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This article was published in the January 1995 issue of The Journal.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

From an article on Communion in the Domestic Church in the newsletter of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

There is an important convergence of images and ideas around communion, the church and the family. St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, reminds Christians that there is a great mystery symbolised by the love of husband and wife, and that is the love of Christ for his church (Eph. 5: 32).

Very often married couples feel this image of Christ and his church is far too lofty an ideal for them to find inspiration from it for their daily lives. And yet this is precisely what they are called to do by the sacrament of matrimony. The Christian ideal for marriage and the family is impossible without the grace of God. But with that grace the Christian life becomes enfleshed in the love that two people have for each other, and is incarnated in the children who are given life because of that love.

The encyclical of John Paul II, Familiaris consortio (On the Family), is a neglected source of inspiration in our time. Yet it is filled with great wisdom and the great tradition on marriage which should be meditated on and provide inspiration for Christian families.

The Holy Spirit, who is poured forth in the celebration of the sacraments, is the living source and inexhaustible sustenance of the supernatural communion that gathers believers and links them with Christ and with each other in the unity of the church of God. The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realisation of the ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can and should be called "the domestic church" (21).

Domestic church
The term domestic church originated with the practice of the early Christians gathering in homes for the celebration of the eucharist. In a time of persecution it was a safe place. At a time when Jewish practice still influenced Christians a great deal, religious meals in the family setting were still the norm.

Gradually the church became institutionalised, and with the Edict of Milan (by Constantine) there was no longer a need for the church to worship in hiding. From that moment on churches took the shape of the basilica (the royal rooms for banquets) and the days of the domestic church as normal eucharistic setting were over.

The church cannot go back to those days, though postVatican II permission to celebrate home masses is deeply appreciated in the wake of the Council's liturgical renewal. Our point here is not liturgical, but theological. In recent years the concept of the family as the domestic church has gained acceptance. It implies that the church is the "family of families" and that the church is alive in the family.

The concept of domestic church is even richer than this simple reality. It is intimately tied to the concept of the church as communion. If the paradigm for the church is the trinity of persons in God, this same paradigm is verified in the domestic church, the family. Paul talks about the love of Christ for the Church as "the great mystery". It is the incarnation of God's love for his people. And the love of husband and wife is a sharing in the love of Christ for his Church.

The love of parents for children is also understood in the love of God for his children whom we are. Thus love (communion) is at the heart of what makes the family, the church and, ultimately, God, for "God is love" (I In. 4: 16).

Interchurch families
I find this idea of communion in the domestic church particularly compelling in the discussion of interchurch families. Just as the communion of the church is broken by the centuries of division in the church - to the scandal of the world - so the restoration of communion will rebuild the unity of the Body of Christ which is the Church. The church and the family should mirror the love of God in the trinity of persons: Father, Son and Spirit. The Son was sent to mankind by the Father "to reconcile everything in Christ". All Christians must be involved in this saving work of reconciliation (II Cor. 5: 18-21). And this is at the heart of the ecumenical movement.

Interchurch families experience the agony and the ecstacy of the ecumenical dilemma. We are called to be one, and yet we are separated by the divisions that have marred the church down the centuries. These divisions today are within the church as well as among the churches. Hence the pressing need to deepen the communion which must exist in the domestic church and in the Church Universal.

Ernest Falardeau, SSS