Q: Archbishop J, what does the domestic Church and the greater body have in common?
If the family is the domestic Church, Church miniature, then we need to understand the key practices that both the greater Church and the little Church (domestic) participate in.
Acts 2:42 sums up the practice of the early Church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
If Acts 2:42 is the expectation of the diocesan and parish Church, then we need to inculcate these four practices in the domestic Church.
I want to propose that the Church domestic participates in the life of the parish, just as the Church parish participates in the life of the Church diocese. But also, the parish and diocesan Church draw life and vitality from the health and strength of the domestic Church.
These are not different realities but interpenetrate each other. The diocesan Church is a family of families; ultimately, it is part of the family of God.
The first point to note, in this text from Acts, is “they devoted themselves”. The word conveys a diligence and consistency of action with love and affection. It was not a duty; it was a commitment born of love—devotion.
It is a response to a God of incredible love who loved us first. This devotion is the key to understanding the Church—miniature and parish—and its logic; a Church, which has love as its only currency.
The text tells us further, the members of the Church committed themselves to study and grow in knowledge of the faith that was handed down from the Apostles. This is not just content, but also encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ, in communion with the Holy Spirit.
To be devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, is to desire to be formed and informed by the Church and her teaching. It is to seek ways to learn and be shaped by the Church. Ultimately, it means thinking with the Church on the burning issues of the day. This requires docility of heart and curiosity of spirit.
From the Greek word koinonia, we get ‘fellowship’, sometimes translated ‘communion’ or ‘participation’. It is a very extreme form of hospitality. St Paul uses the term in 1 Corinthians 10:16–17. There, the blessing cup that we bless is a communion (koinonia) with the blood of Christ—a communion or participation in the cross. The bread we break is a communion (koinonia) in the body of Christ. We participate in the mystical body of Christ. We, though many, form one body.
This is about the radical unity we are called to as part of the Body of Christ. The Church is a sacrament of unity. The domestic Church must also be a sacrament of unity. This requires formation for love, which requires human, psychological, intellectual and spiritual formation.
The fellowship goes beyond the family to those who are most vulnerable. This is the foundation for peace and love. The fellowship also extends to those yet unborn and, thus, to the protection and care for the planet.
We have an obligation to pass it on to the next generation better than we received it. See Acts 4:32. This Christian participation or communion is essential to both the domestic and parish Church.
The breaking of the bread
To speak of the breaking of the bread is to speak of the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity and koinonia, the gathering of the faithful to worship God and pray with one heart and mind. As we move forward in this time of uncertainty, we need to offer our people the very best experience of Liturgy possible.
This is an opportunity to raise the bar and offer the best we are capable of, each time we celebrate the Eucharist. In this COVID-19 time, although Masses have begun to be offered again in our churches, a closing down is still possible, if there is a spike. We need to work at both the domestic and parish level to allow the Mass to become the premier space for the encounter with Jesus Christ.
Hospitality needs to be part of the DNA of Church—at all levels. When we get hospitality or koinonia right at all levels of Church, then our participation in the congregation and via digital media will be an experience of the deep bond of fellowship. Here, we need to encourage families to participate in the Sunday Eucharist as families and to prepare for it with great devotion.
How do we help families prepare for the Eucharist? What are the practices we might encourage families to do before and after Mass that would significantly strengthen the family experience of the Eucharist? What does the parish need to do to make the Sunday liturgy a consistently great experience? The Church parish needs to be excellent in hymns, homilies and hospitality.
Prayer is the lifeblood of the disciple. It is our vital connection to Christ—how we abide in the vine as branches (Jn 15:1–17). In the early Church prayer was both communal and private. It was in the temple and in the house. It made the disciples one in heart and spirit with their Lord.
What are the practices of family prayer that would assist families to find their identity as a domestic Church? How do we assist families to deepen their family prayer and the prayer for each member of the family? Prayer needs to be a staple of daily life. It was for Jesus: Luke 6:12; 22:45. For the family to be a domestic Church, its members need to pray—individually, as family and collectively with all families in the parish. Prayer was a staple feature of daily life for the early Church (Acts 1:14).
Matthew Kelly will say, not only does there need to be a rhythm of prayer, but there needs to be a routine within the rhythm. Then, anchored in prayer and the life of grace, the Catholic family will be the domestic Church living its mission in the world.
The Church domestic participates in and gives vitality and depth the to life of the Church parish and diocesan. The Church parish nurtures and forms the domestic Church to become what it is – a community of life and love.
Reflect on the family in which you grew up. Was it a domestic Church? How can you inculcate these four practices into your present family?