SAN DIEGO — A popular cartoon has been making the rounds on social media. It depicts an imagined conversation between God and the devil about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Christian communities.
The devil crows that, with COVID-19, he has succeeded in closing every church in the world. But God counters that, in fact, He has opened a church inside every home.
Whether aware of it or not, the cartoonist was illustrating the concept of “domestic church,” the idea that every Christian family is a microcosm of the Universal Church and that every home should be a place of prayer.
For John Prust, director of the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality, the domestic church is “the Church in miniature.”
“The larger Church is really a series of domestic churches, a family of families,” he explained, “and the Church really begins at home.”
This concept has its roots in the earliest days of Christianity, when the first Christians would meet in small groups in their own homes to celebrate the Eucharist. In the latter half of the 20th century, the ancient concept was dusted off, reintroduced to the world by the Second Vatican Council, and then championed by successive popes.
But, despite having such a distinguished pedigree, many Catholics are still unfamiliar with domestic church and what it means. This situation is something that the Family Life and Spirituality Office is actively working to change.
Prust and associate directors Ricardo Marquez and Janelle Peregoy have each penned brief reflections on the meaning of domestic church. They also have been updating their office’s website and are currently developing a handbook that they hope to make available to parishes within the coming months.
With all churches in the diocese closed for public Masses since March 16 and a statewide stay-at-home order in place, the idea of domestic church is especially timely.
Marquez acknowledged that, in contemporary Catholic life, parish church buildings have become the gathering places for worship. But Catholics are currently unable to assemble there in large numbers.
He said the pandemic and the resulting lockdown have presented Catholics with “an opportunity to look into our tradition, our history,” and to recover the concept of the domestic church, which was always there.
Developing resources on how to transform homes into domestic churches had been on the agenda since the Family Life and Spirituality Office was established in 2017 after the previous year’s diocesan synod on marriage and family. While the ongoing lockdown did not inspire the idea, it has provided the office with time to devote to this long-gestating project.
“What better time to help families remember … or just make them aware of what they really committed to, what it means to be family,” Prust said.
In his recent essay on the subject, he stressed how the domestic church is some-thing to which all are called to participate.
“Wherever a married couple lives, the domestic church is found,” he writes. “Even those who are single or divorced are also sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and therefore part of the domestic church.”
He added that the domestic church “grows” through a family’s commitment to mission, to fellowship, and to prayer and the sacraments.
In her own essay, Peregoy identifies Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia as “a pastoral guide” for developing a domestic church. The papal document promotes the use of symbols, actions, stories and prayer as powerful means of evangelization within the home.
Peregoy’s essay encourages families to reflect on what they are doing in each of these areas. For instance, in terms of symbols, is there religious imagery hanging on the walls of the house? In the realm of action, does the family attend Mass regularly and are the parents involved with parish ministries and community organizations? Regarding stories and prayer, does the family read Bible stories and pray together?
Reflecting on the importance of the domes-tic church, Prust told The Southern Cross, “There may be no better thing that we can do to strengthen our parishes and strengthen our Church than strengthen our families.”