Waffles for the Soul: How Home-Schooling Moms Are Using Liturgical Living to Teach Their Kids the Faith

The Church, of course, teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children.

The Tierney family loves making waffles, especially on March 25.
The Tierney family loves making waffles, especially on March 25. (photo: Courtesy of Tierney family)

Can eating waffles for dinner on March 25 help keep your kids Catholic later in life?

What about setting up a prayer space with sacred art in your home?

Or a purple tablecloth during Lent on the school table?

Home-schooling practices like these aren’t liturgy, exactly, but they are liturgical, calling to mind the Church’s commemorations according to a rhythm of time.

For Kendra Tierney, 46, author and home-schooling mom, it’s not the waffles on Annunciation that are important so much as the memories — and the connection those memories make to one of the Church’s most important feast days.

“I’m trying to make the liturgical year fun and memorable for my kids,” Tierney wrote in her “Catholic All Year” blog several years ago. “I want them to call me from college and ask me for my waffle recipe … because they cannot imagine NOT eating waffles for dinner on the Annunciation. Because THAT will mean they know when the Annunciation is, which would be just lovely.”

Such practices help reinforce to children who they are and who they are meant to be, she told the Register.

“Our kids are looking to feel as though they belong to a group, and they want to know where in the world they belong. And liturgical living in the home helps give kids that group to which they want to belong,” said Tierney, mother of 10 and the author of a 2018 book called The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life, by telephone. “When something is our identity, then I think it’s something that’s hard to walk away from. It doesn’t feel like one choice among many.”

Liturgical living at home
The Lawler and Tierney families make learning about the faith a priority in their homes. (Photo: Courtesy photos)


Living a Liturgical Life

Leila Lawler, 63, who spent about 25 years home-schooling most of her seven children, became a Catholic in 1979, shortly before marrying her husband, Phil. Her father was a Muslim, her mother was a Methodist, and she had little idea of liturgy. 

Her introduction to liturgical living began when her husband, a lifelong Catholic, insisted they keep Advent as a time not of celebration but of preparation.

“And that was just a complete revelation to me. And over the years I became aware that there were other rhythms in Church life I needed to discover. And it took a long time, because there was not much help in parish life,” said Lawler, who lives in central Massachusetts, in a telephone interview.

Lawler, who is the lead author of a blog called “Like Mother, Like Daughter,” advises moms to begin embracing liturgy by creating an oratory (“place of prayer”) in a high-traffic area of the house. (It’s the subject of a 2014 book she co-wrote called The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home.) It’s important that it include art that is beautiful, she said, to uplift one’s domestic church.

“We know things through our senses. That is how God made us. So we do need to see beautiful things. When we see beautiful sacred images, we are drawn through them to Beauty, with a capital B, which is Christ. The beauty is the radiance of Christ. And then we desire to pray. And the desire to pray is prayer,” Lawler told the Register.

What else?

“The second thing is to begin by observing Advent. Because Advent represents waiting for Christ. And the family really needs to do that. We need to learn to wait for Christ. And then he will come and he will teach us what to do,” Lawler said.

Lawler recommends introducing kids to Advent carols such as On Jordan’s Bank and People Look East, instead of diving into Christmas carols right away — and then, when the time is right, keeping the party going with Christmas carols not just on Christmas Eve but all the way through the Christmas season.

While any family can do these things, home schooling allows more time for them since moms are typically with their kids most of the day.

“If a family home-schools, then they could really find an opportunity to delve into the liturgical way of life. It is the way that they will impart faith and understanding to their children. And so, in a sense, the more you live liturgically, the easier your task in education becomes, because it is all laid out for you,” Lawler said.

The Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children. But even lifelong Catholics like Tierney can find that responsibility daunting; she remembers her childhood religious education largely for its coloring sheets.

“A lot of us feel like, ‘Well, I didn’t even learn this. How am I going to teach this to my own kids?’ This bolt from the blue is this liturgical living in the home,” Tierney told the Register. “It gives us this framework. It identifies the things that the Church feels are the most important things that the laity should know, and it gives you this little schedule to learn them.”


