Why do we talk about domestic affairs in a catholic forum? We will com to this later. For the time being let us think about our homes. As we know, a catholic family comes into existence with the sacrament of Matrimony. It is a place of love and care. It is where faith is shared. As a ‘church in miniature’ it partakes in the mission of the Universal Church in its own ways. To quote St Pope Paul VI, Universal Church (as well as millions of churches in miniature) is a place where the gospel is transmitted and from where gospel radiates.
Now we are ordered to stay at home. As devout catholics we have started feeling the pains of being denied the sacraments. But we have no other go but to obey the civil authorities. Those plotting against Christ and His Church are thinking in their folly that this lockdown will see a rapid loss of faith. To a certain extent they are right. But it is only part of the story. Everyday we are reading about brave and courageous men and women of faith coming out and proclaiming the true gospel message to a world overcome by pandemics, upheavels and turmoils. Of course, there are some people who might have lost their faith. According to them, a ‘good God should not have allowed this thing to happen’. Leave them alone, because they are still in the dark as to who God is and how he intervenes in our lives.
We are talking about christians and specifically catholics who find it difficult to cope with the changing dynamics of daily lives in a highly secularised environment, that too in the hard times of a pandemic. Holy Masses are suspended. Confessions are suspended. Last rites are the least priority. We are confined to our homes for indefinite periods.
At this time (no doubt, we have enough of it now) just have a look at our family. What do you mean by family? Is it a mere union between two persons made legitimate by the civil authorities, or the result of Christ joining a man and a woman in the sacrament of marriage. This article is written by a person who believes in the latter.
A catholic family is the first vital cell in the Universal Church. It is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Chruch. It is grafted into the mystery of the Church to such a degree as to become a sharer, in its own way, in the saving mission proper to the Church. Saint Pope John Paul II narrates beautifully about this Little Church ( Eccelsiola) in his Apostolic Exhortation’ Familiaris Consortio’. According to him, a small scale church (domestic church), like the ‘large scale church’ (Universal Church) is a sign of unity for the world exercising its prophetic role by bearing witness to the kingdom and peace of Christ towards which the whole world is travelling. A Catholic family or ‘domestic church’ shares in the life and mission of the Universal Church.
Why should we talk about domestic churches at this point of time? The answer is that this point of time demands us to rediscover the concept of domestic churches. We know that in the early centuries Chrisitians were persecuted for their faith. They didn’t have a place of their own to assemble except their houses, though they had enough time to worship. Still in spite of all odds, the early christians attended their regular spiritual gatherings and participated in the breaking of the bread. They had even devised an ingenious method to identify the house where a meeting of christians was scheduled, by drawing an image of a fish on the outer wall of the building! It was the first stage of christian history, when space and not time was the real issue.
Times have passed and the Church was given official approval and royal recognition. Colossal church buildings were erected. Space ceased to be an issue for the gathering of the faithful and they joyfully attended the church in large numbers. It was the second stage when space and time were in their favor.
Centuries passed and gradually the number of faithful attending churches receded. They reasoned that though God is beyond time and space, for us mortals, time is so precious that it cannot be wasted in churches. It was the third stage.
Then came COVID19. Time was not at all an issue. Everybody has ample time with them, not knowing what to do. People started coming to churches for Holy Mass and prayer in the hope that the merciful God will save them from this pandemic. But alas! Now churches are closed. It is again space and not time that is wanting.
In short, we find ourselves in the same boat as that of the early christians. Our predicaments are same. We want to pray, adore, praise and worship. We want to attend Holy Masses and receive the life-giving body and blood of our saviour. We have enough time with us. But space? All odds are against us when its comes to finding a place for public worship. What is the solution?
Before going to the solution, I would want to ask whether anyone does sincerely believe that this lockdown will be lifted soon and public worship will be reinstated. There is nothing wrong in being hopeful, but I would like to be on the other side. I personally believe that this lockdown will last longer than what we expect and what our authorities have planned for. In case travel restrictions are lifted in phases and essental services are permitted to operate, public worship is not going to get the ‘essential service’ tag. You need not be astonished if the last public service to be reinstated is right to worship in your parish church! This in not mere imagination. We have been seeing a number of indicators pointing to this direction. For a modern world and the ultramodern, highly secularised people inhabiting it, theatres, bars, sports events, political rallies, social gatherings, malls, super markets, beaches and the like are the priority sectors which should be opened first.
