How to make your home a domestic church

A family prays before dinner (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The Reverend Canon Giles Fraser, columnist over at the Guardian, has an interesting article in which he compares Judaism with western Christianity, and avers that the former brings religion into the home more than the latter. Reading it, you might ask yourself the same question I did, namely, how does Catholicism bring religion into the home, and how can it do this the more, as opposed merely to practice it in Church?

Let me attempt an answer.

First of all, it is clear from the Holy Scriptures, that the Catholic faith is something that happens in a domestic setting. While going to Church is obviously essential, you can and indeed must also encounter God at home.

The annunciation to the Blessed Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel, the foremost encounter between God and humanity, takes place in her house, as St Luke makes clear in Luke 1:28, stating that the angel goes into her home.

St Matthew also places the Epiphany in a domestic setting, telling us that the Magi encounter the Christ child “on entering the house” (Matthew 2:11). So, God is to be found at home; but of course, this being the Bible, there is a second level of meaning.

The early Christians met and worshipped in private houses, and these houses (there are several examples in Rome, for example) later became churches. This house/church parallel is also found explicitly in the scriptures. St Paul, in Romans 16:5, talks of the Church that meets in the house of Priscilla and Aquila. (There is a modern parish in Rome dedicated to these two saints.)

The same thing occurs at Colossians 4:15 where we hear of a church meeting in the house of one Nympha. In the New Testament, the word ‘house’ is meant to evoke the idea of church, and vice versa. So, there is no theological justification for any separation between domestic setting and church in the New Testament, indeed quite the opposite.

That said, how can we Catholics make our homes places of encounter with God, more than we do at present? Here are a few suggestions.

Start in the kitchen. Mark fasts and mark feasts. Let Advent and Lent, and every Friday of the year, make a difference in the way you cook and eat. Likewise make a real effort at Christmas and Easter (I am sure everyone does this already) and at other key feasts such as Immaculate Conception, the Presentation of the Lord, the Annunciation and the Assumption. Many of these feasts, like Christmas and Easter, have special foods associated with them, and there are quite a few good Catholic cookbooks on the market.

Secondly, make your home a place of prayer. After all, while you pray in Church on Sunday, you should also pray at other times at home. Every Catholic home needs a crucifix in some prominent place, as well as a statue or picture of Our Lady and a statue or picture of the Sacred Heart.

Indeed, when you move into the house, make sure you have your parish priest round to bless it. In many countries, such as Italy, it is the custom of the clergy to bless all houses in the parish annually. The clergy in Britain will be delighted to do this by invitation, I am sure. It is a powerful reminder of the home as “domestic church”.

Homes are of course places of hospitality to friends, and when we invite people round, we should recall that in doing so we are fulfilling one of the precepts of the Law of the Lord. Just as Abraham welcomed the three strangers, and was accordingly rewarded (see Genesis 18), the same will happen with us, we hope and pray. So, practice hospitality, not as a way of getting on in society, but as a way of pleasing God. The Letter to the Hebrews puts it beautifully: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).

As members of a local, this is, parish, church, if your home is suitable, do try and host parish functions in it. These do not have to be big, after all. A meeting at someone’s house, rather than in a draughty parish hall, may be a more effective witness to the Church as our home, and the home as our church.

Last of all, and most suitable for this time of year, make sure you have got a crib! The stable at Bethlehem offered a refuge to Christ the Lord when there was no room at the inn; having one in your home is a wonderful reminder that Christ has found lodging there, as well as in the parish church.

Many readers may find that they have been doing all this for years. In which case, keep up the good work. But if you find that you are like Canon Giles Fraser, perhaps these suggestions may be welcome.