CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Living liturgically means living differently

  • January 18, 2024

In an article published in the National Post on Dec. 29, columnist Joseph Brean queried the meaning of the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s. It was a curious piece. Brean asked what the week is all about concluding that it is “this least wonderful time of the year (that) is either an under-appreciated winter interlude of nothingness, or a bland calendrical purgatory of suspended animation.”

Ouch! Well, to be fair this is likely how many of our secular, non-religious neighbours do view these days of intermittent holiday. As Catholics, though, do we view it this way as well? How many of us put up our Christmas tree in early or mid-December and then take it down before or on New Year’s Day. That was the practice in my home growing up.

How many of us listen to carols or festive songs as soon as the wall calendar flips to December then switch our listening back to non-festive playlists come New Year’s Eve? That, too, was my practice growing up.

“To each his own, Deacon!” I hear you say. Fair enough, but should we live differently? Should we live our lives in a much more integrated Catholic manner? Can we avoid the immediate post-Boxing Day downer because Christmas is “over”? What does it look like to imbue our daily lives with a tradition greater than us, rich and sacred and alive that we live and contribute to during our sojourn in this transient world?

We are told “to be in the world, but not of the world.” This does not mean that we are better Christians if we accept a monastic habit and live cloistered lives praying for the life of the world. The monastic life is a beautiful one. All of us should pray regularly for a growth in monastic vocations, but we cannot all be monks and nuns. What our brothers and sisters in religious life teach us is how we can live liturgically with daily lives shaped primarily by prayer and work ordered towards our becoming saints. After all that’s the goal of the Christian life.

Monastics live liturgically, their days strictly regulated by the Divine Office and their appointed tasks, but at the most fundamental level they are not another type of Christian. We are called to live the same life in Christ, but they with a greater intensity. Yet we have the harder job of living fully in the world. We must make conscious choices how to live amidst the hurly-burly of our lives in the world. The kids must be dropped off and picked up. Grocery shopping must get done. I need to get that report into my boss’s inbox.

As Catholics we must understand that important as these tasks are, they come second after God. Indeed, we cannot accomplish these tasks and meet these responsibilities without Him. At the end of our lives there we find ourselves alone with Him. To live liturgically, to order our lives by service to God and others, prepares us well for that reckoning at the end.

To live liturgically is necessarily to live differently from how the world tells us to live. In short, it is to be truly free by choosing the good, the beautiful and the true willingly and joyfully. It is to seek to conform ourselves to the mind of the Church, which includes cultivating Christian friendships, educating ourselves about what we believe, building Christian community for the sake of those around us. It also means fasting when it’s time to fast and feasting when it’s time to feast.

Take for example the Christmas season. Mark Advent for the full four weeks and then celebrate Christmas when it arrives. Remember that the 12 days of Christmas is not just a carol. After the eight-day octave of the Nativity, there are four more days before celebrating Epiphany (or Theophany for us Byzantines). Then there is the extended Christmas season that runs right up to the Presentation of Christ on Feb. 2.

Keep singing carols all through that season. When mid-February comes take advantage of the rich collection of Lenten devotions and incorporate them into your day while also ministering to the sick, poor and lonely. When Easter arrives, celebrate big for 40 days. Then, at all times, pray daily, confess regularly and receive Holy Communion often. Live differently!

(Bennett is a deacon of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada.)

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