The Family as Domestic Church:
How She Hands on the Faith
(Part II of IV)
Editor’s Note: In part I, we examined how the four marks of the Church apply to the family. Today, we begin to consider what being priest, prophet and king means by delving into what it means to be priest in the world and how parents carry that out within the family.
What it Means to be Priest, Prophet and King in the Secular World
We are given a share of Christ’s office of priest, prophet and king at baptism. But, it is initially up to parents to develop and strengthen that received baptismal character. That means a child must know and understand what it means to have those responsibilities, and know how to live them out. So, let’s take a look at that.
What it means to be priest: First of all, to be a priest means to offer sacrifice. Lay people can offer the sacrifice of their life, prayers, works, joys and sufferings, together with Christ in the Eucharist. “Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities.” “The family offers Christ and intercedes for its own members and those around it.” Since Scripture teaches us we “can do all things in [Christ]” and that we are to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” families can, by worshipping always and everywhere with actions that are holy, consecrate the world itself to God. Within the family, both parents and children learn to sacrifice for each other and for the kingdom of God. While doing so, they learn that sacrifice actually betters people and makes them more fully human and more Christ-like. Being joined to Jesus through sacrifice is something parents can teach, and model for, their children so that children, from an early age, can begin to live out their priestly office.
While the sacrament of marriage doesn’t specifically confer to the married couple ordination duties of preaching, shepherding, celebrating, teaching, ruling and sanctifying, one could argue that these functions can also be seen in the family as domestic Church. Parents, as the first heralds of faith to their children, have an inherent duty to engage in all these functions with their children.
- Parents are their children’s first preachers. “Since nobody is Christian by birth, the first condition [for a response to God’s initiative] is that divine revelation has to be announced to people, that they might have the opportunity to take part in the dialogue with God.” Although parents are generally not professionally trained instructors of the faith, the Holy Spirit guides them in their role of preaching to their children. Commensurate with what they are able to grasp, parents preach various biblical stories to their children, especially the stories of the creation of the world, the great flood, and the Ten Commandments, along with the salvation stories of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, as well as stories of the roles and examples of Mary and the saints. “An important part of a child’s education is storytelling, since good stories excite the imagination and strengthen the bond between parent and child. Stories from the Bible are preferred, and the child should repeat them often, to underscore full comprehension.” While most parents do not have the sophisticated language with which to preach these stories to adults, they do have simple language with which to do so with their own children. This is a very important way children get to know their faith at a young age, by faith stories told in simple, direct language.
- Parents shepherd their children in their faith growth, sometimes learning along with their children while, at the same time, having the adult understanding of faith that serves to guide their children along right paths. Parents also shepherd their children when they get lost or struggle to continue in the way of faith. They may have to “carry” their children back to the flock during times of struggle or encourage their children when they feel like giving up or turning another way.
- Parents celebrate liturgical feasts, seasons and sacraments along with their children. These celebrations are a key part of the domestic Church’s liturgical activity along with other family traditions established and celebrated as part of the family’s faith life. These activities may include such things as traditions of specific songs sung in the home for Christmas, making the Christmas crèche and special prayers said before it, the Advent wreath, Lenten rice bowl offerings, reading the Passion of Christ from the Bible in the home on Good Friday, the Stations of the Cross, and celebration of saints’ days. Additional traditions may include how a family joins with others to help those less fortunate, and religious feast day celebrations closely tied to ethnic group membership, such as, for example, celebrating Las Posadas or the feast of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe [Our Lady of Guadalupe], St. Nicholas Day, Three Kings’ Day, San Gennaro Day and so on.
- Parents participate in the office of sanctifying “by leading a conjugal life in the Christian spirit and by seeing to the Christian education of their children.” They sanctify the beginning and end of the day by teaching and helping their children with their morning and evening prayers. They preside over the blessing, or grace, at mealtimes. They pray the family rosary, read Scripture, take the children to Sunday Eucharist and devotions, and guide them as they prepare for the sacraments. They give their children their parental blessings, not unlike the blessing Isaac gave to Jacob in the Old Testament. And, in a very important way, parents lead each other and their children to holiness, and to a deeper knowledge of the Lord, by the forgiveness of wrongs committed against each other.
- Parents teach their children about the commandments, the call to holiness and how to live it out. They instill and reinforce virtues which help children imitate Christ. They also “teach” through their example of living good moral lives.
- Finally, parents rule over their family life as just and merciful judges. Their aim in this endeavor is to guide their children toward finding their ultimate happiness in God, and not the world. Ideally, parents aim for a consistent, and sympathetic but disciplined approach which, as St. Paul recommends, does not provoke the children lest they lose heart.
Editor’s Note: In Part III, we will look at what it means to be prophet and king.
 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici: “The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People,” (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1988), 14§5.
 Philippians 4:13.
 Colossians 3:17.
 Cf Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents Vol. I (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, Inc., 1998) 34§2.
 Cf Colossians 3:21.
Art: The Wealthy Man, Jean Bourdichon, between 1500 and 1510, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.