I am the daughter of pastors. I am the granddaughter of pastors. I am the great granddaughter of pastors. When I got married I was a pastor’s wife. I was soon after ordained and became a pastor myself.
And now I am a Catholic.
I have the most intentional parents. They do things for a reason. There is no “we do this because this is the way we do it” about them. Ask them about almost anything from why they put their TV where they did to why they chose to homeschool their kids and they could produce a paper on why. (Not to infer that everything done with intention is correct, but a heck of lot better than going through life without intention.)
So, it was not on a whim that my parents decided that our family would observe the liturgical season of Advent. We are not from any High Church tradition that would have fed this to them. They didn’t grow up observing it. But, they read it in a book and thought, “Now this would be something that would benefit our family and help us to focus on the real meaning of the season.” So they did. Four weeks before Christmas for nearly all my life we lit candles, read Scriptures, and prayed. Candles are also not a part of our religious tradition. Smoke machines maybe. Not candles. But here we were lighting candles and praying liturgically in union with the Church spread throughout the world.
My mother loves traditions. But not coming from a liturgical tradition most of the traditions she observed were the ones she found personally enriching or ones our family sort of made up ourselves. For example, the first day of Spring it was Springtime Soup and a Daffodil Cake. You could count on it. Whether it was rainy or sunny you could count on the fact that my mother was celebrating the first day of Spring.
Likewise she celebrated the end of Christmastide with an Epiphany feast, a homemade Christmas Pageant, a lot more candles, more Scripture, and prayer.
She would say that special days helped bring the family together, gave us a sense of identity, passed on the faith, and gave us something to look forward to. So why limit ourselves to Christmas and Easter. We needed more special days to observe. So, she found some and gave herself whole-heartedly to them.
And I am grateful, tremendously grateful. Because the seeds of respect and awe for “small t” traditions helped me see the importance of “big T” Traditions. She is completely right in that tradition brings people together, gives us a sense of identity, aids in passing on the faith, and gives us something to look forward to when the ordinary days are tough. Being a Catholic I have come to realize that the calendar is full of traditions—feasts, fasts, solemnities, and memorials—that go back to the early Church and stretch their sacred imagination and wisdom into the Old Testament too.
I don’t need to find them. The Church has given them to the world as a gift. The Church hasn’t just given the world Christmas and Easter. She has given us Rogation Days, days to abstain from meat, days to bless bees and honey, days to drink and dance, days to remember our beloved departed ones, days to embrace postpartum women and welcome them to worship, days to bless animals and cars, days specifically to bless throats. The Church Calendar doesn’t just remind us of the past; it guides us in our every day lives, propelling us into the future. What to eat, drink, sing, pray, read, work, wear—the Church has insight into all that.
When I became quite grown-up and had my own little children to raise and to teach the faith, I started with the Advent candles. After a few years it seemed only logical to me that Easter should have as much preparation (and penance!) as Christmas, so I started observing Lent. Being a Protestant from a Charismatic tradition, I didn’t observe it as the most traddy Catholic, but I believe that God smiled on the faith it took to try. Once Advent and Lent were a part of my life it seemed only to make sense to add in other liturgical observances. If Advent and Lent could lead my family so much deeper into relationship with Jesus, why not more liturgical seasons? (I can almost hear my mother’s voice saying “why not more special days?!”)
It was only a matter of time before I realized that the most important Tradition (with the biggest T) is the Mass. This isn’t just a different kind of service (like Protestants have their service and Catholics have theirs), it is a different thing altogether. It isn’t a matter of preference. Rather, this is such a sacred Tradition that it was passed down through Apostolic Succession with the authority of Jesus from the beginning. It is an actual Sacrifice. It is mystically standing at the foot of Calvary where our Lord offered Himself as both priest and victim. And if joining in with the other “smaller” traditions could lead us into deeper intimacy with Jesus, how much deeper intimacy could we experience by joining in this most important Tradition. Is there anything more intimate than receiving Jesus into our very bodies through His Precious Body and Blood?
I was shook.
Still shook today.
I don’t know if I would have found the path exactly like I did if my deep love and appreciation for tradition was not fostered by my Protestant parents who saw the beauty in a faith passed down in such a way. They prepared the way for me and I am super grateful.
I will have Masses for them said in gratitude.