Essays, Theology

Actualizing Baptism: The Font of Lay Authority

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It seems the common experience of most lay people today in the United States Catholic Church that they are disengaged from the liturgical celebration unless made a part of an active ministry (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, Lector, Greeter, etc.). Yet, the documents of the Second Vatican Council point to the essential activity of the laity, whether part of an active ministry or not. The laity seem to have lost a rightful sense of authority when celebrating the liturgy. They see themselves as passive participants instead of active members of a Church communio. The decline in Mass attendance or engagement may be connected to this shallow self-understanding of lay identity that has seeped its way into the consciousness of so many Catholics. The rich rights and obligations of the laity articulated in the Code of Canon Law (CC 208ff.) spurred this essay, which seeks to flesh out a rightful authority of the baptized at liturgical celebration as baptismal priest and suggest a catechetical method for actualizing this authority.

Baptismal Theology

In Lumen Gentium, The Constitution on the Church from Vatican II, the Church establishes a rich theology of the laity. She begins with a definition:

The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world. (Lumen Gentium [LG], §31, emphasis added)

This definition establishes the laic as one who fully participates in the threefold office of Christ, “in their own way” and “for their own part.” Lumen Gentium clarifies what is particular and unique about the lay person:

What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. It is true that those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession . . . But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (LG §31, emphasis added)

Most primarily, the laic is unique in their secular nature. The laity are called by God to exercise their “proper function” of sanctifying the world from within. The language of proper function, as well as the distinction drawn between the role of the ordained and even the role of religious, categorizes the laity apart from these ordos/functions in the Church. The lay person maintains a particular function—a dignity and identity—as a missionary for the sanctification of the temporal order. This is not the role of the ministerial priest, nor the religious, but is particular to the laic. Thus, the laity have the authority to spread the Gospel in a specific dimension of the world. It is in the temporal realm where the laity exercise their participation in the threefold office of Christ. The office most essential to this project is the priestly office.

With this rich theology of the laity came the revival of the concept, present in the early Church but absent for much of the Church’s history, of the baptismal priesthood. Lumen Gentium speaks of the new covenant formed through Jesus Christ:

This was to be the new People of God. For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are finally established as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people . . . who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God.’ (LG §9)

All those baptized in Christ become part of the community of the People of God—the Church; they become a member of the royal priesthood. The royal priesthood, in its earthly expression, consists of two distinct types of priesthood: the baptismal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. Lumen Gentium is clear regarding the essential distinction while also maintaining their inherent connection in the one priesthood of Christ:

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity. (LG §10)

What is imperative to note here, is though the baptismal and ministerial priesthood differ intrinsically—mainly with the sacerdotal power that comes through the Sacrament of Holy Orders—both the baptismal priest (the laic) and the ministerial priest (the cleric) offer the Eucharist together. The cleric offers the Eucharist in a unique capacity from the laic, but the laic is indeed still necessary to the Eucharistic celebration:

Incorporated in the Church through baptism, the faithful are destined by the baptismal character for the worship of the Christian religion; . . . Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It. Thus both by reason of the offering and through Holy Communion all take part in this liturgical service, not indeed, all in the same way but each in that way which is proper to himself. (LG §11, emphasis added)

Thus the baptismal priesthood capacitates or authorizes the laic not only for a secular function, but also for a liturgical function. The laity, through Baptism, are capacitated for the celebration of worship where they offer the Eucharistic sacrifice from the position of their unique ordo.

It is in and through concrete Christian practices that one becomes a Christian.

Orthodox priest and theologian Nicholas Afanasiev, in his text The Church of the Holy Spirit, discusses the duel ministries of baptismal and ministerial priesthood as manifesting a fullness. As a leader in Orthodox and Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue, as well as an Official Ecumenical Observer at the Second Vatican Council, Afanasiev’s theology can be fruitful in thickening one’s understanding of these categories. Further, it is important to note that his theology is rooted in the life of the early Church before the schism between East and West.[1] Afanasiev states:

It is only in and through this idea [of all Christians as priests with priestly ministry] that the “fullness of grace” (omnis gratia) received by the Church can be expressed.[2]

In Afanasiev’s articulation, it is only with the activation of the baptismal priesthood that the Church can be the receptor of the fullness of grace. The dignity and identity of the laic as baptismal priest is essential for the fullness of the earthly Church to be expressed. Similarly to Lumen Gentium, for Afanasiev the locus of this priestly expression is the liturgy: “The priestly ministry of all members of the Church finds expression in the Eucharistic assembly.”[3] The ministerial priest and baptismal priest, who for Afanasiev remain essentially different, are equally necessary for the celebration of the liturgy:

[In the early Church] the people of God could neither celebrate without him [the cleric], nor could he celebrate without them, for not only he himself but all were priests of the Most High God.[4]

Afanasiev uses language that further dignifies the laity and their priestly role at the liturgy:

Can there be any higher ministry than that of the person who assumes the place of the apostles at the Eucharistic assembly?[5]

This unique perspective elevates the laic, in an analogous way, to a privileged apostolic position in relation to Christ (represented by the cleric in the Eucharistic assembly). If the laity were thoroughly catechized in this reality, how might it deepen their understanding of lay authority, of their inherent dignity and identity, as those fed by Christ and sent out on mission to the world?

Photo: George Martell/The Pilot Media Group, The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston; CC-BY-ND-2.0.

