Q. I heard someone call their family their “domestic church.” What does that mean?
A. The term “domestic Church” comes from Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church” (Lumen Gentium #11).
The fall of our first parents through Original Sin caused a rupture in communion between God and man. Subsequent generations inherited Original Sin due to this primordial catastrophe. This had immediate negative impact on family life. Sin caused blame and discord between Adam and Eve, and it was made visible in the relationship between the first siblings; for Cain killed Abel out of jealousy.
Christ came into this sinful world to restore the union between God and man. And he did this by entering into a human family—the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Christ’s formative years and the majority of his lifetime would have been within the context of the family.
Scripture gives us a glimpse of this family life, and we note that it wasn’t easy or pleasant. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was with child, had to make the long trek from Galillee to Bethlehem for the enrollment. King Herod was jealous of this newborn king of the Jews he had heard about, and wanted to kill Jesus, causing Mary and Joseph to have to flee to Egypt. Later, Mary and Joseph had to endure the anguish of believing that Jesus was lost at the age of 12, when he was found in the temple. And, of course, the Blessed Mother had to endure the agony of watching her son die on the cross.
Christ’s mission begins in the Holy Family but continues in the family of the Church that he established. In his public ministry, Jesus connects discipleship with being a part of his family: “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50).
The mission of communion continues in the life of the Church through power of the Holy Spirit. Through the sacraments of the Church, that communion with God is realized. The Church is a family in and of herself in the Communion of Saints: the pilgrim Church on earth, the poor souls in purgatory, and the blessed in heaven.
The reality of the domestic Church is grounded in the sacrament of marriage. Christian husbands and wives are to be icons and witnesses of the love of Christ for his Church. Children are an expression of the fruitfulness of married life.
The family is, in a sense, “the Church in miniature.” The family is the place where the Gospel is transmitted and lived out. The family shares in the prophetic mission of Christ by being a believing and evangelizing community; in his priestly mission by being a community in dialogue with God; and in his kingly mission by being a community at the service of mankind.
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