Lent and Easter
in the Domestic Church

Celebrating Feast Days

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Page 42 in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"

Even in the midst of Lent, we have much to celebrate in our faith. In a sense, it is an honor, joy, and privilege to be able to practice penitential acts. We are blessed and give thanks that they are effective, that through these practices we express repentance and grow closer to God.

Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church

"Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"
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Sometimes, though, the celebration needs to be a bit more overt than a prayer of thanksgiving. If we do not celebrate with food, gatherings, songs, parades, and special decorations, we soon lose sight of what it is we have to be thankful for (and what we need to have repentance for as well). Our joyous faith can disappear into the duties of the day-to-day and the secular tug of the workplace. Celebrate it or lose it, you might say.

Of course, every Mass is both a celebration and a reparation. But the Church also gives us feast days, seasons of celebration and seasons of penance. Even during the great seasons of Christmas and Easter and sprinkled throughout ordinary time are smaller feasts, the feast days of the saints. Celebrating feast days brings this liturgical life of the Church into the life of the family and helps build and strengthen the domestic church.

The saints are our heroes. They are not simply those to whom we can pray for help or see as (perhaps daunting) examples of holy lives. They are real heroes who can inspire and instruct us in our own lives. We have the heroic examples of the Apostles, who were for the most part simple fishermen, led by the Holy Spirit to build a new world. Then there were the early Christian martyrs, who defied the Roman Empire and clung to their faith. Saints and martyrs throughout history who have taught the faith, spoken the truth, and served God with their lives are true heroes too. Learning about a particular life of faith can inspire us to model our lives after it. (See CCC 2030 and 2683.)

The communion of saints is an invaluable resource to us, a source of intercession, help, and inspiration. Every struggle we face is shared by a saint. Every trial we encounter has been fought and won before by one of our brothers or sisters in Christ. Each saint has a unique story, some particular strength that he can bring to your family.

In children's minds, celebration means food. After all, feast days would not be feast days unless we were meant to feast and be jolly. A special meal, something that relates to the life of the saint, is a central part of a feast-day celebration. (For example, on the feast day of Saint Peter, I serve fresh fish: "Come and I will make you a fisher of men.") So, on Pentecost add sparklers to a cake to symbolize the flames of the Holy Spirit, or hold your celebration outdoors with candle lanterns, a bonfire, and fireworks.

Celebration also means preparation, and it is important to prepare for these celebrations. We use all of Advent to prepare for Christmas and all of Lent to prepare for Easter in order to be wholehearted in our anticipation and celebration of the feast days. A period of preparation helps us celebrate a saint's feast day wholeheartedly and helps the whole family participate in honoring the saint. Three days is usually sufficient to cook, organize, perhaps attend Mass and go to confession, and, most importantly, to include the saint in the family's prayers. It is important not to forget to pray for the intercession of the saint you are celebrating. The Liturgy of the Hours or an old missal frequently has beautiful prayers to use, or you could make up your own. (See CCC 1174-75.)

Sometimes, the preparation can be fairly elaborate you can invite friends and family to join and plan a special menu including foods from the saint's native country or patronage country. Other times, when the date just sort of sneaks up on you, a quick cake and some imaginative decoration will make an impromptu party in no time.

Many saints have acquired symbols over the years, objects and images that represent some part of their story, and these are frequently shown in their portraits. Used in the celebrations, these symbols help teach us about the saints and their place in the life of the Church and our lives. The symbols and the lives of the saints also help in creating the celebration, suggesting themes, possible menus, and activities.

Collecting some theme-decorations and keeping them in a special place will help the preparation and the decorating. Some colored candles, streamers, symbols for the saints, and maybe some specially shaped cake pans, collected over the years, will really help putting together a feast-day celebration. We decorate our homes for Christmas and Easter. Our churches are made beautiful year round for the greater glory of God, so why not something for feast days as well?

A banner reserved just for these special occasions helps make feast days a stronger tradition. A banner does not have to be ornate or detailed. It is just a simple wall hanging. A saints' day banner could include a crown, because the saints are crowned in heaven, flames for the Holy Spirit, and the words "Saints in Heaven, Pray for Us". The symbols of the name-saints of your family could be added to the banner as well. (For more about making banners, see the Crafts section of this book.)

Celebration also means teaching. Celebrating a slight variation of feast days for name days marks in some special way the feast day of the saint whose name is used as a baptismal or confirmation name. Canon law specifies that each baptismal name should contain a saint's name. In some places the custom of choosing a different name for confirmation is not as common as it seems to have been twenty or thirty years ago. If a child does not have a special confirmation name, he could choose a patron for whom he feels a special affinity.

In celebrating a name saint, we also celebrate the life of the child. We teach the children that they, too, are special in the eyes of God and loved by both family and God. In a very significant way, our names not only define who we are, they define our existence. Name days celebrate both the feast day of the saint and the special place that child holds for a member of the communion of saints.

For the children, and I must confess for myself as well, the idea of having a patron saint in heaven interceding for me to our Lord and watching out for me is a very comforting and sort of companionable idea. We each have a guardian angel, of course, but also to have a patron saint who understands the difficulties of being human is a very special gift.

At first, celebrating feast days and especially name days may seem fairly frivolous, perhaps just an excuse for another birthday party. It seems to me that it really is an opportunity to enrich family life by threading it through with the strength of the communion of saints and the liturgical life of the Church.

The following pages give a brief outline of the lives of three saints (Saint Patrick, Saint Joseph, Saint George) whose feast days fall in March and April and a brief description of the Feast of the Annunciation. We then suggest a few ways to celebrate these feasts in your family. These feast days offer a brief respite from the somber character of Lent and remind us of how much we have to celebrate in our faith.

Act of Faith, Act of Hope, and Act of Love

The saints were heroic in their practice of faith hope, and love. The following prayers can help your family cultivate these virtues too.

An Act of Faith

O God,
I firmly believe all the truths that You have revealed
And that You teach us through Your Church
For You are Truth itself
And can neither deceive nor be deceived.

An Act of Hope

O God,
I hope with complete trust that You will give me
Through the merits of Jesus Christ
All necessary grace m this world
And everlasting life m the world to come
For this is what You have promised,
And You always keep Your promises.

An Act of Love

O God,
I love You with my whole heart above all things,
Because You are infinitely good:
And for Your sake I love my neighbor as I love myself.