Feast Day: September 14th
Today we have grown accustomed to “going to Mass”, that is, driving over to the church we have chosen as our parish and attending the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist there. I think for all of us it was a wake-up call last year when, for a time, this typical American practice was taken from us. Pastors looked out upon empty pews, and parishioners were stranded at home, with limited access to the Eucharist, and only a small part of the experience of the Holy Sacrifice available through livestreams. It was a trying time, and one that I hope has prodded all of us to dig deeper into how we can both love our Church more, and practice our faith at home in a fuller way.
In both of those areas, we can learn much from the early church. In the first few centuries of the Church the Eucharist was almost entirely celebrated in Christian homes. Those Christians who owned a space large enough to host the small community of disciples would make space in their homes for the Mass to be celebrated and would prepare their homes not only to host their fellow Christians, but also to host the coming of the Lord, making the necessary preparations for the Mass to be celebrated under their roof. St. Paul references this multiple times in his letters: “Aquila and Prisca send their best wishes in the Lord, together with the church that meets in their house” [1Cor 16:19] and “Please give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea and to Nympha and the church which meets in her house.” [Colossians 4:15].
This necessary practice, of course, was no longer needed once the persecutions ceased and the Church began to build church-buildings, constructing a sacred space for the growing community to join together in worship. But, one of the saints we celebrate this week, St. John Chrysostom, a young man in the 300s who would become a firebrand of a bishop in the 400s in Constantinople (in what is now Turkey), knew that the underlying supernatural reality visible in those church-homes had not gone anywhere, even as the congregations had migrated into basilicas. St. Augustine, a bishop during the same age in Hippo (in what is now Algeria), coined the celebrated phrase “domestic Church” that would be taken up by Vatican II (especially in Lumen Gentium) and Pope St. John Paul II (especially in Familiaris Consortio), but Chrysostom was preaching the same message in the East.
In his homilies on the Christian call outlined in Ephesians 5, with wives submitting to their husbands, as the Church does to Christ, and husbands loving their wives, as Christ does the Church, Chrysostom pulls no punches when he zooms out to the reality of the family and home in its entirety. Calling the home a “miniature church” [micra-ecclessia], he proclaims it the duty and glory of fathers and mothers to establish in their homes the reign and grace of Christ. This is a reality he finds from the beginning to the end of the bible. Preaching on Genesis as well, this Doctor of the Church imagines for his congregation what the Christian home should look like as a family returns from Holy Communion:
Returning to your homes, we prepare two tables, one for the food of the body and the other for the food of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, the husband should repeat the readings which were given in the holy assembly; the wife instructing them; the children listening. Each of us must make a church of his house! Are you not responsible for the salvation of your children? Won’t you one day have to account for it? Just as we, the pastors, must give an account of your souls, so the fathers of families will have to answer before God for all the people of their house. – St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Genesis, 6.2, (translation my own because I could not find this in its entirety in English…)
Are our homes prepared for Christ’s coming? Do we lave space and time open for Him? Have we set up an altar, with sacred images and sacred scripture, to remain in Christ’s presence throughout our day? Do we meditate on His Word together as a family?
– Fr. Dominic Rankin treasures as one of his earliest memories reading with his mom (well, she was doing the reading, he was doing the listening. This is me at like 4 years old) a little blue booklet of Bible History stories. I can almost remember the black and white scenes of Adam and Eve, and Noah, and Samson. Little doses of God’s Word, still with me 25 years later!