Pope Francis has said that “the Church is a family of families” (Amoris Laetitia, No. 87). More than a statement of fact, these words assert that the Church can only be as strong, as faithful and as dynamically on fire for Christ as the families that make up the Body of Christ.
In this last year, we have seen many examples of the Church’s need for authentic healing, reform and renewal. While this is true on every level, one level that has been overlooked is the need to renew Catholic families — the domestic church. Research shows that Catholic families really don’t look or live that differently from our non-Catholic counterparts. Although many Catholics pray individually and have meaningful, personal experiences within our Catholic faith, generally speaking, we don’t know how our faith is supposed to make a difference in our homes. We haven’t been taught to think that our Catholic faith should help us draw closer to each other as husbands, wives, parents and children. We don’t know how to stop thinking of family responsibilities as distractions from living a holy life. We don’t know how to hear God speaking to us in and through our home lives. We don’t know how to turn the individuals that live with us into a dynamic domestic Church focused on living the Gospel and consecrating the world to Christ.
I would like to ask you to join me this year in changing that. Let’s make 2020 the Year of the Domestic Church by discovering how to celebrate the liturgy of domestic church life.
To the degree that we think of it at all, we tend to think of “liturgy” as a passive thing. We go to church. Liturgy happens around us. We receive the Eucharist. We go home. But that isn’t the way we are supposed to experience liturgy at all. Liturgy isn’t really a noun; it is a verb. Liturgy is the means by which the Church heals the damage that sin has done to humanity’s relationship with God and calls the world into communion with Christ. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, bread and wine becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. We receive Communion so that we can participate in communion with Christ and then be the source of godly communion in the world — by building Christian relationships.
That’s where what we might call the liturgy of domestic church life comes in. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood consecrates bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In the liturgy of domestic church life, the common priesthood — a ministry we all receive in baptism — consecrates the world to Christ. I would suggest that families do this in three ways.
First, through what we might call the “rite of relationship,” the liturgy of domestic church life invites us to love differently and consecrate our relationships to Christ. We do this by challenging ourselves and each member of our household to love each other — not with a mere human love, but with Christ’s love. As theologian Philip Mamalakis explains, families “are church in their (turning toward) love, and it is Christ’s love that constitutes the church of the home.” When families actively challenge each other to live Christ’s self-sacrificing love at home, they provide ongoing formation in the priestly mission of baptism, which consecrates their household (and the world) to Christ and enables families to experience all the stuff of daily life as an opportunity to grow in holy love.
Second, through the “rite of family rituals,” families provide ongoing formation in the prophetic mission of baptism. A prophet calls people to live in godly ways. By having strong family rituals for praying, working, talking and playing together, Catholic families model how the Christian person is meant to relate to prayer, work, relationships and leisure. Family rituals are a catechism in Christian living.
Through the “rite of reaching out” families exercise the royal mission of baptism by looking for ways to bless others with the gifts they have been given. Those gifts include their witness of love as well as their hospitality in opening their homes and their generosity in sharing their time, treasure and talents with others.
In the next few months, I’ll be using this space to unpack this liturgy of domestic church life and the three rites of which it is comprised. For now, join me in asking God to make 2020 the year that your family becomes the domestic church it is meant to be and that all God’s families would learn to celebrate the liturgy of domestic church life fully for their good, for the good of the world and for the greater glory of God.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of “Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.” Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com.