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Apr 2, 2020

How to Worship at Home with Your Family

Dr. James Merrick

Wouldn’t it be great if the Church came out of this pandemic stronger? Wouldn’t it be a true blessing if Catholics found themselves more committed to attending Mass? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if parishes and dioceses were not financially crippled, as they lose out on the weekly collection (Reminder: Please keep giving to your parish!) but able to assist those who have suffered economically? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if our home churches kept the Faith so alive that vocations to the priesthood and religious life exploded? What if we spent these next weeks or months of the COVID-19 crisis forming the next generation of the Church? 

I am convinced that we have been given this moment, as challenging as it is, for our good and God’s glory. It is a time to get our priorities straight. It is a time to stop being gluttons of distraction and trifles. All of us need to discern what God wants from us during this time. I would encourage you, however, to think about how we can use this time to renew the Church through the “domestic church” in our homes. How can we do this? Let’s first take a look at the Church’s teaching on the family as a domestic church and then look at how we can lead our families in worship and catechesis while social distancing.

The Family as Domestic Church

Perhaps you have visited St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and noticed on the left-hand side a rather large side chapel with a stunning painting of Mary’s coronation. Below the painting is an altar over what, at first glance, appears to be a dark greenish marble bathtub. This is the tomb of St. John Chrysostom, the “golden mouth,” so-called for his famous preaching. In a homily on marriage and family, he sternly urges parents to give at least equal energy to evangelizing and discipling their children in Christ as they do to providing for their material needs and secular education. “Otherwise,” he warned, “what answer will we have before Christ’s judgment-seat?” (On Marriage and Family Life, 71). 

About thirteen centuries later, recognizing the particular threats against and challenges to family life in modern society, the Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance of the family for evangelization. Families, of course, could no longer rely on schools or broader society to encourage Catholic faith and piety. The Council Fathers, while recognizing the distinction between the common priesthood of all the baptized and the ministerial priesthood of the ordained, emphasized that all Christians are baptized into the priestly office of Christ. Therefore they participate in the Church’s worship. 

Families have a special participation in this common priesthood. Just as priests are given grace through the sacrament of Holy Orders, so too spouses are given grace through the sacrament of matrimony. Christ gives them the grace to nurture their children spiritually, so much so that the Council Fathers observe:

“The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children.”

Lumen Gentium, 11

By calling the family a “domestic church,” the Second Vatican Council reminds both the Church and parents of the important duty and responsibility families have in passing on the Faith to the next generation. 

The Family’s Evangelizing Mission

Referencing the passage from the Second Vatican Council, St. Paul VI asserted that “one cannot fail to stress the evangelizing action of the family in the evangelizing apostolate of the laity” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 71). “The family, like the Church,” he declared, “ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates.”

Four years later, in his address to the General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, St. John Paul II followed his predecessor’s lead. He exhorted his brother bishops to:

“Make every effort to ensure that there is pastoral care for the family. Attend to this field of such primary importance in the certainty that evangelization in the future depends largely on the “domestic Church”. It is the school of love, of the knowledge of God, of respect for life and for human dignity.”

IV.1.a

“Among the fundamental tasks of the Christian family,” he observes in his famous apostolic exhortation on the family, “is its ecclesial task: the family is placed at the service of the building up of the Kingdom of God in history by participating in the life and mission of the Church” (Familiaris Consortio, 49).

The Church’s teaching is clear that “family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2226). But this requires great diligence, effort, and consistency. Our catechesis and evangelization of our children cannot be haphazard and left to whim or fancy. It requires, says Pope Francis, “an orderly process of handing on the faith” (Amoris Laeititia, 287). This “is made difficult by current lifestyles, work schedules and the complexity of today’s world, where many people keep up a frenetic pace just to survive.”

Notwithstanding, the Holy Father insists that “the home must continue to be the place where we learn to appreciate the meaning and beauty of the faith.” Now that our work schedules have become simplified, shouldn’t we seize this opportunity to become more consistent in home catechesis and evangelization?

The Family as a School for Prayer

St. John Paul II urges us that “Christian parents have the specific responsibility of educating their children in prayer, introducing them to gradual discovery of the mystery of God and to personal dialogue with Him” (Familiaris Consortio, 60). Speaking as one who was profoundly influenced by discovering his father on his knees in prayer, the saintly pope continued: 

“The concrete example and living witness of parents is fundamental and irreplaceable in educating their children to pray. Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother – exercising their royal priesthood – penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface.”

Familiaris Consortio, 60

Indeed, Pope Francis states that “it is essential that children actually see that, for their parents, prayer is something truly important” (Amoris Laetitia, 288).

Pope Francis has called the Church “the family of families” (Amoris Laetitia, 87). So we should expect that the prayers of the natural family are oriented toward the supernatural family of the Church. Thus the Church teaches that the family has a role in nurturing engagement with the Church’s prayer. 

An important purpose of the prayer of the domestic Church is to serve as the natural introduction for the children to the liturgical prayer of the whole Church … the Christian family will strive to celebrate at home, and in a way suited to the members, the times and feasts of the liturgical year (Familiaris Consortio, 60). 

An Order for Family Worship

Now that we are spending more time at home, we have a greater responsibility to cultivate our domestic church. We have been given a great opportunity to educate ourselves and teach our children about the Mass. Use this time to connect your family to the Mass by involving them in the parts. 

