According to Church tradition, every Sunday is a "little Easter," with the Mass a joyful celebration of our Lord’s victory over death. From biblical times, it has been known as "the Lord’s Day" (see Revelation 1:10) because Christ rose from the grave on a Sunday morning; its name in languages such as Spanish ("Domingo") still reflect that designation. Above all, Sunday is a day for worship and communion with God.
Scripture and prayer. For that reason, Sunday Mass is obligatory for Catholics, and many Catholic families have developed customs that help them give due honor to this Holy Sacrifice and prepare them to draw greater spiritual benefits from it. In some homes, for example, the custom on Saturday evening is to read together the Scripture lessons for the next morning. Then a simple discussion may follow. Other families have chosen to forgo conversation on the way to Mass and to fill the time instead with prayers of preparation.
Mass intentions. An especially worthy custom is to have Masses offered regularly for various family intentions. Perhaps family members might take turns choosing the intention.
Thanksgiving. Parents also do well to encourage in their children the custom of making a proper Thanksgiving after Holy Communion. They might pray the Anima Christi or another prayer typically found in the back of hymnals. If the parents set the example, such prayer can become a natural habit of devotion with countless benefits.
In ancient times God commanded the Jewish people to observe a weekly Sabbath, or day of rest (see Exodus 20:8), and the Church has obeyed that commandment as well. Catholics are expected to refrain from all unnecessary physical labor on Sundays (for the Jews, it was Saturdays). Sadly, Sunday is typically viewed even by many Catholics as a time for catching up on chores that weren’t taken care of in the previous week. Meanwhile, many people have jobs that require them to work through the weekend.
Of course, we don’t want to be like the religious people Jesus reprimanded for making the Sabbath into a legalistic burden full of petty regulations (see Matthew 12:1-14). Nor do we want to insist as some Christians in earlier generations did that recreation should be outlawed on the Sabbath; having fun can certainly be restful and refreshing. Nevertheless, we’ve come to see that the principle of a regular Sabbath rest remains integral to God’s plan for his creation (see Genesis 2:2-3). If the Lord Himself rested after his labors, shouldn’t we do the same?
Sabbath preparations. Sometimes, of course, we have to labor to enter into rest. By that we mean that we may have to prepare ahead for the day — in fact, Friday was known to the ancient Jews as the "Day of Preparation" for that very reason. In our home, we do all we can to take care of necessary business on Saturday so that Sunday remains free for relaxation.
Once Sunday comes, we like to postpone every possible chore till another day. The rule in our house is that no one cleans rooms, makes beds, or performs other household duties on Sunday. We eat leftovers using paper goods so there is no food to prepare and no dishes to wash.
The Sabbath meal. Some families we know like to begin their Sabbath at sunset on the evening before the day, as was the ancient Jewish custom. They light a candle as they sit down to the Saturday evening meal, and the candle remains lit until sunset on Sunday. They have other customs as well for this Sabbath dinner: a table grace sung only on that weekly occasion, a Sabbath blessing spoken by the parents to the children, and even a menu item prepared exclusively for the Sabbath, such as a particular kind of bread.
However you choose to make the Sabbath a weekly tradition in your home, you’ll find that the pause refreshes and strengthens you for your labors throughout the rest of the week.
Because the Lord was crucified on a Friday, the Church has traditionally designated this day of the week as a time for personal sacrifice in order to be united more fully to Jesus in His passion. Though the rule of abstaining from meat on Fridays was relaxed for American Catholics some years ago, many people fail to realize that the Church still recommends the observance of abstinence on Fridays and expects some kind of personal penance to be made on that day if the abstinence is not observed.
Our family happily abstains from meat on Fridays because we’ve found that this traditional Catholic discipline draws us closer to Christ, even if in only a small way. This little sacrifice we offer up, and others as well, in reparation for our sins and those of others. We normally attend Mass every weekday, but we make a special effort not to miss on Fridays, and the crowd in the little chapel where we attend suggests that many other families make this same effort.
The Fathers of the Church sometimes pictured the loss of grace through sin as a shipwreck. In our struggle to keep from drowning in our separation from God, they said, we can take hold of Baptism, the first "plank" God offers us to save us. When we sin again and are in danger of sinking once more, God sends a "second plank," the sacrament of Penance, to keep us afloat.
What a vivid image of the grace that comes to us in the confessional! Even though Catholics are required to receive Penance only once a year, our family has discovered that we need the powerful benefits of this sacrament much more often. And when we all line up in the confessional line together, we’re reminded that all of us, without exception, are in God’s debt: husband and wife, parents and children, young and old.
Family forgiveness. Whether your family chooses to go to Confession weekly, monthly, or at some other interval, it’s critical to spend a few quiet moments beforehand in the same kind of examination of conscience we’ve suggested for bedtime (see "Bedtime Traditions"). The Portuguese have an additional tradition of family preparation for Penance that confirms the parents’ role as God’s representatives in the home and helps children form a stronger resolution to resist sin. Before going to Confession, each child goes first to a parent and asks forgiveness for offenses committed in the home. Then the parent makes the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead and says, "We forgive you, and God will forgive you, too. Make a good Confession, and God bless you!" If parents are aware of offenses against their children, they would do well at this time to seek forgiveness as well.
Copyright © 2012 by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.
Excerpted from Building Catholic Family Traditions by Paul and Leisa Thigpen.