By Rachel Houchab and Christina Maksisi
On Sunday 7 November, we will begin our new liturgical year in the Maronite liturgical cycle.
The year commences with the Consecration and Renewal of the Church and then leads into the Glorious Birth of Our Lord.
Sacramental life is closely tied with living liturgically, which requires us to intentionally incorporate the Church’s liturgical worship into our daily lives.
As families there is no better way to do this outside the liturgy, than by growing and cultivating the Church within our home.
To mark the new liturgical year, below are some ideas to grow and cultivate the Church within your home.
Set up a home altar
Just as the Church contains an altar upon which the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, our homes should also have an altar that brings the family together for prayer and worship.
Adorn the altar to correspond with the liturgical season. For example, during the season of the birth of our Lord, you may place an icon or statue of our Lord’s birth at the centre of your altar and place golden candles, cloth or flowers to correlate with the liturgical colours.
Icons are an important form of prayer in the Eastern tradition. You can create an icon and light a candle beside it to help reflect each of the liturgical weeks in the lead up to Christmas.
Children can light the candle during prayer time, for each of the relevant weeks. These can be an opportunity to speak as a family or with children about the Gospel, and what the icon is saying to them.
Sacramentals can be used for private worship within our home, drawing us closer to God and holiness.
Nothing conjures up the sense of being in Church and a call to sanctification than the smell of incense.
During those times when you gather to pray, you can burn incense or light candles to help you and your family prepare yourselves for prayer.
Place a holy water font by your altar or at the front door for children to bless themselves.
Fonts are also a great reminder to bless and cross ourselves when entering and leaving the house, this can help us ready ourselves to enter a space and feel blessed but also reminds us to take Christ with us in our hearts when we leave.
Live the liturgical year in your home
The Maronite liturgical calendar is a journey with Christ from His birth, to his death, and beyond his resurrection.
The lead up to Christmas in the coming weeks provides the perfect opportunity to begin to meaningfully live the liturgical year in our homes.
Make the small things meaningful and link them to Christ
An example in this season is to thoughtfully choose the time when you put up your Christmas tree and decorations.
For Maronites that may be by ensuring the tree goes up with the first Sunday of the Season of the birth of Our Lord – the announcement to Zechariah. For Roman Catholics that may be with the beginning of Advent.
Involve the entire family and do not be so concerned as to have the perfectly manicured tree and expensive decorations. Instead, include decorations that incorporate Christmas icons, or those made by loved ones.
Read the Scriptures
Encouraging your children to read the gospel for the week before Sunday Mass and inviting them to draw their interpretation of what they have read is a great way to instill a love of scriptures.
Their drawings can also be placed as decorations each week on the Christmas tree. Children will feel a sense of joy as they have contributed to the tree and feel more involved in the liturgy having already become familiar with the Gospel.
Prepare for a feast by fasting
In the Maronite Church the lead up to a great feast is always preceded with a period of fasting. Fasting is a spiritual discipline.
In the 12 days before Christmas, from 13 December, we are all called to fast. Consider giving up sweets and meat in order to avoid the excess.
It can also be a good time to teach our children to think of the needs of others and how they may be able to help.
Celebrate the Saints
In the Christmas season, we can all meaningfully celebrate and tell the story of St Nicholas. His feast day is on 6 December for the universal Church.
Tell the story of St Nicholas and explain that he is indeed the real Santa Claus.
Speak about his acts of charity and mercy and instead of receiving, be like St Nicholas and think of ways you can give to others, where you can.
If you are going to have someone dress up as Santa Claus at Christmas, give them a staff to represent a Bishop’s crosier and a mitre (Bishop’s headdress) so that Santa may look more like the Bishop he was.
That might initiate conversation so that people can better understand who Santa really is.
For more ideas like this and to learn about the Maronite traditions visit livingmaronite.com.au and @learningtoraisesaints.
Rachel Houchab and Christina Maksisi are two of the four women behind Living Maronite.