What Liturgy Should Look Like in Your Domestic Church

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20)

Arthur Hacker, “The Children’s Prayer,” 1888
Arthur Hacker, “The Children’s Prayer,” 1888 (photo: Public Domain)

Since the early days of Christianity, the idea of a “domestic church” has been common. Pope St. John Paul II, in his 1994 Letter to Families, spoke of it. “The Fathers of the Church,” he wrote, “in the Christian tradition, have spoken of the family as a ‘domestic church,’ a ‘little church.’” Jesus is, he explained in the introductory paragraph, knocking “at the door of your home, eager to greet you with deep affection and to spend time with you.”

Pope Francis reiterated that message in 2015 in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, reminding us that “the Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches.”

But if your home is a little church, what exactly does that mean? What makes a family holy? Your home must have some sort of liturgy, right?

Dr. Gregory Popcak, founder and director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, described domestic church life as a template by which families can help one another to live out the priestly and royal traditions of baptism. Within the walls of their homes, families can experience faith in the little moments of family life. 

Like the liturgy of the Mass, the principal rite of the Catholic Church, Popcak says little “rites” characterize the domestic church. He identified three “rites” that are central in the life of Catholic families, and which help children to grow in faith and love — sacrificial love, family ritual and reaching out.

The Rite of Sacrificial Love

The first rite in the domestic church is sacrificial love. We are called to exhibit love, and through that, sacrifice — thereby consecrating to Christ all the little things we do for one another. Dr. Popcak named four examples of how sacrificial love is lived out in the family: 

1.  Prioritizing Family Time. In the domestic church, Popcak said, it's important to see family life (meals, prayer time, game night) as the most important activity, and to schedule everything else (sports, extracurricular activities) around it.

2.  Extravagant Affection. In the family, Christ's love is embodied and is extravagantly generous. Parents should make sure that the love in the home is expressed physically with one another. 

3.  Generous, Prompt and Cheerful Attention to Each Other’s Needs. In this vision, we’re called to look for ways to make one another's days more pleasant. 

4.  Discipline. Here Dr. Popcak cites the child rearing approach advocated by St. John Bosco, with its emphasis on reason rather than harsh punishment. In the domestic church, parents should focus on good habits, rather than allowing children to run around and do whatever they want, then yelling at them when they get it wrong.

When we consecrate to Christ all the little things we do for one another in the family — washing hair, changing diapers, playing with the kids — they become sacramentals that impart grace.


The Rite of Family Ritual

When we engage in family rituals such as prayer time, we are living out the prophetic mission of baptism. Family life, Dr. Popcak explains, becomes a school of love through the rituals we establish. We’re not just “doing nice things” together; rather, rituals can help children to develop Christian attitudes. 


The Rite of Reaching Out

God wants to use each household to be a blessing to others. The third rite of the domestic church, Dr. Popcak explained, is reaching out to the world, living the royal mission of baptism — to reign with Christ. He offered four ways that Catholic families can exercise the “Rite of Reaching Out” in their daily lives.

1.  Serving Generously in the Home. It’s within the home, gathered with those we love, where parents can cultivate an attitude of service.

2.  Thinking of Others While Being a Family at Home. Even while staying at home, families can reach out to help others in need. Once a season, parents can encourage their children to go through their closets, choosing gently used clothing and toys to give away. Another aspect of home life is hospitality — letting your home be that place where people come for fun and family fellowship.

3.  Being a Christian Family in the World. This includes expanding your ministry of kindness, saying “please” and “thank you” to people we meet. The Christian family is unusual for its kindness: treating a server at the local restaurant with respect, and always mindful of other people while going through the day. 

4.  Family Service. An important aspect of living as a domestic church is engaging in charitable activities in the community and in the church — working together as a domestic church.

Dr. Popcak compared the three rites to building a fire. To create a fire, he explained, first you'll need a spark (sacrificial love); then, you’ll need kindling (represented by family rituals). Finally, the result is heat and warmth and light, drawing people to Christ (reaching out). A family which doesn't include these three Rites in leading children to Christ may, instead, treat family prayer like wrestling, dragging kids to Mass, but that good wood of family rituals doesn’t catch fire.


Learn More About the Domestic Church

With his wife Lisa, Dr. Greg Popcak founded the Pastoral Solutions Institute. Whether you want to create a more intimate and godly marriage, celebrate a more faithful and fulfilling family life, or discover the path to a more grace-filled personal life, the Catholic counselors at Pastoral Solutions Institute can help strengthen and support you on your spiritual and emotional journey.

Their radio broadcast More2Life airs weekdays on Ave Maria Radio and EWTN affiliates nationwide.

Greg and Lisa Popcak’s popular book on parenting has just been updated and expanded. The second edition of Parenting With Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising almost Perfect Kids offers helpful guidance to parents through each stage of child development, from infancy through adolescence.

And just a teaser for what’s to come: Dr. Popcak reported that he’s currently working on a project with Family Theater Productions for the Catholic home. The project is in the form of a kit which will be released in time for the World Meeting of Families in June 2022. Families will be able to open the box and begin doing stuff — watching videos together, engaging in activities and skits designed to teach them how to be a “domestic church.”