Remembering the Sacraments: Our Family Life in Christ
During the Easter season, particularly in the month of May which is also dedicated to Mary, many children receive for the first time the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We have a first communicant in our own family; my son receives Jesus for the first time on Friday. It is not just because of the beautiful weather of springtime, but that the Easter season and the month of May have the Eucharistic (and other sacramental) focus. The document The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy elaborates:
150. The Easter liturgy is permeated by a sense of newness: nature has been renewed, since Easter coincides with Spring in the Northern hemisphere; fire and water have been renewed; Christian hearts have been renewed through the Sacrament of Penance, and, where possible, through administration of the Sacraments of Christian initiation; the Eucharist is renewed, so as to speak: these are signs and sign-realities of the new life begun by Christ in the resurrection.....
191. In relation to the western custom of observing a "Marian month" during the month of May (or in November in some parts of the Southern hemisphere), it would seem opportune to take into account the demands of the Liturgy,....
In many cases, the solution for such problems would seem to lay in harmonizing the content of the "Marian months" with the concomitant season of the Liturgical Year. For example, since the month of May largely corresponds with the fifty days of Easter, the pious exercises practised at this time could emphasize Our Lady's participation in the Paschal mystery (cf. John 19, 25-27), and the Pentecost event (cf, Acts 1, 14) with which the Church begins: Our Lady journeys with the Church having shared in the novum of the Resurrection, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The fifty days are also a time for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation and of the mystagogy. The pious exercises connected with the month of May could easily highlight the earthly role played by the glorified Queen of Heaven, here and now, in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist(225).
Easter and the reception of Holy Communion brings to mind how the Eucharist and the sacraments need to be the centrality of our faith. The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life" and interconnected and bound up with the other sacraments (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #132), the Easter season is a good time to think about the other days and feasts of the year that help recall and focus on the sacraments in our life. With our baptism we become adopted children of God, branches grafted onto the True Vine to become part of Christ's family. The sacraments are part of that sap, the lifeblood, that keeps us alive and connected in our family life in Christ. We are abiding and remaining in Christ through the daily graces of the sacraments.
The sacraments are an integral part of our family life, but often they can often fall in the background. Putting the different sacraments front and center on certain days of the year help remind us to focus on these gifts of Christ and His Church.
What I'm advocating is not necessarily a formal nor elaborate focus on the sacraments, but finding opportunities where we can discuss the feast or the Gospel of the day and the connections with certain aspects of the sacraments. This could be in very small ways, like in context of discussions at meals or while driving in the car. Of particular interest to the children is the relating of the past events, especially stories of their own baptism and their parents' wedding day, since they were either too young or not present at the time.
This can also become an ongoing project for the family. A framed list of all the family members and the dates of their reception of the Sacraments of Initiation can be a centerpiece in the home, or placed near the family prayer table or oratory.
A centerpiece could be created to emphasize the seven sacraments and our family's reception of these, which could be remain near the home altar and brought to the dinner table on the special days of remembrance. One idea is to create a version of a Christ Candle or Lumen Christi (there are several instructions in the Liturgical Year library, such as by Mary Reed Newland, Elsa Chaney, and two by Helen McLoughlin). The candle could be decorated with a Chi-Rho with symbols of the sacraments encircling it. If the candle is very large, anniversary dates could be inscribed, such as the wedding anniversary, First Holy Communions, first confession, Confirmation, etc. Smaller candles representing each member of the family (and also reminiscent of the "Light of Christ" received at Baptism) could surround the candle. If there is no room on the Christ Candle for all the inscriptions, the smaller candles could be marked or perhaps the candle holders could be decorated with the names and sacramental symbols and dates. Another idea are small frames for each symbol of the sacrament surrounding the Christ Candle. A simpler idea would be a poster with similar imagery, keeping track of the family sacraments. As children get older, they will want to form their own ideas and projects of ways that please them to remember these days.
Besides remembering these family dates of celebrations, there can also be a focus on preparing for the reception of the sacraments, and also keeping ourselves in a disposition to continually allow the sacramental graces to come into our souls (see CCC #1121). For example, for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, there used to be what was termed a "Sick Call Crucifix" containing items for a visit from the priest. While it is not required, it is a consoling and beautiful to be able to have a special place to place a cloth and candles and small crucifix to welcome Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, but also some cottonballs or something to allow the priest to wipe the oil of the sick from his fingers. This also gives a focal point during the reception of the sacrament. During November the family can make a plan and prepare the items for receiving the Anointing of the Sick. Maria von Trapp had some ideas on preparing the family for the sacrament.
For sacraments that family members haven't received, such as Holy Orders, discussions can point towards discerning vocations, praying for our priests, and understanding different types of vocations. These can also be days to focus on ways of serving at Church, such as altar boys or sacristans.
Below is a simple table of days which work well for making connections with the sacraments in the family:
|Sacrament||Feasts and Days of Remembrance|
|The Lenten Season|
|Easter and the Easter Season|
|Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord|
|Solemnity of the Ascension ("Go and baptize all nations")|
|Feasts of Saints Monica and Augustine|
|Feasts of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3) and the Holy Name of Mary (September 12)|
|Solemnity of Pentecost|
|Gospel of Easter night Appearance in Upper Room
"Receive the Holy Spirit"
|Holy Eucharist||First Holy Communion Anniversary|
|Solemnity of the Most Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)|
|Gospels from John 6|
|Sacrament of Penance||First Confession Anniversary|
|Gospel of Easter night Appearance in Upper Room
"Receive the Holy Spirit...whose sins you forgive..."
|Divine Mercy Sunday|
|Good Shepherd Sunday|
|Gospel of Healing of Centurion's Servant|
|Gospel of Wedding Feast at Cana|
|Espousals of Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph,
|Holy Orders||Holy Thursday|
The Easter season and all our family First Communions highlight the most precious gift we have of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Since the "other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it" (see CCC #1324), we can also use this time as a starting point to focus on our family life in Christ with all the sacraments. May these small suggestions help your family to continue to grow in the life Christ the True Vine.
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