Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Liturgical living in the universal Church

My husband wanted to convert to the faith long before I did. One day he said some unflattering things about Martin Luther, questioned my assumptions about the Reformation, and handed me a copy of G.K. Chesterton’s “The Catholic Church and Conversion.” If it hadn’t been a library book, I probably would have burned it and scattered the ashes in the sea, never to be seen again.

I couldn’t imagine not being Lutheran. No more Bach? What about the hymns I’d sung since childhood? I had a sneaking suspicion that Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” wouldn’t be on the rotation at a Catholic church. To say nothing of Reformation Sunday celebrations and singing “Stille Nacht” on Christmas Eve. Leave the Lutheran faith for what? Praying to saints, worshiping Mary, and papacy nonsense?

Fast forward three years, and it’s hard to believe I thought the “real church” began circa 1517, and that Martin Luther was the only person worthy of sainthood (if such a thing even existed). Now the words from Chesterton’s “Why I Am a Catholic” essay echo in my mind: “In short, I would say chiefly of the Catholic Church that it is catholic. I would rather try to suggest that it is not only larger than me, but larger than anything in the world; that it is indeed larger than the world.” Now I know that even a lifetime isn’t long enough to reveal the full riches of the Faith.


When I came around to the Church, I didn’t know what being a “practicing Catholic” meant, but I knew it was much more involved than going to church on Sunday. I was eager to figure the whole thing out, and naively imagined that would be a simple matter. But then the questions began. What was the deal with saint days? And holy water? Do Catholics seriously wait until Christmas Eve to decorate the tree and eat cookies? Really?

Searching for more information, one book was recommended over and over again. It was written by Maria Von Trapp—yes, from The Sound of Music. Yes, she’s a real person. And her book Around the Year with the Trapp Family explains how they lived their Catholic faith in Austria and after moving to America.

Trapp Family Singers (1941)

The book is so powerful my Lutheran mother told me, “Martin Luther did a disservice to the church.” Maria Von Trapp’s descriptions of their liturgical life will make you want to trade in your passport, hop in a time machine, move to Austria, and beg the Von Trapp’s to adopt you—and for God to give you a better singing voice. It’s one of those instances when real life far outshines Hollywood’s version.

It’s a testament to the powerful witness of liturgical living.

Summer is finally beginning in Oregon. That means breaks from the gray days, blooming flowers, and walks to the park. This is enthusiastically endorsed by the children, who high-five when the rain stops. In truth, we all enjoy moving through seasons: the change in weather, clothing, and food. There's even comfort in the cooler temperatures of fall, when we bring out the sweaters, blankets, and hot chocolate. This order appeals to all of us.

The Church, through her liturgical seasons, assimilates our observance of this natural rhythm and wonderfully elevates it in a way I never could have imagined while clutching those Lutheran fragments. The Church observes daily Scripture readings, rosary meditations, she honors saints and martyrs, and alternates periods of feasting and fasting—providing a structure that nourishes physically, spiritually, and intellectually.


As Maria Von Trapp wrote:
Deep down in the human heart, however, is embedded the craving to celebrate, and, in a dumb way, the other craving to abstain, perhaps to atone. In general, these cravings are no longer directed in seasonal channels, as they are for the Catholic, or even for the aborigine who participates in some tribal religious belief. So modern man one day—any day—gets up and says, “Let's celebrate!” And without any warrant, he decrees that his town from now on will have a festival on, let’s say, August 18th; and as he can dance and eat and drink on any day between January 1st and December 31st, the most he will experience is “a good time.” But he will never be able to “celebrate a feast.”
True holy days have faded into oblivion as “Hallmark holidays” have grown, fed on capitalism and increasing secularization. Saint Patrick’s Day is a drinking holiday; Saint Valentine’s Day saw the release of 50 Shades of Gray in 2015 and $18.6 billion in gift sales this year. Spring break was once Easter break—students went to church with their family instead of flying to Cancún with friends. And spring cleaning happened in the three days after Palm Sunday, in preparation of the greatest feast of the year. Now we’re more likely to celebrate Administrative Professionals Day and Father’s Day (made official by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, declared a “Second Christmas” in the male merchandising world) than baptismal birthdays and saint days.

Liturgical living is countercultural in a non-Catholic country. You will be regarded as a wacko if you dont spend the month of December listening to Christmas carols and eating sugar cookies. Tell someone you process in the streets to celebrate Corpus Christi—the body of Christ, not the city in Texas—and your neighbors may have you committed. But in living the liturgical year we foster a sense of wonder in our children, and recapture it in ourselves.

Having given up those Reformation Sunday processions and joined the “largeness” of The Faith, my joy is multiplied exponentially—because celebrations are now reinforced by the truth, beauty, and history found only in the Church. This all-encompassing liturgical life infuses the natural, the supernatural, and the other-worldly. “Again,” wrote Maria Von Trapp, “it is our faithful friend, Holy Mother Church, who leads her children first back to nature in order to make them ready to receive supernatural grace. Gratia supponit naturam.”

Grace builds on nature.

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Photo Source: By Trapp Family Singers-Metropolitan Music Bureau, New York. Photo by Larry Gordon. (eBay item [photo front] photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons