This article was originally featured in Sword&Spade magazine.
“We don’t do this anymore!” the priest said from the pulpit, while tearing a rosary apart in front of everyone.
That scene—a true story—was recounted to me by another priest, reminiscing about the sorts of things that happened here and there around the time of the liturgical changes of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had witnessed the dramatic denunciation with his own eyes… as well as the stunned wonderment of the congregation.
The denouncing priest was reacting against the prayer of the rosary during Holy Mass, a practice that had been quite common until that time. It was one of the most cherished ways that the lay faithful united themselves spiritually to the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice, made present on the altar. That priest’s attitude was emblematic of the general rejection of traditional devotions that corresponded to the same period of history.
Whereas it had been common for there to be rosary groups, nightly novenas, prayer of lauds or vespers (morning or evening prayer), adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, processions, the lighting of votive candles, and other devotions in most parishes, now so much of that would virtually disappear.
Devotional life all but disappeared within many Catholic families, also. Many had the habit of attending the aforementioned parish devotions and liturgies, but they also lived a liturgical life in the home. There was the family rosary and other shared prayer, weekly confession, and seasonal devotions. They invited the priest over for dinner, and hoped and prayed that one of their own might be called to be a priest or nun. They helped the poor and supported missions. In short, the liturgy, the work of worship, did not stop at the parish door.
But, “We don’t do this anymore!” I daresay most of us grew up without most or any of these things, and we are not better off for it. I would like to offer three concrete suggestions on how men might begin to recover for ourselves and our families a truly liturgical life: a way of living that not only imbues our homes and our hearts with authentic spirituality but also unites us to the rhythms of the Church’s year—indeed, to the rhythms of the heart of Christ.
Get Your Home Blessed
When a new church is constructed, a bishop ordinarily must consecrate it before Holy Mass may be celebrated there. This transforms it from a mere man-made structure to a true house of God, a sacred place exclusively committed to the divine service. In fact, if something gravely contrary to that purpose were ever to take place in a consecrated church, a bishop must re-consecrate it before worship could resume there.
The Church teaches us that the family home is called to be a domestic church, a place where the Lord is known, loved, and served; indeed, where he is worshipped. Many other things happen in our homes; they are not exclusively committed to sacred activities, so consecration by a bishop is not what is needed. But the Church has a blessing expressly for our homes.
A priest’s blessing is a sacramental of the Church: it is a pledge of divine favors and graces. Traditionally, a pastor would pass through all the homes of his parish during the Easter season, blessing them, ensuring that all children had been baptized, and having an opportunity to get to know his parishioners better. Alas, “we don’t do this anymore,” either—in most places. But you may still invite your priest over and request this blessing from him.
Besides setting apart your home as a place specially dedicated to the good God, a blessing will help purify it from any evil influences that may have also made their home there. Such evil may enter in various ways, but the greatest of these today is through the use of pornography—using it is inviting the devil into your home. If there has been a previous occupant of your home, it is possible a door to evil has been opened before.
The blessing of a priest is a powerful thing, and we Fraternus men know what we are up against: we need all the help we can get for ourselves and our families. With his visit and blessing, your home will truly be a Catholic home, set apart in a special way for the honor and glory of God—perhaps different than all the others on the block.
Pray the Family Rosary
Pope John Paul I reigned for just 33 days in 1978, until his untimely death. Before ascending to the papacy he had been Cardinal Luciani, Archbishop and Patriarch of the great city of Venice. In that role, he had a paternal concern for the spiritual well-being of his vast flock; he, also, was worried about the great rupture with our traditions that had been taking place. And in one very fine homily about the holy rosary he said, “The rosary recited in the evening by parents and children gathered together, even if simplified or adapted, is a form of family liturgy.” (To read the entire homily, well worth your time, search online for “Cardinal Luciani rosary homily.”)
Father Patrick Peyton dedicated his entire priestly life to encouraging this traditional form of family prayer. In his famously popular rosary crusades around the world, he preached that “a world at prayer is a world at peace.” We so greatly need this peace today; no amount of distraction or medication can ever secure it for us. God must be the architect of our peace, and the holy rosary, with its simple rhythm and meditation, is a time-tested way to draw near to the source.
When a father, as “high priest” of the domestic church, leads his family in prayer, it is a powerful thing. But it is not always easy. Teenagers who haven’t been accustomed to it will complain. The little ones will cause distraction. But with time, your family will cherish these moments of peace and look forward to taking turns with the decades and mentioning the special intentions for which the prayer is offered. There are, of course, various books and web sites that offer further guidance on the family rosary, but don’t overthink it—just do it!
Keep Holy the Sabbath
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” the youngest child traditionally asks at a Jewish Seder meal. The answer is that it is the Passover, a high holy day, a day of solemn and perpetual remembrance, a day truly unlike any other. In my priestly ministry I have often adapted that question in order to give guidance on how to keep holy Sunday, the Lord’s day: “How is Sunday different from all the other days?” Those who have a more or less traditional job arrangement can shop, cut the grass, and do all the other chores on the other six days. And the Church has always taught us to avoid unnecessary work on Sundays.
Take those things away, and what do we put in their place? Going to Holy Mass as a family, perhaps a special meal, time to go outside and enjoy nature, or watch a family movie. I strongly recommend that all rediscover the tradition of family spiritual reading. Reading aloud has many benefits, from increasing literacy levels, to increasing confidence; from becoming a better listener, to becoming a better speaker. It could well be awkward at first, as new group activities can be, but it will soon become a cherished activity.
The father should take the lead in selecting the reading material, which requires also that he prayerfully and seriously discern the spiritual needs of his family. In this regard, his wife will have key insights also and should be involved in this process of discernment. As for the material they ultimately select, the possibilities are truly endless when one considers the breadth of our Catholic literary tradition. Beyond obvious things like the bible, there are countless biographies and writings of the saints, spiritual classics, and an increasing amount of good Catholic fiction to choose from.
Start with about ten minutes, maybe after the Sunday meal. Let those old enough take turns doing it. For reading material that draws upon the Church’s sacred liturgy, try the In Conversation with God set of volumes by Francisco Fernandez-Carvajal or periodicals like Magnificat or The Word Among Us, all of which have wonderful meditations and reflections on the lectionary readings. For those who attend the traditional Latin Mass, try either The Church’s Year of Grace by Pius Parsch,
Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, or The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Gueranger.
A great feature and benefit of all the foregoing activities is that they need not be limited only to your family. A proper Catholic home is a place of hospitality. In a certain sense, it should be a place of evangelization: a good Catholic family can be a splendid influence on other families—leaven in our world.
When you invite a priest over to bless your house, invite some friends over also; make a dinner party out of it. Perhaps choose those friends who could especially benefit from connecting with a priest.
If your family rosary normally takes place after the evening meal, don’t change your schedule when you have company over. Let it be a part of the hospitality you offer—keep extra rosaries on hand. You could invite your guests to help lead, and ask them to share their personal prayer intentions also.
Sunday reading could be a special time for your children to invite friends over, a refreshing alternative to screens and a way for your children to learn the virtue of hospitality and gain an apostolic spirit.
There is a great movement of recovery and restoration afoot, and it is time for us men to step up and unite our families with it.
Paratum cor meum, Deus!
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