The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers tips for building a domestic church environment in our homes.
Q. I am a mom to six joyfully rambunctious kids, ages 2 to 11. Because our family is so large I am pretty comfortable with a certain level of chaos and noise in my home, but sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be trying to create an intentionally more peaceful environment that would be more conducive to prayer. How do you make your home more like a “domestic church” when your everyday is pretty all over the place?
A. When the Church talks about the domestic church what they mean is that it is within the context of the family that we first learn about God and how to grow in Catholic faith. Our Catholicism isn’t just practiced on Sunday; we take it home and invite it in to live with us throughout the week.
Luckily, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers us these tips for building a domestic church environment in our homes. Notice none of them specifically mentions how loudly or quietly who have to perform them. So if your home is loud and joyfully gregarious but your lively six children are thriving in their faith, then I’d say that you have the foundations already laid for your domestic church.
- Begin praying as a family and reading from Scripture daily, certainly before meals, but also first thing in the morning or before bed. Find a time that works for your family. Use the liturgy of the Church as a model for prayer, and try to include heartfelt unstructured prayer as well.
- Pray a Family Rosary (each member leads a decade, and everyone shares intentions).
- Have a crucifix in a prominent place in the home, and in every bedroom.
- Make the Sacraments a regular celebration – take the whole family to Confession and Mass.
- Begin family traditions based on the seasons celebrated in the liturgical calendar.
- Make your vacation a holy pilgrimage by visiting the shrines and saints of our land and the world.
- Make worshiping God a priority. Never miss Mass, even while traveling. Go to www.MassTimes.org to find a church near you.
- Teach stewardship and charity to your children, through word and example.
- Demonstrate love for your spouse, your children, your neighbors, and the world. Remind their children that they are loved by God and have been given gifts to serve others.
- Talk freely about the presence of God in the joys and sorrows of your life.
- Welcome into your home and support priests, brothers, sisters, deacons, and lay ministers in the Church.
- Participate in the lay ministries and activities of your parish community.
- Allow your children to witness you in private prayer. Encourage your children to pray daily on their own, to listen for God’s call, and if heard, to respond.
While quiet, contemplative prayer has its place in our worship and is integral in teaching us to be open to God’s will, it can be a challenge to expect so much discipline from children as young as two. The Benedictine in me wants to advise you to take it easy on yourself. If it’s unrealistic and simply just a logistical impossibility to create a “peaceful” environment, it doesn’t mean you still can’t have a prayerful environment. Even if you’re noisily incorporating your faith into daily activities you’re still creating a domestic church for your family.
If you don’t have one already, create a home altar to start building your domestic church. It doesn’t even have to be fancy — a cleared off shelf on the bookcase or a simple wall mounted shelf decorated with holy cards, holy water, a religious picture, statue, or icon and a candle.
A home altar is something that I wish everything Catholic home had. Not only does it benefit those who live there but its presence proudly declares witness to all guests who visit. A home altar is also a symbolic reminder that your home centers around Christ and His Church. I like to think of my altar as the grounded center that holds up the rest of the walls. In my own home, which can be pretty chaotic at times, the altar becomes the stillness inside the eye of the hurricane while the rest of the house swirls in activity around it. It’s mere presence gives me stillness and peace.
Have a crucifix in each room of the house and set aside a little space in each child’s room to proudly display pictures of their favorite saints and the Holy Family. The act of prayer can be extremely personal and older kids especially like the solitude of praying alone in their rooms. Giving them the privacy to do so is probably going to be the most realistic way to create that intentionally prayerful environment you desire. If you have quiet or introverted children they will especially benefit from this private space that’s been created for them. You may also want to take them alone with you to adoration or to a local museum to look at religious fine art, which is how I came to know God.
I would also ask your kids for their own ideas and let them be involved in the process as much as they are able. The internet is a great resource, especially sites like Pinterest. Just search “home altar” and “domestic church” for ideas. You can get as crafty, elaborate, or simplistic as you need.
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