Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lessons of Customs and Traditions Found in St. Wenceslas' Feast and Carol

Yesterday, in both the modern and ancient Roman liturgical calendars, we celebrated the feast of St. Wenceslas.

Last year at this time, I reflected on my own childhood love of the Christmas carol, "Good King Wenceslas" which was written by John Mason Neale, an English clergyman who was influenced by the Oxford Movement of Newman's time.

My own love for this particular carol as a child -- which continues strong even today -- fostered within me a curiosity and fond affectation for this saint even when I knew little about him other than his name. It was only through this carol in fact, that I had any knowledge of him whatsoever. Further, it was through this same carol that I came to a more conscious awareness that December 26th was not simply "Boxing Day" (as it is known in Canada, the U.K. and other parts of the world) but, in fact, St. Stephen's day, which feast is mentioned in the first line of this carol.

The promptings and lessons which I took from this carol as a child continue to be borne out in my life as an adult for, even now, whenever I hear this carol, or whenever the feast of St. Wenceslas comes forth on the liturgical calendar, that spark of childhood excitement and intrigue is once again lit -- and through it, I am brought close to Our Lord and His Church.

Evidently, others may not share this particular experience with this particular carol or feast day, but one likely has a similar experience with other things or days, be it another carol or be it some particular food or custom associated with some other time or feast of the liturgical year; perhaps the Advent wreath, the roast goose of Martinmas, or otherwise. Embedded within this, we can find a lesson which is particularly poignant and pertinent to our purposes here; a lesson which I noted last year: seems to me that this tiny example speaks again of why our various customs, traditions and practices -- both those that we find within the walls of our churches proper and without in the context of the domestic church -- are particularly important to foster and exercise, for they have the power to influence and to form, planting the seeds that might later bloom.

There are many customs and traditions which are attached to the liturgical year and which spring from the liturgical year. These, like the liturgical year itself, have the power to teach and the power to delight and their presence is particularly formative in children and something which can be carried by children into their adult lives. Indeed, these things not only assist us by helping to embed the liturgical year into our broader lives, they may be precisely what can help to keep one in the Faith, or lead one back to the faith of their childhood.

Traditions and customs are very effectual and powerful aids which assist us in living a liturgical life. As such, I can only continue to encourage our families and our parishes to foster such customs and traditions, emphasizing and highlighting their connection to the liturgical year.

The Tomb of St. Wenceslaus, housed in the St. Wenceslaus chapel of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague. (Image source)

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