Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Domestic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2685 The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the "domestic church" where God's children learn to pray "as the Church" and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church's living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit.

2691 The church, the house of God, is the proper place for the liturgical prayer of the parish community. It is also the privileged place for adoration of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The choice of a favorable place is not a matter of indifference for true prayer.
- For personal prayer, this can be a "prayer corner" with the Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father.48 In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters prayer in common.

Christian prayer is the ascent of the mind to God. There is no other action in the Christian life that is half as important as prayer. "We are not commanded to fast continuously or to give alms continuously, but we are commanded to pray constantly", says St. Evagrius Pontus, so it's safe to say that prayer is the most important thing a Christian will ever do. And, as the Catechism says, prayer in the home is the most essential part of the Christian life after participation in the Liturgy. The only real way to make yourself a person of prayer is if your house is a place of prayer, to make it to where you sanctify the environment you're in until others can't help but notice.

How do you do this? You need to make your house a place where prayer can come naturally. Humans, being the habitual creatures they are, need reminders to shift their minds particular ways. We do that by playing music when we work out, by having our routine before watching football,and  by having an alarm clock blare out bloody annoying sounds so we'll wake up. The point is we have ways of physically reminding ourselves to do certain things at certain times and prayer really should not only be no different but should have especially strong cues. What could be more important?

The best way to establish habitual prayer is to have a spot to pray. Traditionally it's called a home altar in the West, an icon corner in the East, but it serves the same function: remind us that there's a time and a place for prayer. It should face east, as all churches are supposed to, to remind us that Christ is coming again and to remind us of Eden in the east. There should always be a cross displayed prominently since it's the second Tree of Life. As an Easterner it tickles me that the Catechism specifically says icons (not statues or nice Renaissance-style paintings). I'm not entirely sure why the picked out icons in particular but it probably has something to do with the 7th Ecumenical Council specifically saying that icons are good and holy, so icons are what we got to work with. Displayed should be icons of Christ and Mary, along with any saints that you feel a particular attachment to. I highly recommend the corner having a shelf or a table included, because then you can put the Scriptures on the table and, since they're the Word of God, they deserve a special place in your corner. Rosaries, blessed oils and holy water, and all other types of holy instruments should be on/under/near the table, along with any liturgical materials you use. Candles are also very helpful, the lighting is gentler than electric lighting and allows for an easier time in achieving some form of stillness that doesn't involve sleep.

So, what do you do at this corner for prayers? Well, you do your own, private, prayer and the prayers of the house. What should the prayers of the house be? The Liturgy of the Hours, of course!

From the Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours

"27. Lay groups gathering for prayer, apostolic work, or any other reason are encouraged to fulfill the Church's duty, [103] by celebrating part of the liturgy of the hours. The laity must learn above all how in the liturgy they are adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth; [104] they should bear in mind that through public worship and prayer they reach all humanity and can contribute significantly to the salvation of the whole world. [105]
Finally, it is of great advantage for the family, the domestic sanctuary of the Church, not only to pray together to God but also to celebrate some parts of the liturgy of the hours as occasion offers, in order to enter more deeply into the life of the Church. " (emphasis mine)

The Liturgy of the Hours is the primary way that we learn how to pray to God. There is no better way to do it. Yes, I know the rosary's beautiful. But it's not the prayer of the Church, not in the way the Liturgy of the Hours is. Morning and Evening Prayer really isn't all that long and is relatively easy to abbreviate if you must, making it relatively flexible.  My own family, being Eastern, does the Little Hours from the Horologion and then Compline if Micah is compliant. The whole point is to pray as a unit with the Church and to become an extension of the Church, making a little (or domestic) Church. Holding communal prayer with a special place to do it in your house is highly recommended, both by the Catechism and the Saints of both lungs.

If you have a prayer corner and wouldn't mind, share pics! I'd be interested in seeing what others have come up with. My family's prayer corner is up at the top of the post already.

(All italics in the quotes were made by my for emphasis)

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