Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

A Revival of Christian Culture Through the Family

by Jennifer Gregory Miller


An explanation of the purpose for liturgy and Catholic traditions within the home, the domestic Church. If we want to revive or save Christian culture and civilization, the family is where to begin.

Larger Work


Publisher & Date

Original, 1997

Man is both a physical and spiritual being. He must use his lifetime on earth to find and achieve his ultimate end which is eternal life with God in heaven. The Catholic Church helps man with this goal, providing an outward liturgy to help him understand his faith and keep focused on the spiritual end, teaching him how to be in this world but not of it. The word liturgy is of Greek origin meaning public work or service. In the Catholic Church, liturgy is the public and official rites or services of worship owed to God. This includes primarily the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass, the Divine Office and the administration and use of the sacraments. The Catholic liturgy is the life, the very heart of the Church. It is a mystical re-presentation of the life of Christ, the Christian mystery, or mystery of eternal life . . . concerned . . . with the redemption and regeneration of humanity by the Incarnation of the Divine Word. The liturgy reflects the historical cycle, the sacred history of creation to redemption.

The Church has organized the liturgy into a cycle which reflects the redemptive work of Christ. This is popularly called the liturgical year but it is understood as a cycle, or a never-ending circle. This cycle is divided into two parts, the first being the temporal cycle (tempus: time or season), which is more important and dominant. The temporal cycle is the Christ-centered mysteries that tell the story of redemption through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Ordinary Time. While the temporal cycle unfolds, the sanctoral cycle (sanctus: saint) simultaneously exists. These are the feast days of Mary, St. Joseph and the saints throughout the year.

The liturgy of the Catholic Church is the true basis of Christian culture and civilization. As Christopher Dawson describes it so succinctly:

Christian culture is the Christian way of life. As the Church is the extension of the Incarnation, so Christian culture is the embodiment of Christianity in social institutions and patterns of life and behavior. It is the nature of Christianity to act as leaven in the world and to transform human nature by a new principle of divine life (The Crisis of Western Civilization, 1989, Franciscan University Press, p. 150).

In medieval times society's culture was integrally linked with the Church and its liturgy. This culture was all inclusive: individual and society, the intellectual and material, belief and morality, art, custom, and law were formed and brought to life with a Christian outlook. Today, the tie between Christianity and culture is all but lost. Today the world is dominated by a pagan, materialistic, secular, anti-Christian civilization. To restore Christianity, there needs to be a complete change in culture; a complete transformation accomplished by a vigorous living out of a true Christian spirit by living out the liturgy.

This renewal of Christian culture through the liturgy should begin at the roots, and the family is the original cell of social life. The family is a Church in miniature or the domestic Church: a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church. As the first and most important liturgical community, the family can live the liturgy in the home, sharing with the life in the Church. Through a revival of earlier customs and traditions, with additions and modifications applied for the modern family, the family can bring back an integrated Christian culture. Two ways to incorporate the Church's liturgy into the domestic church are by providing an atmosphere for prayer and spiritual learning with visual aids and providing through the kitchen special foods and celebrations.

A first consideration for living the liturgy in the home is to create a prominent location in the home where the family can gather to pray. This can be done with a family altar or table, a kind of imitation of the sacred altar in church. In addition, different simple visual aids such as a crucifix, statues and pictures of Jesus and Mary should be provided in order to replicate the inside of a church.

The altar can be decorated with the liturgical colors according to the season: purple for Lent and Advent, white for the Easter and Christmas seasons, green for Ordinary Time and red for Palm Sunday, Christ the King Sunday and martyrs' feast days. By using one's imagination the table can look very beautiful inexpensively: remnants from cloth stores, doilies or lace from garage sales, discarded sheets, curtains or clothing can be cut up and used. Gold fabric could be used for the special days, like Easter Sunday, Epiphany, to make the altar look extremely festive and reflect the joyful but solemn occasions. For Marian feast days or throughout the month of May different blue fabrics can be used. For a special saint's day, the color can reflect the liturgical color (red for martyrs, white for virgins), or perhaps a special fabric could be used, such as a rich velvet.

Other accessories can be added to the altar, all according to the family's need, usually depending on the ages of the children. Older children can utilize a display stand or book holder that could be used to exhibit a picture or symbols of the saint of the day, or open pages to liturgical art books. The missal or a marked Bible could also be kept there to let the family prepare for the readings of the Sunday or weekday Masses. In this prepared setting of the family altar, the family should pray and read together. The type of prayer also depends on the age of the children, but the rosary and the Divine Office should be incorporated to link the family with the Church's daily liturgy.

Another way to incorporate the liturgy in the home is through the kitchen. Serving special foods on particular days dates back to Biblical times, as in Exodus with the definite prescriptions for the Passover meal. The Sacrament of the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus at a meal. The family gathering for a meal on feast days and sharing the warmth of home and hearth in the name of God is centuries old. Almost every land has traditional foods prepared for special days, traditional dishes with the recipes handed down for generations, many times the whole meal being prescribed by custom, with even the smallest detail being symbolic. Foods can be symbols which lead the mind to spiritual thinking. The foods can be simple or very elaborate; the custom for certain days can be feasting or fasting.

There are traditional foods eaten (or not eaten) during certain liturgical seasons. Lent and Advent are the penitential seasons, with Lent being longer and more intensive. Traditionally Catholics would abstain from all dairy products and meat products, including eggs and all fat. The celebration of Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras was a feast before the fast, one last fling before the long forty days of Lent. To use up the remaining fat and dairy products, traditional dishes eaten during Mardi Gras in some countries were doughnuts and pancakes. Then Lent with its strict fasting regulations of the past would arrive starting with Ash Wednesday. Not many options for a dietetic variety remained after the prohibition of so many foods. Pretzels containing mostly flour and water were eaten during Lent, baked into a special shape imitating the crossing of arms in prayer. This would remind the consumer of the prayerful attitude to have during the Lenten season. Good Friday is traditionally a day of the strictest fasting, sometimes referred to as the Black Fast but one food that is traditionally eaten on this day is the hot cross bun. These are simple buns with icing on top in the form of a cross.

There are also many saints' days that have traditional foods for that day, such as the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19. Many dishes are made in honor of this feast, especially in Italy where this day is a holy day of obligation. One type of food is the Sfinge di San Giuseppe or St. Joseph cream puffs.

Not only are foods symbolic of the liturgy, but whole meals can reflect the festivity of the day or season. Like the family altar, the dining room table can be decorated with special tablecloths, perhaps in the liturgical colors. The china and silver can be used, and decorations with candles and symbols of the saint or season, such as eggs decorated with liturgical symbols of the resurrection for Easter or shamrocks for Saint Patrick's Day, can be put on display. On Holy Thursday the family can imitate the Last Supper and have a type of Seder or Passover meal but with a Christian outlook that the Messiah has come. A Christian can see the symbolism of the meal, such as understanding the lamb as a symbol of Jesus, the Lamb of God slain for our sins.

These ideas are very general and are in no way all inclusive. They are just a good starting point for the family to discover and incorporate the liturgy in their lives. The family can then pass on these traditions, integrating Christianity into civilization. From these seemingly small beginnings our culture can be renewed.

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