The first weekend when the churches were closed because of the pandemic, my family decided to sing a few hymns prior to watching Mass online. My daughter later put up a short video on Twitter with the hashtag #ChurchAtHome.
That was the beginning of my domestic church practicing Church at home.
We often hear about the domestic church, that family whose members live their faith at home, makes the community of faith, the parishes, and the Church. Indeed, everything that happens at Church is strengthened by the support of the faithful families. Church events are often the result of the assistance offered by volunteers and their families. Preparation of sacraments, especially those involving children, rely on the support of the families. Really, the families are the future of the Church. The Church grows as the families grow. The families are where the history and traditions of the Church are passed on to the younger members of the church. So, if the domestic church makes the Church, what happens when the Church gets domestic? That is, when the family tries to practice Church at home?
These past weeks, as the churches are closed, we encounter this new scenario where we first attempted to keep the idea of the church within our own homes. We are fortunate to have so many Masses online, pre-recorded or live-streamed, with the readings and homilies, trying to fill our spiritual needs. Seeing our familiar church settings on our TV or computer screens at home help remind us of our last church experience. Those warm, spiritual moments are kept alive until we can meet again at church and participate in the sacraments. How far would those memories serve us? To truly live the life of church, should we not create new church experiences at home? If the early Christians could worship God and built communities within their own homes, so can we. Right? The Pandemic should not interfere with our relationship with God and the growth of our faith at home.
When the social distancing protocol commenced, #ChurchAtHome officially began for my family. Since all of us in the family were serving in some church Music Ministry, the singing of hymns has always been a favourite activity in this household. Now, it is so much more important to establish that sacred space within our domestic space by filling it with the sounds that echo well with the saints and angels, prior to our viewing of the online Mass. Next, comes the tradition of communion… What can be better than sharing a treat? Baking mini bite-size muffins or cookies for the sake of joining in the “communion” on screen seems to be a natural development. Sure, we are not having the Sacrament, but Christ is in each of us and we are having a family moment!
On Palm Sunday, in anticipation of the long Gospel reading that we would be passively watching on screen, my family took the script and split the roles among ourselves earlier in the day, and made up a short Liturgy of the Word with it. That was fun! We were quite surprised when the quiet one in the family performed her role with great animation. Having participated at the Easter Vigils for over a decade, I thought we should probably have one that evening on Holy Saturday. There were no reasons why we could not bring the Light of Christ into the darkness at home. After all, we were all feeling the darkness of the pandemic and we needed that Light! So, we searched for those baptismal candles that were tucked neatly in boxes somewhere in a closet. I found the biggest candle in the house and used that as the “Paschal candle.”
That evening, we sat in darkness and lit our candles. My husband and I sang the Exsultet. We said a prayer, blew out the candles, and switched on the lights. Next, we sang the Litany of Saints. We used a setting that we had not sung for years. The organist in the house volunteered to accompany us on the piano. As we sang, the names of the saints got caught in our mouths, rhythms were off at times, but we treaded on. It was the most chaotic Litany ever sung, but we had the feeling that we generated a lot of laughter among the angels and saints. Following that hilarious episode, we read the Gospel reading together, said prayer of Intentions, and ended the service with the recitation of the Our Father and an exchange of the Sign of Peace. Sure, this Easter Vigil did not have the same kind of sacred reverence as the Easter Vigil at church, but it brought the Light of Christ into our home and we experienced Easter joy! Now, came the interesting part after the Vigil when my family really needed a snack, just like the reception that we always had at church after the Holy Saturday Vigil. That part alone…was pure Church doing!
I do not think there is one set formula on how #ChurchAtHome can be done. By definition, practising #ChurchAtHome needs some understanding of what we normally do at church and ideas on how the elements might work within the individual family. After our Easter Vigil experience, one of us asked about why we would only light our candles once, instead of two times at church. It took a little bit of thinking to remember that we lit the candles the second time with the newly baptized members and renewed our baptismal promises at church. We had neither newly baptized among us, nor did we have Holy Water in the house! That was a good occasion to reflect on why we do what we do at church. A lot of goodness would probably happen from #ChurchAtHome by trial and error, with the best roaring laughter. That is, perhaps, the domestic way of promoting growth of faith within the family? I believe that my family’s #ChurchAtHome experience during this time of pandemic would make our domestic church grow. It will be interesting to see if this contributes to new church experience when we are able to meet others again at the physical church building.