Practical Sacramentals in the Domestic Church

Authored by Fr. Tyron Tomson in Issue #6.4 of The Catechetical Review

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Photo of Easter candle, crucifix, candles, bible, holy water with branchThe domestic church inhabits a domicile: an apartment, a mansion, a cabin, a farmhouse, a penthouse, any kind of dwelling that we call home. Everyone from the quasi-agnostic Jungian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson to the viral video sensation Navy Admiral William McRaven to your own mother advocates tidying up your living space as the first step to a successfully ordered life, both practically and symbolically. For those with a sacramental vision of reality, we would also say both physically and spiritually.

We rightly understand the Church at every level from Triumphant to domestic as a sacred communion of souls, embodied corporeally on earth and destined for resurrected glory. Until those sacraments upon which our Catholic identity hinges cease and creation is made perfect, how should the sacramental components of the domestic church shape our daily lives? Our Lord has instituted the sacraments and the Church has introduced various sacramentals; thus, the domestic church should rightly see its regular routines in the light of grace. Formal, official sacramentals and commonplace sacramentals understood more broadly[1] can profoundly orient us toward the liturgical sacramental life and better apply its fruits within our families.

Baptism

As I bless new holy water and pray for the people who will use it, I sometimes think I should be refreshing the font more often. Baptism’s premiere initiative effects continue with us forever from our encounter with that blessed water, symbolic of our immersion into the open seas of this world for a journey to the next, eventually even over the waters of death.[2] Catholics contemplate our material-spiritual nature and mission as we leave home in the morning or go to bed at night using the sacramental of holy water in our domestic church, just as we do at our parish church. (Beautiful wall-mounted fonts make very fine house-warming gifts!) Other sacramentals related to the Rite of Baptism include objects like blessed candles and even our clothing. Expressing our divinely-appointed human dignity in dressing modestly and sharply from a young age, as exemplified by parents and older siblings, can not only save some teenage fights later on but also form a true spirituality of our baptismal character and calling as we prepare for the worship, work, rest, and recreation of the day, all in proper measure according to the Lord’s plan. “You have put on Christ, in him you have been baptized. Alleluia, alleluia.”[3]

Confirmation

Look around your room. Our homes should have sacred artwork of patron saints. A shrine or corner or shelf for each family member can hold holy cards, religious articles, and spiritual reading materials. A spiritual director once wisely counseled to have some ongoing hagiography as spiritual reading on the side. All this relates to the Sacrament of Confirmation: the summons to be a saint, the particular saint that only you can be. Commemorate feast days; consider that the Church may well observe one for you one day. Young people of Confirmation age, especially, in discovering their personal and spiritual identities as well as struggling against sin that is so ubiquitous in the adolescent years, need constant inspiration and intercession from their patrons and angels. They also need authentic antitypes to the fantasy figures of superheroes, sports idols, and social media personalities. They learn secular stats and stories quite readily—studying the lives of our holy forebears, including our family histories, can similarly motivate a notoriously hard-to-motivate group. Further, having sufficient autonomy over decorating and caring for their individual spaces engenders responsibility and maturity that then transfers to better personal custody for what surrounds their souls. Sports or exercise gear might profitably be associated with the armor of salvation (Eph 6:10-17) to fight the good fight of faith as soldiers of Christ,[4] saintly witnesses to him in the world as Confirmation deputes us. Every fire and furnace, every lamp and light switch should be connected with the Holy Spirit’s warmth and brightness, creating an atmosphere around us filled with God’s presence.