Making Saints

Colbe Mazzarella, 65, did not home-school her own children, although she always had an interest in it. She went to law school while raising a young family in the mid-1990s, and later, in 1999, became a full-time public-school teacher, first in Chelsea and then in Lynn, Massachusetts, both north of Boston.

She retired in September 2022. But she didn’t stop teaching. This past school year, she started home-schooling several of her 19 grandchildren and the child of a friend of her daughter’s. Come September 2023, she plans to home-school seven kids, ages 3 to 7 — four of them her grandchildren.

As a mom and grandma, she tried to live the Church’s liturgical life and introduce it to her kids and grandkids. Now, she’s incorporating liturgical practices into the school day.

One is keeping Ember Days, a period of fasting for three days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) during each of the four seasons of the year. Once a common practice in the Church, Ember Days have fallen out not only of use but of memory.

The kids are too young to fast, but Mazzarella makes a seasonal cake for them on the Sunday after Ember Days, which makes the point of feasting after fasting and that both are a form of celebration.

“The liturgical year of the Church has variety and familiarity,” Mazzarella said. “There’s a natural rhythm. There’s a natural variety. There’s also an emotional rhythm — of the happy times of the year and the sad times of the year and the glorious times of the year.”

During Advent, she put a purple tablecloth on the table where the kids did their schoolwork.

For St. Joseph’s Day, which the Church usually celebrates on March 19, she emphasized a brown color scheme, calling to mind Joseph’s trade as a carpenter. She put out a statue of St. Joseph with flowers, the children watched a short cartoon about St. Joseph, she had them make something with wood, and together they said a prayer to St. Joseph, asking for his intercession.

She has time for such activities because home schooling offers freedom from the clock.

“The biggest thing is flexibility. My main habit is if they’re doing something good, if they’re really into it, I’m not going to stop it … five minutes or five hours; whatever’s working,” Mazzarella said.

One thing that’s working: stopping squabbles among the children by introducing them to the idea of making a sacrifice for God.

During Advent last year, she had the kids put a little piece of straw into a manger every time they made a sacrifice to make the bed soft for Jesus. Later in the year, she introduced “sacrifice beads,” which St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus (1873-1897) used as a child to count little acts of love throughout the day.

“And they get really excited. Even 3-year-olds get excited about it,” Mazzarella said. “It really changed them.”

The key, she said, is to make such practices seem normal and attractive, which make for good practices now and good memories later on.

“I think it would just feel really a natural part of life,” Mazzarella said. “If they got older and found that they had opted out, they would feel like they were missing something. That would stay with them; they would feel that this is the way life is supposed to be.”


How Do You Start?

Lawler said it’s easiest to start liturgical living if it’s near the beginning of a liturgical season, such as Advent or Lent. But the important thing, she said, is to just begin.

“And children just accept that, they love it, and they make it their own,” Lawler said. “So we shouldn’t feel awkward. We should know that children will respond to our efforts to grow in the love of God in accord with the pattern that he has given us.”

The Church commemorates several saints every day of the year. So any school day can begin by remembering the saint and asking the saint to pray for particular intentions.

“It’s so important to have the realization of the Communion of Saints, that they are beloved and admired family members, and we want to celebrate them and know them,” Lawler said.

Tierney said that for those who have decided to home-school, incorporating liturgical living ought to be straightforward, even if the practices might seem unusual.

“Home schooling itself is obviously a lifestyle. We’re already being countercultural. So I think it fits right in to add these other countercultural practices, these things which might feel old-fashioned when you start them,” Tierney said.

Why waffles on Annunciation? The tradition apparently began out of a misunderstanding: A “casual pronunciation” of the Swedish word for “Our Lady’s Day” sounds a lot like Swedish for “Waffle Day,” according to Tanya Gulevich’s book Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent (2002).

But whatever the origin, Tierney knows her children remember the Annunciation.

She also sees potential in such practices. What might seem small and private might someday be less so.

“If you want to start a grassroots movement, home-schoolers are the way to start, because they’ll start these traditions, and, hopefully, it will spread from there,” Tierney said, “and hopefully we’ll get back to doing this as a Church together.”