By Jessica Able and Marnie McAllister, Record Staff Writers
As Catholics, we’re accustomed to thinking of church in terms of our parish first, then maybe the diocese and the Holy See. It’s easy to overlook the church that’s closest to us — the domestic church.
“We sometimes forget that we are domestic church,” noted Maureen Larison, a consultant for the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Faith Formation. “Each of us constitutes a domestic church. We know that God lives with us and that God is part of our households. We can be a domestic church in a household of one.”
With the quarantine required by COVID-19 in Kentucky — now in the third week since the governor banned mass gatherings of people — we find ourselves celebrating the holiest week of the year in this smallest of churches.
How do we shift from casual home life and orient ourselves to Easter?
It’s most important, said Larison, to remember that Jesus is with us.
“When Jesus is talking to the disciples on Holy Thursday, his prayer is that ‘all of you may be one. You won’t see me anymore, but I’m still with you.’ We are visual, sensory people and it’s not always easy to remember the risen Christ is present with us,” she said.
“We’re really in such a time of sacrifice giving up things we never thought we’d give up. Being able to see people, touch, to hug. We are the Body of Christ and it feels like the pieces are everywhere.”
But we’re still connected, she said.
“We need to remember we are connected not only to our family, but to people in our parishes, the universal church around the world and the communion of saints. We’re always together in Christ.”
Beth Freeman, a long-time catechist who handles communications for Our Lady of Lourdes Church, said it’s also important to return to basics.
“We have to go back to the basic roots of things,” she said. “The early church — they were in their homes. The privilege of American Catholics is we take it for granted so much how we’re able to worship. Not all families can do that” around the world.
To bring a sense of church to her living room, the mother of three has created a prayer table at home. It includes a candle, a cross, Scripture and a rosary. This prayer table is part of setting the scene when the family watches Mass on-screen.
“We try to make it more prayerful and holy. We still sit on our couch, but we prepare ourselves. Ten minutes before, we come in, sit down, light the candle — just like we’d do before Mass would start. We sit and we kneel,” she said.
“The first time we did it, I talked to my kids about spiritual Communion. We can ask Jesus to be in our heart even though we can’t receive the Eucharist. We can celebrate that we know Jesus is with us.
“I’m a true believer that religious education begins at home with our domestic church. How we model and what we get excited about with our kids and what we prioritize with our kids,” she said.
Freeman uses family activities to teach her children outside of church, too. She and her three daughters will be making “resurrection rolls” for Easter. The rolls are baked with marshmallows in the center, which melts in the oven and leaves a space in the center — like an empty tomb.
To help families observe Holy Week at home, Liturgical Press has adapted prayers and rituals for household use in a booklet called “Holy Week at Home.”
Many parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville are providing support to families in self-isolation. Some are live-streaming Masses and offering other prayer opportunities.
The Dominican Sisters who live and minister at St. James Church and School in Elizabethtown, Ky., have developed a “Holy Triduum virtual retreat” as a resource for families during self isolation.
“We are inviting families to walk with Jesus in real time from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday,” said Dominican Sister Augusta Nickel, director of religious education at St. James.
Sister Nickel said the group of six sisters, who live in a convent behind St. James School, wanted to offer something for families during Holy Week because the circumstances are “devastating and disorienting.”
“We are trying to provide families an opportunity to turn these days into something different in their own home — to embrace the domestic church,” she said.
The retreat will begin today, Holy Thursday, with opportunities to observe the Last Supper and imitate Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet.
“We suggest you have a family dinner together, something simple and to read a portion of the last supper,” she said.
On Good Friday, a time of prayerful reflection from noon to 3 p.m. is a good way to remember Christ’s crucifixion, she said. Families with little ones might only get in a prayerful minute or two and that’s okay, Sister Nickel said.
Holy Saturday is a good day to prepare for the joyous occasion of Easter Sunday, Sister Nickel noted. It’s a day where Jesus is in the tomb so a good nap may be in order, she said good-naturedly.
“Performing little preparations like setting out clothes for Easter Sunday” and preparing a family space to watch Mass or even dyeing Easter eggs are appropriate ways to spend the day.
On Easter Sunday, Sister Nickel encourages families to make a big deal about Mass. There are numerous options to live stream Easter Sunday liturgies, including Mass of the Air’s broadcast of Mass with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz on WHAS 11.
Along the way, the sisters will host prayer services on a video conference, where families will be invited to virtually join in during their prayer time at the convent chapel. The sisters will also do a short catechesis on the Paschal candle and its meaning.
“We have our own custom and traditions as part of a religious order. The days during Holy Week have special prayers,” she said.
Other resources, such as video links, craft projects and prayer service ideas will be provided on can be found here.
Sister Nickel noted that families need not worry if they are doing things the “right way.” The way each family celebrates Holy Week and Easter will look different based on individual situations.