Eucharist

I marvel at how the kitchen area is often the center of social activity in a home to the point that most houses now seem to be built with the dining room wide open to it. Cooking wholesome food, making favorite family recipes, dining properly, offering gracious hospitality to guests, etc. are all practices integral to family formation and obliquely directed toward the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is the real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). We must do better in excluding the intrusion of the internet or television, cheap imitation foods, unhealthy drive-thru conveniences, and similar acquiescences into our sacred mealtimes in favor of genuine virtuous interaction with one another and with the Lord. Scarfing down supper to rush off to something else communicates an attitude that can translate into similar poor patterns in liturgical participation. As one priest responded when a waiter asked if we had a big event to get to after our meal or a special occasion we were celebrating: “This is it!” So it should be of the primacy of Holy Mass on the Sabbath, not just fitting it in expediently, but sincerely ordering the day and week around it as the source and summit that it is.[5] Very often mealtime is the only consistent opportunity to pray together and share the matters of the day. This should be recovered not just as a healthy human custom, but also as a divine one in preparation for the unending Banquet of the Lamb, where the angels and saints share in the woes and worries of the world and bring them before the Lord for resolution. It is also most appropriate to use the Sunday dinner as a standard check-in time and discuss the readings from Mass, the homily, and shared prayer intentions for the week. The classic image of the Last Supper rightly presides over the family dinner table, which is a not-so-distant sacramental of the parish altar. The Lord is present at every meal with the congregation of the family; both residents and visitors should be keenly aware of that by our conversation and manners. By extension, lunchboxes and snack times are opportunities to punctuate the day with simple sacramentals. Many people use morning coffee and breakfast as a meditative time; never let the connection between that and breaking the fast before receiving the Eucharist be lost. In this regard, the practice of spiritual communion as the first priority of the day can be transformative and link our body’s hunger to our soul’s hunger.

Confession

I highly recommend keeping a crucifix near your toothbrush or bathroom mirror; we return so faithfully to those each morning and evening, and there is no more practical way to ensure that our morning offering or evening examination of conscience takes place. Those spiritual bookends of the day order the house of the soul well if anchored in place faithfully. There is a preventative medicinal aspect to regular Confession, almost like guarding against spiritual plaque before the venial sins left uncleaned get serious and break through the surface and create a mortal cavity deep in the soul. Also, this regularity of prayer coexisting organically with daily routines demonstrates their complementarity in an age when the secular and the religious seem to be incompatible. In fact, the simple chores of taking out the trash, doing the dishes, washing the car, mopping the floors, and bathing are sacramentals of Confession in the sense that there will always be grime accumulating as we interact with a fallen world. We should be proactive in our prevention and handling of it, both physically and spiritually. Additionally, how punishment is handled shapes a young person’s lifelong notion of reconciliation. Parents analogously need positive opportunities for their own peaceable and fruitful discussion and disagreement. These are sacramental moments in which our belief in both the justice and mercy of God should not be left merely implicit. Holy images of the Crucified, the Pieta, the Sacred Heart, the Divine Mercy, or the Prodigal Son in the home can actively prompt us to call upon the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of sin (Jn 16:8) to scrutinize our consciences daily and help us order them—and therefore the world—aright.

Holy Orders

Almost every diocese or religious order has some kind of a seminarian poster or pray-for-a-priest calendar or prayer card nowadays. These should be displayed in a visible place in the Catholic home; perhaps you are praying for the future priest who will give you Last Rites. The contagious, fresh vigor of the upcoming generation of clergy never fails to enthuse the nascent one to follow it. Collect holy cards of the newly ordained or professed, especially friends of the family, and celebrate their anniversaries by sending them notes. The best cards we priests and religious get are for no reason at all! Invite your local clergy to visit your home for seasonal blessings, family celebrations, and spontaneous meals. Helpful hint: if you would like them to come back again, discuss with them about how much they love living out their vocations and not about all the problems with the parish, the Church, and the world. Good, positive human interaction with ecclesiastics is irreplaceable for informing proper discernment and nurturing suitable devotion to our beloved consecrated and ordained. Children are unfailingly fascinated by liturgical vestments and various religious orders’ distinctive habits; there is no easier way to teach the storied charisms of the saints of the past, present, and future. Even play Mass sets or toys like LEGO churches can be useful for wrangling children’s wayward attention toward the beautiful mysteries of holy vocations. Zealously hopeful and warily discomfited parents alike do well to remember that the Lord in his inscrutable Providence ultimately does the calling and to exercise the same humble openness they attempt to encourage in their children.[6]

