Having first investigated the biblical roots of the family as the domestic church (here and here), we then looked at the relationship of the family to the Cross of Christ (here), relying heavily on John Paul II’s vision in Familiaris Consortio. The Cross of Jesus Christ is at the center of the Church’s worship, for it is at the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass that the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The baptized faithful receive the Eucharist in order to be strengthened in their Christian life and vocation. Thus, in a particular way, the domestic church, united by the sacramental bond of marriage, is strengthened by its participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the sacred liturgy of the Church.
In Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI writes about the inherent link of beauty and the sacred liturgy. He explains, “The liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion” (art. 35). The liturgy is not mere aestheticism, according to Benedict XVI, for it is a direct encounter with the truth of God, calling us more deeply into our very vocation, which is love. In the liturgy, we are given the gift and opportunity to encounter the very Body and Blood of Christ—it is the moment when Heaven touches earth. Since the very beginning, God has revealed himself to us through beauty: “God allows himself to be glimpsed first in creation, in the beauty and harmony of the cosmos” (Ibid). The revelation of Jesus Christ is the definitive fulfillment of this “epiphany of beauty” (Ibid), and therefore, the liturgy itself is an action leading us into the beauty of God. In such a way, “beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation” (Ibid). The beauty intrinsic to the liturgy ought to direct our attention to the purpose of the sacrifice, namely, the encounter with Jesus Christ. The liturgy cannot emphasize the personality of the priest or the participation of the people; rather, the liturgy, to be a truly beautiful action, must be focused entirely on Christ himself and lead people out of their everyday lives in order to encounter him.
If God reveals himself in the beauty of the cosmos, then it is especially true that he reveals himself in the beauty of man and woman, the pinnacle of his creation. As such, we can say that the Eucharist is a nuptial sacrament, along with Benedict XVI, for in the Eucharist, man is joined with his Creator in the most intimate and spiritual way. As Benedict further explains, “The Eucharist inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage. By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the Eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church” (art. 27). Thus, the couple shares a sacramental bond, which means that their marriage is a sign of the Eucharistic bond between Christ and his Church. In receiving the Eucharist with the proper disposition, the couple is more closely united to the communion of Christ and his Church; in the Eucharist, the bond of communion between the husband and wife becomes deeper and more spiritual. The married couple, by participating in the sacred liturgy, is entering more deeply into the mystery of their own sacrament, which is a visible and symbolic manifestation of Christ’s love for his Church.
For this reason, John Paul II significantly says in Familiaris Consortio, “Christian marriage, like the other sacraments, ‘whose purpose is to sanctify people, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to give worship to God, is in itself a liturgical action glorifying God in Jesus Christ and in the Church” (art. 56). This “liturgical action” extends beyond the celebration of the sacrament of marriage itself. Drawing its strength from the liturgical action of the Eucharist, the family becomes a living, small church by which the message of Christ is promulgated through its very life and actions. The family reveals the message of the Gospel through its own life, through the indissoluble unity of the husband and wife, the testimony of the dignity of life, and the very necessity of the sacramental life. In a particular way, the family becomes a domestic church because it is through the family that children are first introduced to the life of the Church. As John Paul II explains, “An important purpose of the prayer of the domestic church is to serve as the natural introduction for the children to the liturgical prayer of the whole Church, both in the sense of preparing for it and of extending it into personal, family, and social life” (art. 61). Without the family, children would not be able to experience the liturgical life of the Church, including Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, for the family introduces the children to the rich sacraments and liturgies of the Church. It is through the family that the Faith is passed down; we are well aware of families who do not pass on the Faith, resulting in children who no longer participate in the sacraments. As such, the family is essential for inculcating the desire within children to participate in the life of the Church.
Because of the intrinsic link between the domestic church and the Eucharist, it is essential for the family to be part of a liturgical community that will draw it closer to Christ. The Church herself is a liturgical community, for the Eucharist and the public sacrifice of the Mass is at the center of all the Church’s activities, and her members are united through baptismal and Eucharistic bonds in the Mystical Body of Christ. The family as a domestic church is part of this Mystical Body, united in the Eucharist. If the family as a domestic church wishes to thrive spiritually and be more deeply united with Christ in the Church, it must find a liturgical community that shares those same goals. Such a community will place the liturgy at the heart of its activities; this community does not allow social justice or catechetical activities to overshadow the importance of the Eucharist. This liturgical community will support the liturgical life of the domestic church, assisting them in their spiritual journey toward the heavenly kingdom.
As we noted at the beginning of this series, the family is under attack from many different angles. The Christian family has the duty of uniting itself more deeply with its sacramental roots, both in Baptism and especially in the Eucharist. The domestic church is called to be a living image of the universal Church of Christ, through its devotion to the Scriptures, its participation in Christ’s Cross, and its reverence for the Eucharist and the sacred liturgy. Such a family will be a shining light in our culture, which seeks to destroy the beauty of the family from every angle. As John Paul II explains, “The family has the mission to guard, reveal, and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church, His bride” (FC, art. 17). The domestic church best communicates love if it is strengthened by the Eucharistic sacrifice, for it will be strengthened by Love itself. The family is most truly a domestic church when it places Christ at its center: just as Christ is the center of the universal Church, so too must he be at the center of the domestic church. Such a domestic church will radiate the love of Christ to the whole culture, which is so desperately in need of the true love of Jesus Christ. In the last analysis, the spirituality of the domestic church is most clearly seen through the love of Jesus Christ; through participating in the Eucharist, families should strive to deepen their love for Christ in order to bring him to others.