So, be prepared for an indefinite future where we will have to find alternate resources to sustain our spiritual life. There is no point in looking for the date of reopening our home church. Rather we should convert our homes into churches. I mean, we should make it a sacred place by keeping in mind the eventuality of priests coming to our homes prepared for celebrating Holy Mass.
What? Celebrating Holy Mass at our homes? Some may say it is sacrilegious, profane, schismatic and against the teachings of the Church. My dear catholics, it is not. Catholic Church permits Holy Mass to be celebrated at private homes. I can give you some references in this regard. General Instructions of the Roman Missal (clause 288), Redemptionis Sacramentum (108,109,114), Book of Blessings (62), Actio Pastoralis (2,3,4) all mention about celebrating Holy Mass at places other than designated places, which is a church or chapel. Holy Masses can be celebrated at any decent place and the only condition is that prior permission from the local bishop should be obtained, which he is supposed to grant on a case to case basis. If the current lockdown is not a fit case for permission to celebrate Holy Mass at home, then what else is?
When the Pope visited your country, where did he celebrate the Holy Mass? When a new bishop was ordained where did they celebrate the Holy Mass? In World Youth Day and the like, what was the venue for Holy Mass? When the Basic Christian Community or parish units meet at private homes, how do they celebrate Holy Mass? It is clear that Catholic Church permits Holy Mass at home subject to the prior approval of the local bishop.
Tradition supports it. Church rules permit it. Popes and Bishops have performed it. And bishops at many places have in the past permitted priests to celebrate Holy Mass at places other than designated places. If this lockdown goes on indefinitely and there is no scope of reinstating public mass in the near future, is there anything wrong in petitioning your bishops for permission to have the Holy Mass at selected private homes strictly complying with the social distancing rules of the local civil authority?
I am convinced that during the past few weeks of lockdown, our Lord was educating us how to live in an environment sans public worship. He has generously provided us with an opportnity to have a taste of the things to come. Our generation is destined to go through a period of vehement opposition to public worship of the true God. We have to worship our God in the solitude of our prayer rooms. The days are near when even an occssional Holy Mass at our church would be a luxury. We have to be innovative and think differently. Old models were for old times. New challenges call for new responses. If you really feel that the body and blood of the Risen Lord is essential for your spiritual life, take a decision today that you should try to have Holy Mass celebrated at your church. If it is not possible in the near future, petition your parish priest to approach the bishop for permission to celebrate Holy Mass at your home. This is a test and results will be positive, or we hope so.
In Elizabathen England where persecuting catholics was the rule, churches were closed. However the faithful managed to get Holy Mass at private homes. During the Mexican revolution also churches were closed and the faithful had to move their worship to the underground. They also used to get Holy Mass at select homes. Why should we go to the pages of history? In our own times, the persecuted true catholics of China have been assembling and celebrating Holy Mass at private homes even while the ‘official catholic church’ of China under the patronage of the communist regime was worshipping publicly.
We can follow those catholics who survived persecution by assembling at private places and celebrating Holy Mass there. Anyway, numbers doesn’t matter in Holy Mass. Because Jesus Christ has promised us; ” Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything then ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” ( Mathew 18:19-20). What a reassuring promise from our Lord!
Lockdown is a time to build up the domestic church. We can reconcile with our parents, children, brothers and sisters. Let the love of Jesus enlighten us and radiate from us. By the time lockdown ends and we are into a society with less restrictions but sans public worship, we should not be handicapped by the false hope that everything will be well by then. I would like to repeat; it is not going to happen. We have to find our own ways like the early christians.
Pray, pray and pray with your family. Let all inhibitions of praying together wither away. Let your voice reach heaven. Let the domestic church flourish and contribute to the Universal Church. We have an important mission to be achieved before the imminent second coming of our Lord. It is evangelising the whole world about which St Pope John Paul II said; ‘ Future of evangelisation depends in great part on the church of the home”.
Like charity, evangelisation also should begin at home. Church reminds us that catholic families should share their spiritual riches generously with other families also. We need to take our neighbours along. We are supposed to be a luminous sign of the presence of Christ and of His love for those who are “far away”, for families who do not yet believe, and for those Christian families who no longer live in accordance with the faith that they once received. The christian family is called to enlighten ” by its example and its witness….those who seek the truth” (Familiaris Consortio). This type of christian witnessing finds it strength from the serene environs of the christian family which we fondly call the domestic church.
Let millions of domestic churches bloom and redraw the landscape of Lord’s body in this earth.