Marriage

It is not a pleasant duty to have to remind lovestruck young couples preparing for Holy Matrimony that one of them will close the coffin on the other, but it is a profound one. That is what we mean by the Sacrament of Marriage: a bond that perdures unto death do you part.[7] However, marriage is a figure of the spiritual bond to the Lord with the Communion of Saints (see 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 21:2) only fully attained on the other side of death. What will we do among the ranks of the blessed in heaven? We will pray. Arguably, prayer itself is the exemplary sacramental of Marriage. Couples’ prayer is equally challenging and rewarding. It is also therefore equally rare, sadly. Intercessions or petitions are the natural and comfortable place to start. Thanksgiving for blessings received can be readily shared as well. Prayer of contrition has its place between couples, with appropriate care that it remains ordered towards spouses’ mutual support. Most demanding is the prayer of adoration. Family prayer can easily end up getting relegated to one tired memorized prayer before meals. The effect of seeing parents kneeling down, folding their hands, offering spontaneous prayer, leading the family Rosary, and above all remaining faithful to personal prayer incomparably impresses children. A weekly family Eucharistic Holy Hour accomplishes this and instills the skills of quiet self-directed prayer from a young age. It can further help to protect against the error of reducing the practice of our faith to the minimum of attending Mass. A rich devotional life in common should “extend the liturgical life of the Church” (CCC 1675). If we cannot pray together well, we are missing half of our body-soul, physical-spiritual, sacramental family identity.

Anointing of the Sick

A venerable custom in our Catholic heritage worthy of being revived is the wedding gift of a sick call set, often cleverly designed in the form of a Crucifix. Its proper place is over the parents’ bed, so that they may be constantly reminded of their ultimate responsibility to prepare themselves, each another, and their children to enter into eternal life. The bed is a kind of tomb; in fact, early Christians first transliterated the Latin “cemetery” from the Greek for “dormitory.” We will wake from the sleep of death and rise to everlasting life, but every night is a kind of preparation for that. Donning Our Lady’s scapular purposefully every morning wraps us in a mantle of supernatural protection for this moment.[8] Moreover, we can provide compassionate, preferential care for the sick members of our family and visit them frequently. The disturbing trend of keeping children away from funeral homes and burials should be ended; often that now persists well into adulthood, and an unhealthy unfamiliarity with death and dying in the name of alleviating anxieties seriously inhibits supernatural living for the living. A collected necrology of funeral cards of friends or loved ones helps to honor their legacies and cultivate devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, as do prayerful regular visits to their graves, the very dirt and headstones and flowers upon which are themselves most powerful sacramentals that stretch our spiritual imaginations from man’s creation in the Garden to the general resurrection.

Conclusion

Consider the hour of our death that quintessential Catholic prayer the Hail Mary calls to mind so often. The vial of holy water recalling baptism, our final agony endured boldly by the character the Holy Spirit has sealed within us, all of the sins of our lives being absolved in a comprehensive general Confession with the Apostolic Pardon. As we lay dying, our family, bound together through Marriage, prays there with us and for us, and a priest offers our last Holy Communion in Viaticum, then the final Anointing. And this all with our Lord attending to it moment by moment as he always does, from his place on the Cross on the wall, intimately present to position our souls in the perfect glorified order of eternity.

Residential sacramentals are far beyond handy reinforcements of academic lessons for the young, just as catechesis is much more than merely didactic and remains essential for Christians of all ages. They are elements of spiritual formation from its foundational sense to its final sense. The universal Church has a simple mission statement: to save souls. Your particular domestic church’s mission is no different. Our heavenly home awaits, but it begins in our earthly home.

Father Tyron Tomson is a priest of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. He was ordained in 2011 and serves as pastor of St. Bernadette in Lancaster and St. Mary in Bremen, as well as chaplain and teacher at Fisher Catholic High School.

Notes


[1] “There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 61).

[2] Intercessions from the Order of Christian Funerals, no. 167.

[3] Rite of Baptism, no. 102.

[4] Baltimore Catechism, 670, 673.

[5] Lumen Gentium, no. 11.

[6] “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16).

[7] Rite of Marriage, no. 63, alternative form.

[8] It also calls to mind “that robe of grace which was first given to you in Baptism.” (Apostolic Blessing, Roman Ritual, no. 7).

This article originally appeared on page 18-20 of the printed edition. Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay 


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

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