One fine day in the early middle ages, a man was walking past a building site. Eyeing the marble blocks and the company of many men working diligently, our man walks over to one of the workers.
“What are you doing?” asks the man to the worker.
“Cutting stone,” was the curt reply, so the man moves on to another worker.
“What are you doing?”
“Supporting my family,” the worker replies before the man moves on to yet another worker.
“And what are you doing?” the man repeats to the third worker.
“Building a Cathedral that will save souls. My Bishop told us that this building will take many fathers and sons to build, but that one day this building will be God’s home to welcome in the lost fold.”
If someone crossed your path asking you about what your job was, how would you answer? Would you answer as the first man? the second? Would you have the Grace to answer as the third man?
Facilitating Virtue with Liturgies
Liturgy is a training of the emotions which equates into virtue. St. Benedict’s Rule is a liturgy. He even defines his Rule as “a school for the Lord’s service” (Prol 45). We can see how the first definition and the second definition flow together. Both definitions focus on the concept of learning and structuring that learning in order to facilitate growth.
Liturgy is also defined as a form of public worship, so if you and I take the time to cultivate a path to obtaining virtue, we are worshiping; we are forming our wills to God’s will. That path to virtue is the liturgy. The third stonecutter was filled with virtue because of a liturgy based on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. His answer was filled with a complete understanding of his purpose.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man writes, “Virtue is the result of having emotions that have been trained by habits [,] ” which James Smith defines as liturgy in his book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Liturgy will calibrate the soul of your family especially the fresh innocent souls of your children. Childhood is the invitation to wonder, and wonder responds to cultivation of beauty. Beauty is the only part of the trio (Goodness, Truth, and Beauty) that has a tangible component, our senses.
In order to learn virtue, we need an atmosphere that facilitates wonder and beauty. We need to appeal to our senses; we need to create a liturgy that invites us to fall into wonder. St. Benedict created a rule of life in order to do that. He created a day filled with minor liturgies and guided by an overall liturgy. His liturgy ordered the day so to order the soul towards its own true love, Christ.
St. Benedict centered the Rule with prayer balanced with the toil of daily life. He understood that in order to create a habit of virtue, there had to be a physical response. There had to be a calling of the mind into the physical world (Check out Your Morning Basket Episode 4 with Dr. Christopher Perrin for more inspiration).
Living in the Domestic Monastery
Do you have a vision or expectation of what you want your home to look like? I know I did when I first got married, and I also know that that vision has drastically changed. My vision of a clean, quiet, white home was quickly demolished under the strains of children, marriage, life, and sleepless nights. To be honest, that vision was a surface model based on no experience with domestic life especially not a domestic life steeped in Christ.
What liturgical living does is transform those surface visions into richer actualized tangible results. I hear the term “domestic church” a lot, and I disagree that our families create a domestic church. Families are a body of people living in community with shared rules, hierarchy, and culture around a religious dogma which amounts to a “domestic monastery.” In medieval times, the monastery was responsible for the contributing to the surrounding community; they were often responsible for building the great Cathedral of the area, their legacy. Our homes are not formal places of worship. They are informal places; they are the places we learn to embody.
By creating a liturgy to govern our day and our lives, we are cultivating our domestic monastery. We are structuring time and space in Christ; if we establish our “rule” around worshiping Christ, than our time can be properly ordered towards virtue. St. Benedict when establishing the “rule” of the community, focused on promoting learning, hospitality, and humility which comes from a commitment to vows.
“The Benedictine vows are stability (to remain in one monastery for life), conversion of life (to be faithful to monastic life), and obedience. (Joy Of Advent with St. Benedict 10). “
What came to my mind while reading the vows above was of my marriage; Jeff and I made similar vows in that parking lot out in front of the courthouse 8 years ago. My marriage requires me to be in one home with the same man for my entire life. My marriage requires me to constantly offer myself up at the feet of Christ; as one priest told me, “you aren’t marrying your soul mate; you are marrying your cross!” BAM. Say What? My marriage and my home are not a cathedral, but they do imitate a monastery that is building our legacy of the cathedral.
When we center our homes around a “rule of life”, we can’t help but infuse our daily toil with Christ. That laundry isn’t just covering nakedness. It is an offering to God. It is a symbol of virtue. That laundry pile is representative of cultivating the will in obedience which creates habits which creates virtue.
Liturgy in the home opens up the heart and the soul to experience the concept of scholé . Scholé is community effort to festival, to recognize the dignity of man is more than our material output. Our dignity is innate. Liturgy in the home centers each moment in forgiveness and repentance; we build our lives around lifting each other up to the Lord rather than tearing each other down.
Creating a sense of the sacred around our mundane lives is a gift to our children and to the rest of society. The act of instilling virtue in our children benefits everyone they come in contact with no matter the station of the other person. Community. The act of liturgical living fosters true community; one based in Christian values.
What does Liturgy look like in the Home?
Routine steeped in Christ. A beginning and an end defining our days. A list of actions that become worship. All of these examples are liturgy. Our children are yearning for the closeness of God and their parents. As the primary educators of our children, we are responsible to provide habits to imitate.
We need to provide our children with the tools to worship God not only formally but informally. The relationship we form with Christ will be stabilized in the informal daily liturgies that we live out in the domestic monastery. In my home, we have liturgies called morning time and evening time. These times are not just for homeschooling families; liturgy is for every home.
Morning time is the time where we come together as a family to calibrate our souls to authentic beauty. Authentic beauty will always lead to the Good and the True. Morning time is the time to embody what we want to write on our hearts that will forever lead us to contemplating Christ in the natural world and the supernatural.
Within the evening time liturgy, we foster community in the home. We focus on evaluating our behavior toward each other and the asking of forgiveness from God. We also offer our forgiveness to those who wronged us during the day. Usually, we end with some time together with a book of poetry.
The point to all of this routine is to foster community with the members of our family, with God, and with the outside world. When the core of who we are is stable, so are our emotions. If we can control our emotions, we have formed habits. Embodiment of those habits leads to a virtuous man. However, we can not reach virtue without a trained soul. Beauty orients our mind, body, and soul towards the goodness and truth which is Christ.