Janet Schaeffler, OP
The Importance and Power of Ritual
One evening, a few days after his birthday, I was taking care of him and his sister. As I put him to bed and we followed our usual ritual of thank-you prayers and a blessing, he was very antsy and not connecting with me. When I finished, he proceeded to tell me he didn’t want the comforter or the pillow in his bed. I carefully removed them and made sure he was covered with his blankets, with the turtle and lamb close by. Then, with a big smile he said, “OK, now do it again.” Now he was ready to pray and participate in our blessing. As I’ve told this many times to my friends, their immediate reaction was: “the importance and power of ritual!”
Try Not to Rush Through This Holy Season
During Advent/Christmas/Epiphany we enter a season of our liturgical year that is rich in ritual and tradition. Many traditions surround us in our Sunday liturgy. Others abound in our homes, in our daily lives of prayer and celebration together. As catechists, we have a unique privilege of immersing our young people in these rituals daily, and thus preparing them for their liturgical life. The challenge we have is not rushing the seasons so our cherished traditions can enhance this holy time. The world around us hurries the season, more so each year, and we miss so much.
Suggestions for Teachers, Parents and Catechists
Within our catechetical and school settings, especially in our prayer, we can do a great deal to celebrate the mysteries of each feast and season with joy, anticipation, wonder and hope. And with children don’t forget the power of living in the present moment.
Advent contains almost too many rich traditions and rituals for its short time. Consider the Jesse Tree, Las Posadas and the beautiful “O” Antiphons. Advent Calendars have become a popular tradition that can combines scripture reflection, prayer, family activities and service opportunities. Involve the children in making and blessing an Advent wreath. For an Advent wreath blessing see Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family (Ottawa: CCCB Publications, 2005, Chapter 47). This resource is available online through the Canadian Catholic Bishops’ site: in English: cccb.ca/site/index.php?lang=eng, in French: cccb.ca/site/index.php?lang=frc
See also the American Catholic Bishops Publication: Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers (Washington: USCCB Publishing, 1989). This resource is available online through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: usccb.org.
Lead children in celebrating the feasts of the Advent season with a combination of prayer, Scripture, stories and rituals. Children would also enjoy a surprise visit from Saint Francis Xavier (December 3), Saint Ambrose (December 7), Saint Nicholas (December 6) or Saint Lucy (December 13).
There are two Marian feasts during this time that have geographical significance for us, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8), which is the patronal day of the United States and Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), which is the patronal day of the Americas.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Christmas/Epiphany season culminates in the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13. The twelve days give us the chance to do what most of the world stopped doing on December 26. During this time think about involving the children in a dramatic telling of the Christmas/Epiphany story. Before Christmas provide parents with ideas and materials for rituals and ideas for celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, such as encouraging the exchange of one small gift each day rather than doing it all at once on Christmas day. Invite the children to an Epiphany Party with song, prayer and a visit from the Magi. Use a special form of meal prayer during this season. (“We Are Very Thankful” is a new sung blessing before meals with texts for every season of the year. It can be found in the collection, The Gift of Our Friends .
The various Saints days, traditions and symbols can help to keep children liturgically focused for the entire season of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany and not just on December 25.
Janet Schaeffler, OP is an Adrian Dominican. She is a frequent contributor to periodicals on Catholic education. She is also the associate director of the Office for Catechesis/Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Detroit.