It is important to recognize that while we all have a common priesthood through our baptism, the leader of home worship does not take the place of the ordained priest. That said, it is still important that we conform our worship to the universal Church rather than inventing our own worship. 

Dr. Sri has given a great outline for how to celebrate a Liturgy of the Word at home. Let’s take a look at how families can take this structure and use it creatively.

1. Identify a Place for Worship

The living or family room is, perhaps, the most natural choice, as it typically provides lots of space and seating. But perhaps this is filled with too many toys or distractions. In that case, repurpose a study, guest room, basement, or even a large closet. Ideally, it will have some religious artwork and a crucifix. Find a place that is conducive and appropriate to worship. Involve the whole family in the decision. 

2. Make an Altar

If you don’t have one already, make a home altar. You can use a small table, shelf, or mantle. Drape a white linen over it. If you have a blessed candle, place it on the altar. Perhaps a vase of flowers as well. Put a crucifix, as well as some Christian art or icons, on the altar as a focus of attention and symbol of God’s presence. You could even have your children draw, paint, or color a scene from the life of Christ. For example, you can find downloadable PDF coloring books from Delphina Rose Art

3. Form a Procession

Even though you will not be entering your parish church for Mass, everyone should dress nicely. No pajamas or sweats! Continue to emphasize the solemnness of worship. Before you formally start worship, say a brief prayer for God’s help. I am fond of the Collect for Purity: 

Almighty God, to whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit that we may love thee and worthily magnify your Holy Name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Dramatize your worship. Organize a procession. Begin in another room of the house and process to the room designated for home worship. If you have two older children and two candlesticks, turn the children into torchbearers. Use it as an opportunity to talk about the symbolism of light for our faith. Explain that they are bearing the light of Christ. If you have a cross, lead the procession with the cross. Explain that it is only by the power of the Cross that we can offer the Father worship. Have someone carry the Bible, explaining that they are God’s Word. As you process, play a hymn on an iPhone and try to sing along. If you have someone musical in the family, give them the task of leading the hymns.

4. Opening Rites

The leader should begin “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As you are preparing your family for worship, talk to them about how we do not offer our worship to a nameless being nor a generic force or presence, but to the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is important to begin worship with confession of sin. Throughout the Scriptures, when people are in the presence of God, they recognize their unworthiness and cry out for mercy and. Perhaps the leader could read an examination of conscience after which is said the Confiteor followed by the Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy). You could intone the Kyrie or try to learn the chant

After this, open with a general prayer for the day, preferably something that relates to the readings. You can, of course, use the collect appointed for the Sunday Mass. 

5. Read the Sunday Mass Readings

It’s so important for us Catholics to pray and worship with the Church. During this time of physical isolation, we should unite ourselves as much as possible to the worship of the Church. In our own home settings, we can do this by following the appointed readings from Scripture. You can find them with audio examples on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

This is a great opportunity to teach your children how to be a lector. Assign the readings to the children and teach them how to get up, announce the reading (“A reading from … ”), and finish with “The Word of the Lord!” Make sure to stand for the reading of the Gospel.

If you can find a homily online, listen to it after the readings. If you feel comfortable, you could lead a family Bible study. Depending upon ages, it’d be a great time to try out the Great Adventure Bible for kids.

6. The Creed and Prayers

The proper way to respond to the Scriptures is to affirm our faith and to pray. Stand up and recite the Nicene Creed. Then enter into a time of family prayer. Following the teachings of the Church, talk to your children about and teach them how to pray. You could task family members to contribute one or two petitions, and either go around the room or have them submitted beforehand to be read aloud. Or perhaps each family member could be responsible for writing the prayers for a given Sunday. After each request, say “Lord, hear our prayer.” Conclude with the “Our Father.” 

7. Spiritual Communion and Contemplation

One of the precepts of the Church is “the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability” (Catechism, 2043). If your parish supports online giving, make your weekly donation at this time. Talk to your family about the priority and responsibility of giving to the Church. 

If you have access to a pre-recorded video Mass, you could watch the Liturgy of the Eucharist while making an Act of Spiritual Communion. There’s a great article by Mike Aquilina explaining spiritual communion.

Alternatively, you could spend time contemplating the crucifix or religious art on your altar followed by the Act of Spiritual Communion. It could be a great opportunity to discuss the meaning and symbolism of religious art. There’s a great book by Madeleine Stebbins on looking at art with children called Let’s Look at a Masterpiece

8. Recess

At the conclusion of your worship, say a prayer of thanksgiving and then recess back to the room from which you processed. Play or sing an appropriate hymn. Then enjoy a family meal, and talk about how the goal of all our worship is to join our Lord in the heavenly feast for eternity. 


You May Also Like:

Daily Mass Live Stream on Ascension’s Facebook Page (check ascensionpress.com for schedule)

A Faithful Response to Canceled Masses amid COVID-19

The Coronavirus and Missing Sunday Mass [Dr. Sri podcast]

A Biblical Walk through the Mass [study program]

Parts of the Mass [blog series]


Dr. James R. A. Merrick is a lecturer at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Senior Fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and a theology and Latin teacher at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. Follow Dr. Merrick on Twitter: @JamesRAMerrick.


Featured painting, A happy family {{PD-US}}, by Eugenio Eduardo Zampighi (1859-1944) sourced from Wikimedia Commons

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