Catholics for a Changing Church

"To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often" - Bl. John Henry Newman

Praying at Home during this Coronavirus Holy Week

by Thomas O’Loughlin

You can divide religions into those that are most at home in the large public space and those which are most at home in the domestic space. For most Christians the choice has never been visible: they own many big buildings – and that is where religion takes place. If it takes place elsewhere, that is really just ‘a follow up.’ Christians seem to like big public statements.

But it is startling to recall that the original eucharistic meals – where the followers of Jesus wanted to be distinctive from their fellow Jews – took place in their homes.
‘Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke the loaf at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts’ (Acts 2:46).

In this domestic scale, they were in tune with their Jewish roots. Every meal was to be an occasion at which those gathered blessed God (Dt 8:10); the weekly meal with which the Sabbath began was a special act of praise, and the most special night of the year is Passover meal when God’s liberating deeds are recalled around the table. This year – in most places – Christians are going to have to rediscover this domestic liturgical space.

 Let us remind ourselves of some basics.

1. Jesus is present with us

The risen Jesus is present in every community however small. This was captured in this saying preserved in Matthew’s gospel: ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’ (18:20). Even the smallest gathering – just two people staying two metres apart so as not to spread the virus – has the Risen Lord is among them. This might be two people in a house, or it might be people linked on the phone or on skype.

This was expressed in another ancient Christian saying – preserved in the Didache (a first-century new disciples’ guide): ‘wherever the things of the Lord are spoken about, there the Lord is present’ (4:1).

2. Our sitting room is a place of prayer

We might be feeling the lack of a church building, but recall this instruction by Jesus:

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the gatherings and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Mt 6:5-6).

3. Centre and summit

Our prayer together at home should be seen as being among the foothills: soon we shall gather as a whole community again for the Great Thanksgiving that we call ‘the Eucharist.’

4. Every table is a sacred place

Jesus encountered people and taught at their tables: every table is a place where we can encounter the Lord in those with us. We will not be eating together as sisters and brothers in a church for the next few weeks, so let’s starting recalling that whenever we eat, we should be thankful. We can gather at the table now to celebrate Holy Week, and there in our domestic space, enter Jerusalem with Jesus, recall his last Supper with his disciples on Thursday, rejoice in his victory over sin and death when he was exalted upon the Cross on Good Friday, wait for him during the still hours of Saturday, and sing our Easter ‘alleluia’ at that same table next Sunday.

Getting going

If you want to devise, along with those locked down in the same house with you, a special liturgy to celebrate Palm Sunday then that in itself will be an act of praise.

But if you want a little ‘ready made’ liturgy that can just be downloaded, then here is one.

Remember – a home liturgy has to be:

  • simple and short (the kettle may be boiling or a phone start ringing) – this one takes about 6 minutes;
  • it has to be straight-forward (people, not just children, must not get a fit of the giggles: what works in a big group will often not work in a very small group); and
  • you do not need lots of words to pray, to remember, and to celebrate.

Lots of people have helped create this little liturgy – thanks to them all!

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