s feasts, which united them in a spiritual bond. From the celebration of Baptism to the Eucharist to the Last Anointing, from the Liturgy of the Hours to processions and pious devotions, to blessings of crops, animals, and boats, the Church provided the liturgical and devotional framework that sacralized their lives. The liturgical year “shaped their perception of the world and their place in it,” and these “central moments gave Catholics the key to the meaning and purpose of their lives” (Eamon Duffy, “The Stripping of the Altars,” 11f). In France, churches and cathedrals dedicated to the Mother of God were built in strategic locations to resemble the constellation Virga as a way of sacralizing the countryside. The cities that form the constellation of Virga are: Amiens, Evreux, Rouen, Bayeux, Spica, Chartres, Paris, Rheims. (DVD: “Chartres Cathedral: A Sacred Geometry” (Golden Age Productions, 2000). Available from www.janson.com.)
The Parish Church in Nineteenth-Century America
With the arrival of European Catholics to the United States in the nineteenth century, new Americans found refuge in their parish churches which became part of their family life. Parish activities lightened the immigrants’ encounter with anti-Catholicism and cultural bias, comforted the faithful living and working in deplorable conditions, and served as a magnet that drew families together for liturgical feasts. And the beauty of these feasts lifted their spirits, otherwise marked by misery. Families, anticipating one feast after the other, lived with a liturgical frame of reference. Receiving the sacraments was a joyful occasion for the neighborhood, as were feast days of the Mother of God, St. Joseph, and the saints. In living the year of grace, their faith was handed down to the next generation as a living tradition.
In her memoir, “Times to Remember,” Rose Kennedy shares family anecdotes not found elsewhere. Educated by the Religious of the Sacred Heart, she and other students celebrated the liturgical year as part of the academic year. They were expected to marry well and assume charge of their households. Committed to a full and well-rounded education for her children, Mrs. Kennedy created an atmosphere in her home that buzzed with educational and religious activity. There she cultivated the children’s faith by structuring their daily schedule around the liturgical feasts of the year (Doris Kearns Goodwin, “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys” (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 24-27).