Tradition is defined as handing down beliefs, customs, etc, from one generation to another. It is obviously something vital in family life for the formation of the next generation and especially for the transmission of religious beliefs and values.
Religious tradition, once a natural part of Catholic family life, with regular Mass, Rosary, Confession, Benediction, Grace before meals, holy days of obligation and no meat on Fridays, is, nowadays, generally a thing of the past.
Building Family Prayer and Traditions aims to reintroduce to families this beautiful, enriching and greatly needed dimension of Christian and Catholic life. As the title indicates, it is a guide to creating a unique and meaningful prayer life that will become a family tradition.
Primarily this book is for families with younger children, because, as the author cautions, asking an older teenager to join in nightly prayer sessions, when they have never done so before, may be a little ambitious (leading by example may be best in these situations).
The first chapter demonstrates how powerful faith, or the lack of it, can be in our lives. The lack of faith amongst people today, it is suggested, is the cause of many social ills like family breakdown, drug addiction and violent crime. And, as "peace begins at home" and "the family that prays together stays together," it is important that families play a greater part in the teaching and passing on of Christian values.
It is emphasised that parents' actions speak louder than their words and, by talking about their faith with their children and living it through daily prayer, they demonstrate how important it is for every day, not just Sundays.
The second chapter looks at how rituals and traditions are important in sustaining a family prayer life and gives examples and suggestions of how to design prayer rituals relevant to particular families' needs.
Some families may pray the Rosary each night, others may prefer spontaneous prayer, Scripture readings, singing hymns and so on. It is pointed out that something has become a tradition when family members expect it and miss it when it is not carried out as usual. A ritual has been created when the participants know what is going to come next and they know it "by heart", like the liturgy at Mass.
Dotted throughout the book are testimonials from families sharing their experiences with their own family prayer traditions, demonstrating how different families can be in their approach to prayer.
The third chapter notes how important it is to link family prayer with parish life and family traditions with special feasts such as Christmas and Easter. In this way children come to understand that, although their families' religious traditions are unique, they are also part of the wider religious community, and their faith is shared by many. Linking family prayer traditions to feasts such as Christmas and Easter also helps counter the pressure from the secular media to reduce these occasions to materialistic and meaningless holidays instead of Holy days.
The final chapter of the book gives several ideas for family devotions to be used during prayer time and related Gospel readings.
Building Family Prayer and Traditions is well presented, easy to read and perfect for any family wanting to start its own prayer tradition. Full of ideas, anecdotes and sympathy regarding the dilemmas Christian families face today, it has a practical and positive approach that makes the reading both enlightening and enjoyable.
Catherine Sheehan is a Melbourne Catholic writer.