Saturday, April 21, 2018

Does the Liturgical Year Overwhelm You? Approach it like NFP.

The liturgical year-the rhythm of seasons that draw our focus onto the life and mystery of Christ-is profoundly beautiful. Rich with celebrations, traditions and stories, the liturgical year is pretty amazing...and also overwhelming at times. When people start intentionally observing the liturgical year-or decide to dive deeper into it-all of the practices and traditions can seem like a lot. There's tons of depth, a massive amount of saints, a lot of traditions (both mainstream and obscure), and it can be daunting. The Catholic Church has been around for nearly 2000 years, so it should be no surprise that there is such a rich heritage to draw from! Tyler Blanski ponders the significance of the liturgical year in his stellar book on Christianity, When Donkeys Talk
"I wondered, If we are going to reorder our lives around Jesus, perhaps one of the most practical ways we could start would be to do what the medieval Christians did as they went about the serious living of the faith. They reordered their calendars differently. In Christendom we celebrate the feast days of the saints, the holidays that retell the biblical narrative. Good Friday is our Memorial Day. Pentecost is our Independence Day. When we believe that Christ is the unity of knowledge and the coherency of creation, we keep our stories in God's story. We begin to enter God's time zone. We become so much more than observers. We become participants." 
I've been thinking that I'd like to dig my hands deeper into the liturgical year and start revolving my life even more around this continual meditation on Christ's life. As I've deliberated on how to even begin integrating more traditions, prayers, and celebrations into each year, I realized that I should just approach the liturgical year like Natural Family Planning, or NFP.

NFP is, quite simply, fertility awareness. It takes an in-depth look at a woman's fertility cycle and how that affects her whole person. NFP is important for single women to learn so that they can know their bodies and take care of their reproductive health, and NFP is important for married women to learn so that they-in addition to knowing themselves-can utilize this information as they prayerfully discern whether or not God wants them to try to conceive children.

If you love NFP but are scared to dip your toes into the liturgical year, if you love the liturgical year but are hesitant to attempt NFP, OR if both NFP and the liturgical year seem out of reach-well, let's talk about all this, shall we? 

Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Paris, France (2013)
First off, we need to approach both of these with a sense of wonder. When I first began learning about my fertility cycle through NFP, I was blown away by how amazing the female body is. Instead of seeing my reproductive system as something that caused a hassle and inconvenience for several days each month, I began to view it as an incredible, magnificent gift that God has given me. Similarly, when we look at the liturgical year, we could see it as one colossal hassle to do because we're "Good Catholics." Alternatively, we could gaze with wonder and awe at the liturgical year as we see an incredible treasure trove of resources to grow closer to God.

We also can focus on doing what in particular works for our families. As learning NFP reveals, there are many different aspects of the female fertility cycle; there's also a variety of ways in which we can track our fertile and infertile signs. We can focus on our hormone levels, analyze mucus secretions, examine both of these, add in temperature checks...hopefully you get the idea ;) The different NFP methods are all science-based and are really useful-but they are not exactly "one size fits all." Each woman needs to pick the method that works best with her body, her needs, and her lifestyle (you can read more of my rant discussion about this here).
Eclairs to celebrate the feast of St. Therese. 
When it comes to the liturgical year, we can do the same thing. Instead of trying to cram every single optional practices and tradition into our lives, we could instead look at our needs, talents, and desires and keep these things in perspective when choosing which feasts to celebrate. A great starting point for many families, I think, is to mark in a particular way the feast days of the saints you and your family members are named after. Growing up, my siblings and I were always allowed to pick a special treat that mom would make to celebrate our saintly namesakes (we were allowed to pick one feast day a year). If your family has any particular devotions or other patron saints, you can definitely celebrate these in special ways, too. 

Living in the present moment, we can take things one month at a time. When couples use NFP to prayerfully discern whether to try to avoid or achieve a pregnancy, they-many times-take it one "season" at a time, or one month at a time. Perhaps in one month, the thought of another baby is overwhelming, but a few months down the road, they sense God moving their hearts and circumstances towards raising another child (Haley Stewart wrote a great blog post about NFP discernment which delves into this topic more). When it comes to intentional liturgical living, people can go through a similar process. Perhaps a family may be drawn to a particular prayer routine and celebrating certain feast days in one season, but as time goes on, they think they should shift their focus.  Or, there may be someone who wants to commemorate several liturgical days each year, but it all just seems like too much to tackle at once-so he or she decides to try some practices for a month or season and see how they go. This is perfectly fine! We need to take life and discernment one month, one season, one year at a time, continually taking our practices to prayer and asking God to draw us and our families closer to Him. 

I love the vibrancy of the liturgical year, and as I look forward to the next several months, I eagerly think about the wonderful prayers and practices that I can dive into. Shifting my mindset from feeling overwhelmed to looking at the year with wonder and openness has benefited me, and I'm excited to see what feasts and fasts my family and I ultimately observe in the next several months! 


  1. This is a very interesting comparison, AnneMarie. As you know, I don't come from a faith tradition that follows the liturgical calendar. However, in recent years, my family and I have been learning more about it and have been integrating more celebrations and commemorations into the practice of our faith.
    I have, on the other hand, used NFP. It's worked for us in the past and I actually love having a better understanding of my own body because of it. I never would have thought to draw parallels between it and the liturgical year.
    This is great food for thought!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that, Shannon! I think it's cool that your family has been integrating more celebrations into your practice of the faith. You might enjoy looking at the book I referenced in this post by Tyler Blanski-he wrote the book from his perspective as a non-Catholic, and I really liked how he was able to show the value of diving deeper into his faith in many ways-including the liturgical year.

      That is so awesome that you have benefited from NFP! It's such a gift and blessing to have ways like that to know ourselves better, and I hope that the message of fertility awareness continues to be spread to help and empower women and couples :)