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Domestic Church: Know your rites!

Q: Archbishop J, what are our rites as domestic Church?

The modern child knows about his or her rights, but very few know there are rites. Both rights and rites are essential for the domestic Church. We live in a culture where we constantly want to reinvent ourselves. We want new experiences; we want the unique. So, the modern family seeks to throw off rites and rituals and to reinvent itself. But, when we throw off rites and rituals, we do not do without them, we just adopt bad rites and inculcate bad values.

Good rites and rituals lead to good values and harmonious living; bad rites and rituals create the opposite. We used to have the rite of the mealtime. Remember when everyone got dressed up every day and sat at table and ate a meal together—a simple act that nourished both body and soul. We connected with one other. It was about relationships. Today, everyone goes to the pot serves himself and eats by himself. What do these mealtime rites convey?

Terence Lovat has proposed that a ritual has five stages—entry, preparation, climax, celebration, and return. Dressing suitably for the meal is about entry and preparation. The climax was in the eating and conversation. The prayer at the end marked the celebration and preparation to return to order and normal time.

The old rite of the common meal taught the family that their identity as family was important, that each member had a place within the larger whole. It said their stories were important, as members listened to one another. There was an order to the sitting and the serving and who got to speak first. In these subtle ways the children learnt their place in the family and the limits and boundaries of that place.

Family rites structure relationships. This is vital for healthy living. The rise in depression and suicidal thoughts in children today may well be connected to the lack of healthy and life-giving rites. Without consistent rites and rituals, we do not have appropriate containers for the big and dark emotions.

Many families have thrown out the baby with the bath water. This does not strengthen the family. It weakens it. The Archdiocesan Family Life Commission is proposing that families focus on three rites—relationships, rituals and reaching out.

Rite of relationships

We are people of habit and ritual. Reflect on your morning ritual. You probably do the same things in the same order every day. That is the power of ritual. We do not plan it. It flows and gives meaning and structure to living.

Our families have many rituals, conscious and unconscious. Some of them are good and others are destructive. We need to look critically at all of our rituals and evaluate them. In our families we celebrate birthdays, which tell individuals they are valued and special. Families develop rituals around these celebrations. What you eat, how you dress, the presents you give, all add significance to the day.

What are the other occasions that you celebrate as a family? Christmas, Easter, anniversaries? Consider these celebrations and plan them as a family. It is important that there is participation. It is also important that over the years people come to know what to expect. This gives the container for the emotions and the relationships.

It is also important that significant moments have different celebrations. Thus, puberty, reaching the ages of 16 and 21 each needs a special marker. In addition to letting the child know he or she is loved in a special way, they allow each one to learn the place of ritual and gives the individual a sense of being cared for, so there is no need for anxiety as the significant date approaches.

Rituals have meaning. Ceremonies connect members of the family to one another and to the wider world. I believe we need to rediscover the importance of various rituals, ceremonies, and rites of passage in our lives. We need to live them more fully and to be open to re-examine our present rituals to deepen them and adopt new ones, as needed. The purpose of these rites and rituals is relationship.

Rite of Rituals:

work, play, talk & pray

Building consistent and dependable rituals gives a container for the psychic energy around these human activities. Does everyone in the family have a chore that contributes to the whole? As soon as children are old enough, they need to participate in the preparation. Otherwise we get entitled children who believe the world owes them everything.

What about homework? Is there a ritual? Come home, eat, play then homework? If not, it will be a constant fight to contain the energy and the desire to simply play.

Does your family have rituals of leisure and relaxation?  We went to the sea many weekends. It was a magical time for us as a family. The night before we prepared by deciding when we would go to Mass. Then Mum would cook, and we decided on our departure time and what we needed for the trip.

The journey home was a re-entry into the real world where we mentally prepared for school the next day. In the car and at table we would talk with each other, about things serious and light. There was much play and laughter, learning and caring. The ritual of talk moulded us together as a family.

What are the prayer rituals in your family? Do you bless the children before they leave home? Do you pray together on mornings or evenings? Do you go to Mass together? Do you prepare for Mass by reading the gospel of the Sunday? Is there a night ritual of prayer? These rituals tell children who is ultimately important; not them, not you, but God.

Rite of reaching out

We explored service to others in last Sunday’s column. It is vital that the children participate in this form of service as a family. To see others less fortunate than themselves, is a powerful reminder of their true state and the gratitude they owe to God for all His many blessings.

Key Message:

Rituals are important for containing the big moments in life, they inform us about what is truly important.

Action Step:

Review the rituals in your family, strengthen those that are not working, adopt new ones that are needed and abandon those that are not life-giving.

Scripture Reading:

Luke 2:41–42

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