Q: Archbishop J, why family rites?
I have written before that every family—on pilgrimage to be fully a domestic Church—has rites: (1) rite of relationships, (2) rite of rituals (work and play, talk and play) and (3) rite of reaching out (Conversations with Archbishop J, Know Your Rites, September 8, 2020). These three rites move the family from a sociological unit towards a domestic Church.
At the recent World Meeting of Families in Rome, Gregory and Lisa A Popcak added another layer to the rites. In their keynote address, ‘The Domestic Church & Synodality: Toward a New Ecclesiology through the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life’, they said the family, as domestic Church, must have its own liturgy, “the liturgy of domestic Church life” (Popcak, 2022, p 4, 5).
Pope Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia:
The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures. In that variety of gifts and encounters which deepen communion, God has his dwelling place. This mutual concern “brings together the human and the divine”, for it is filled with the love of God. In the end, marital spirituality is a spirituality of the bond, in which divine love dwells (315).
The Popcaks, commenting on this text say: “Through this lens, we see that the small, family practices that make up the spiritual framework of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life give families both implicit and explicit means by which they can cooperate with the grace of all the sacraments—especially the Eucharist—and be transformed into dynamic domestic churches.”
Their analogy: If the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ then domestic Churches are the arteries that bring that grace into the whole world through the living Body of Christ.
From this perspective, they argue that the Liturgy of the Domestic Church Life is an actual liturgy. This is important to understand the role of the domestic Church in the transformation of Church and society.
Instituted not invented
The root of liturgy is public worship of God. The Mass is clearly liturgy so are the other six sacraments. They are all public worship, in the strict sense. What about the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life? Is it public? Is it worship of God?
Here, the Popcaks follow Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his Spirit of the Liturgy. First, Cardinal Ratzinger says God must institute liturgy; it is not man-made. Second, he defines liturgy as, “a particular act of worship given to us by God himself to heal the damage sin does to our relationships with God and each other”.
Continuing the case for this liturgy, the Popcaks say, “ … at the dawn of creation, God wove the implicit practices we collectively call ‘the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life’ into his design of the human family. These practices have not only been shown by social science research to enable families (throughout history and across every culture) to flourish on a human level but, lived prayerfully and intentionally, these habits equip families to participate in the love that flows from the heart of the Trinity.”
What is good for family life, is what makes families a domestic Church—deep bonds of relationships that mirror Trinitarian Love. Therefore, they conclude: “Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is the primordial liturgy God instituted to heal the damage sin inflicts on the human family, the very foundation of society and the Church.”
Liturgy, Church, and priesthood
But, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is also an actual liturgy, say the Popcaks, because of the close connection between liturgy, church, and priesthood. For Catholics, liturgy is integral to Church and liturgy does not happen without priesthood.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] states: “‘The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason it can and should be called a domestic church.’ It is a community of faith, hope, and charity; it assumes singular importance in the Church, as is evident in the New Testament” (2204).
The domestic Church is a Church in every sense of the word. If it is a Church, then it has a liturgy and a priesthood. All the baptised constitute a royal priesthood anointed by the Holy Spirit and dedicated to God.
Lumen Gentium states: “Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them” (10).
The Liturgy of the Domestic Church Life is a real liturgy because, through it, the family configures itself to Christ. It is prayer in its pure form—an offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice to Christ as we die daily to self to grow in love for each member of the family.
Prophet, priest, and king
The three rites of the domestic Church are tied to the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ and His mission to redeem and sanctify the world. The family is not just a sociological unit; it is at its core an integral part of the divine plan for salvation of all peoples inviting them to be holy as the heavenly Father is holy.
Through the rite of Christian relationships, the family is given the Trinity as the model of love. Love, here, is giving of self to another completely, holding nothing back.
This is a daily consecration that fulfils St Paul’s injunction: “…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Rom 12:1–2).
This is the priestly dimension of this liturgy. Here, all the mundane stuff of domestic life, when lifted up, becomes a liturgical act offered to Christ the high priest. This is the true worship of the domestic Church in its priestly dimension.
The prophetic dimension focuses on rituals that call each member of the family to inner transformation through the mundane stuff (cf. CCC 905).
The Popcak team say: “When Christian families create meaningful rituals for working, playing, talking, and praying together, they prophetically call each other to cultivate Christian attitudes toward work, fun, relationships, and faith.”
The rite of reaching out, the kingly dimension, reminds the family that authentic spirituality is always beyond self and family. “The Rite of Reaching Out suggests practical ways every family can be God’s blessing to each other and the world. Additionally, the practices encouraged by this rite can help families discern the unique mission and charism God has given their particular domestic church.”
The domestic Church is a real church with a priesthood and a liturgy instituted by God for the redemption and sanctification of all people.
Consider to what extent your family is on the pilgrimage to becoming a domestic Church. Make one commitment in each of the three areas.