Building a Catholic culture in your home should not stress you out. You don't have to do all the things and you don't have to do things exactly like the person next to you. Give yourself time to figure out what works for you, your family, and your season in life.
That is totally, 100% true. I'm a cradle Catholic and I'm still figuring out that what worked one year might not work the next. (Like this, for example.) I've also noticed that the following five things have all made a huge impact in how I and my family live out our faith and build a Catholic culture in our home:
-an Advent wreath
- a Nativity
- Catholic art
- Catholic books
Those items have been incorporated through all the liturgical seasons of the Church and have created a home that is distinctly different than non-Catholic homes. My hope is that they will fill my children's memories and will help them identify themselves as Catholic Christians who know, love, and understand their faith. My hope is that it will help us all love and serve our Lord better.
I am most definitely not saying that only good Catholics have these things and I am also not saying you need to have all of these things in your possession right now. If you think that they would also add to the Catholic culture of our home then do buy them!* But! I've acquired these over years; you can too. :)
What to have: An Advent Wreath
This can be as simple as one pink and three purple candles arranged in a circle on your kitchen table. You can add evergreen boughs or you can buy a wreath to use year after year. (Ours has a white Christmas candle in the center but that's not necessary.)
Why: The Church uses the Advent Wreath to mark the four weeks of Advent. You should see one in your own church. The purple color reminds us of Christ's royalty, the pink color reminds us to rejoice for our Savior has come and will come again. The candles light up the dark, winter nights and remind us that "the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light."
What to do:
Beginner: Light the candles of the Advent Wreath. Try to do it every night or at least once a week. We like to sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" while we light them. You can sing or do it in silence or find a prayer you like. Sometimes we blow them out right away and sometimes we let them burn throughout dinner.
More Advanced: Try using a prayer book to help guide your dinner conversation. We like O Radiant Dawn by Lisa Hendey.
Bonus: You can switch out the candles to four white ones for the Season of Christmas. We sing "O Come Let Us Adore Him" while we light the candles during Christmas. Silence, other songs, or a prayer works too.
What to have: A Nativity
There are nativity sets (or manger scenes or Christmas creches) to fit all kinds of preferences and decorating styles. You could even ask around - maybe one of your relatives has an heirloom stashed away that they don't use. There's even toy ones your kids can play with and you can use to reenact and explain the Christmas story.
Why: A nativity is a beautiful way to keep the Christmas story present in your home.
What to do:
Beginner: Find a place of honor in your home, preferably in a place where the family frequently gathers, and set up the stable and figurines. Use it as a tool for prayer - meditating on the meaning of Christmas or reading Scripture in front of it.
More Advanced: Keep the stable empty and place the figures around your home or living room. On Christmas Eve bring Mary, Joseph, and the donkey to the stable. After Christmas Mass put the Baby Jesus in the manger and then bring the shepherds over. On Epiphany (January 6th) move the Magi to the stable.
What to have: Catholic Art
When I say Catholic art I'm talking about print copies of old classics, statues, holy cards, or beautiful paintings by modern artists, like these. Heirloom rosaries, family Bibles, and prayer books also fall in this category.
Why: Incorporating some pictures, statues, or even simply framed holy cards in your home's decorations is a really easy way to surround yourself with items that are beautiful and will help you refocus your day / thoughts / heart / inner dialogue / potentially gossipy conversation to something holier. It's hard to be a jerk when you're looking at Christ on the cross.
Catholic art also serves as a simple way to incorporate the liturgical calendar into your home.
Beginner: Hang a Crucifix, display an image of Mary, and keep on using all the seasonal decorations you already own.
More Advanced: Find images or statues for other saints who are important to you and display their image in a place of honor for their feast days. For example, May is the Month of Mary, so move your image of the Blessed Mother to a prominent place in your home and place a bouquet of flowers near it. For St. Patrick's Day in March use the green decorations you may already have but also pick up a holy card or statue of St. Patrick and display it on your mantel or other place of prominence.
Even More Advanced: Hang a crucifix in every room of the house, beginning with the bedrooms and family room.
What to have: Sacramentals (and things that go with them)
A sacramental is basically a holy object or action that leads you to more actively live out your faith and makes ordinary life more holy. Holy water, making the sign of the cross, a wedding ring, fasting, genuflecting, shrines, scapulars, a crucifix, statues, ashes, medals, blessings... all these things are sacramentals. They do not bestow grace like a Sacrament does but they do remind us of the Sacraments.
Why: Sacramentals will help you incorporate your faith into your daily life and your family practices. They act as a constant reminder to pray, to strive for holiness, and to seek God who loves you.
Beginner: Get a Rosary and a guide on how to pray the rosary and a guide on how to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Use the guides to help you pray and be sure to take your time! You may fumble your way through it for awhile. Also, don't be afraid to ask a friend for help. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is also prayed on rosary beads and is often prayed during the 3 o'clock hour, which is when Christ died on the cross. But you can pray it whenever you want.
More Advanced: Find a holy water font to hang by your door and a Miraculous Medal to wear. Your font will likely come with a small bottle marked "Holy Water" which you can take to your parish and refill - there should be a sorta water cooler looking like thing in the back of church just for this purpose. However, I've just bought a gallon of distilled water, taken it to my priest, and asked him to bless it. I labeled the gallon jug "Holy Water" so no one would drink it or water house plants with it and all was well. You and your family and friends can now bless yourselves as you come and go.
Wear the Miraculous Medal as a reminder to pray for conversion and grow in holiness. Mary will lead you and others closer to Christ - let her help you.
Bonus: The Catholic art from above qualifies for this, too!
What to have: A Few Catholic Books
Catholics love a good library!
Beginner: Make sure you have a good Catholic Bible, a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Fulton Sheen's Life of Christ for yourself, and The Weight of the Mass for your kids. Also, if you're looking for a book with ideas to celebrate feast days without overwhelming you, I recommend Feast!
More Advanced: More books to slowly add to your library include Bernadette books, Take It to the Queen, Catholic Children's Bible, The Little Oratory, A Little Book About Confession, and 33 Days to Morning Glory. These titles will help you share the Catholic faith with your family and 33 Days is a fabulous book if you're looking to understand Mary.
So that's what I would suggest, but this is by no means an exhaustive list! What do you think I've left off?
And I've gotten a lot of questions from the Tips you may not get in RCIA post. Some of them were answered in this post, but I"ll be doing another quick list next week. If you have any questions please let me know!
*I'm an Amazon Affiliate. That means that when you buy a product through one of my links I will make a very, very small amount of money, for which I will be very, very grateful. However, this post and its links are more about giving you ideas than making me money. Hope you understand.