Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Written by  Jim Nakoneshny

In the popular musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, the central character Tevye ponders the question of why we do the things we do: “That, I can tell you in one word... Tradition."

“…we have traditions for everything... how to eat, how to sleep, even how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl... This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, ‘how did this tradition start’? I'll tell you … ‘I don't know’. But it's a tradition! Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do."

Even in contemporary society, tradition governs much of the way we live our lives. At Christmas, for example, tradition dictates the way our families celebrate the holiday - what foods we prepare, how we decorate the tree, when the presents are opened, etc. It doesn’t stop there. Countless things in our daily lives are ruled by tradition – from how we mow our lawns to when we do our laundry; from when and where we take our vacations to who sits where at the dinner table.

Sometimes traditions are carefully crafted – “it is important that we remember to do things this way”. Most often, they are more a product of habit and we may not even be aware of them. Sometimes, traditions can go on for years without anyone realizing that they aren’t based on solid footing. As an example, all the years that I was growing up we celebrated my Dad’s birthday by baking his favourite caramel cake. It was the one time of year we ate it. It was only many years later, when Dad was probably in his late-seventies, that he happened to mention that he didn’t really like caramel cake. Oops. Tradition…

In the Catholic Church, many of our habits and rituals are governed by tradition. This is often helpful to us. We know that things are going to be celebrated a certain way and once we come to know those traditions it makes things easy for us. For instance, we can go to any Catholic church in the English-speaking world and be greeted with a relatively familiar celebration of the Sunday Mass. Many of the prayers and gestures are laid down – by tradition – so there is uniformity with other Catholic churches. For people who are new to the church however, this sometimes makes it difficult since little of this is actually written down for easy reference. 

Naturally, there are regional differences as well. Some practices are intentionally imparted to focus on a particular aspect of the local community. For example, last weekend at the Cathedral our Filipino community celebrated “Flores de Mayo” – Flowers of May – a traditional devotion highlighted by the children’s’ procession of flowers to Mary that many of the adult participants grew up with in the Philippines. This weekend follows with the Corpus Christi procession, another long-time tradition that is recently gaining popularity again.

In the Ukrainian culture we had the tradition of elaborate Easter baking and the ritual of having baskets of these special foods blessed at Easter Mass. After Mass we’d return home Easter morning to break the Lenten fast with a sumptuous breakfast of blessed breads, meats, eggs and cheese.

Each parish and sometimes each family also have their own particular way of doing certain things. Sometimes these may have been originally based as much on practical considerations or the physical space than anything else. Some of our personal church habits and traditions, I suspect, have much in common with my Dad’s caramel cake. We do them faithfully, and we have done them for as long as we can remember, yet they’re based on misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions. That’s one of the potential downfalls of passing along our traditions to our children. It’s like the child’s game of broken telephone – a message is whispered to one person then passed along to the next around the circle. By the time its relayed back to the originator the message has lost much, if not all, of its original meaning.

Luckily, resources are readily available to help us to understand the many things we do as Catholics, and why we do them. One of the easiest ways to access a wealth of reliable Catholic content is to log into, a free online service available to you with our parish-wide subscription (login details are on our website). Read books, watch videos and more from the comfort of your deck or easy-chair through your iPad, phone or computer. Or, maybe pick up a book from Universal Church Supplies. Take part in one of our adult faith formation programs, held at the Cathedral throughout the year. Participate in one of the many diocesan Foundations presentations held at various parishes throughout the city.

There is a wealth of information out there just waiting for you. Learn your traditions. Understand your traditions. Embrace your Traditions!

Read 843 times Last modified on Wednesday, May 30, 2018