Afanasiev discusses the importance of the distinction between ministerial and baptismal priesthood at length, while also critiquing both the East and West on their understanding of consecration. Afanasiev claims that the understanding of consecration adopted by both the East and West in the sacrament of Holy Orders reduces the richness of the consecration of the Christian faithful in Baptism. Though, in truth, all Christians are consecrated into the baptismal priesthood through the sacraments of initiation, with the additional consecration conveyed through Holy Orders, a confusion emerged. The need for a grammatical distinction between these two types of consecration led the Church community to distinguish the laity as the ‘non-consecrated’ while clerics were deemed ‘consecrated.’ Afanasiev states:

The liturgical distinction between [laity] and clerics . . . turned into their separation from each other and gradually led to the appearance of two heterogeneous strata or states of being.[6]

This popular colloquial distinction of ‘consecrated’ versus ‘non-consecrated’ took root in the Church around the time of the Council of Trent. This resulted in a reduction of the theological understanding of baptismal priesthood and exiled the laity from the ‘sacred hierarchy’ to which they, then and now, rightfully belong and maintain an essential role.[7]

Although Afanasiev acknowledges the essential nature of the cleric through the ontological change given in Holy Orders, he is hesitant that this ontological change should trump the ontological change given in Baptism. Those who are baptized are consecrated priests by Baptism and have a unique function/ordo in the sacred hierarchy; those who are consecrated through Holy Orders do not experience a ‘higher,’ ‘better,’ or ‘advanced’ Baptism—the ontological change capacitates the cleric for a different ministry/function/ordo within the sacred hierarchy and in this way the ontological distinction between lay and ordained is not consecration but capacitation for ministry:

No one by his nature should put himself above others in the Church—even less above the Church—or pretend to speak for the Church in a special manner. Neither the apostles, nor the prophets, nor the teachers by themselves, nor all together, nor each in particular, constitute the Church. Both they and the others are merely members of the Church, but they are not the whole Church. Thus they cannot exist without the remaining members, for otherwise they would not be able to fulfill the functions for which God has set them apart and ordained them. The difference between a person who has a particular ministry and a person who does not have such a ministry is not ontological but functional.[8]

It may appear that Afanasiev’s argument results in a reduction of Holy Orders to mere functionality, but it is essential to observe that he maintains a hierarchy of functionality, distinguishing the ministries of the presider and the assembly in a real way:

No one in the Church can by his nature stand higher than another, although he can fulfill a ministry that is higher than the ministries of others.[9]

Thus the dignity of the sacrament of Holy Orders is maintained. Holy Orders graces an ontological change that prepares one for the function of presiding at the Eucharistic assembly of his fellow consecrated baptismal priests:

The special ministry of the presider . . . is one of those vital functions, those manifestations of life, without which the Church cannot exist on earth as a living organism. The ministry of the presider found its expression in the Eucharistic assembly. At the assembly, there were always those who presided and those who were presided over. Without this there could be no Eucharist, for by its nature it requires a presider. From the very inception of the Church the liturgical order distinguished between people and the presider.[10]

The presider has an essential function, and yet, this function operates most fully when joined with the essential function of the assembly—the laity:

After the sacrament of baptism by water and the Spirit, the . . . baptized ‘concelebrated’ in the sacred ministry of the Eucharist . . . Since it is a liturgical action, the ministry of all the faithful in the Eucharist is just as necessary as that of the presider . . . [T]hat the communion of the faithful comes after ‘the presider has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent,’ it follows that both are necessary at the celebration of the Eucharist.[11]

The Eucharistic liturgy is celebrated in its fullest sense when the laity join their assent to the sacrificial offering of thanksgiving made by the presider.

This sense of mutual celebration of the liturgy in Afanasiev’s theology—that the fullness of grace is made present in the Church through this mutual thanksgiving—corresponds to the communio ecclesiology presented in Lumen Gentium. Paragraph 7 presents a rich image of communio ecclesiology as depicted through the image of the Mystical Body of Christ. All members of the Church gather in communion around the Eucharistic table; the Eucharist draws all those gathered together into one body. Within that body there exist shared functions/ordos:

As all the members of the human body, though they are many, form one body, so also are the faithful in Christ. Also, in the building up of Christ’s Body various members and functions have their part to play. There is only one Spirit who, according to His own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives His different gifts for the welfare of the Church. What has a special place among these gifts is the grace of the apostles to whose authority the Spirit Himself subjected even those who were endowed with charisms. (LG §7)

This interconnectedness of all members of the body, though each participates in different functions based on the gifts of the Spirit, dignifies the laity as an essential part of the body. Without the laity, the body is not whole; she is sick. Yet, without the special authority of the apostles to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Church would cease to exist. Thus, the Church maintains the essential communion of the body, with Christ as the Head and the Spirit as the guide, as the fullness of ecclesial life:

The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons. The Church, which the Spirit guides in the way of all truth and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits . . . Thus, the Church has been seen as ‘a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ (LG §5)

The Church is a unity of clerics and laity, all consecrated, but consecrated for differing functions. These functions work in tandem to facilitate the work of the Spirit. The presider offers thanksgiving; the laity assent. Thus the action of the Church communio is essentially twofold: it is in the offering of thanksgiving that the cleric establishes his dignity/authority as ministerial priest and it is in the assenting response that the laity affirm their dignity/authority in the liturgical celebration; both cleric and laic fulfill their baptismal purpose. In this twofold offering, the fullness of the grace given by Christ to the Church is made manifest in the unification of the facets of the royal priesthood: the ministerial priesthood and baptismal priesthood participating together in the Royal Priesthood of Christ.

While this dignity of the ministerial priesthood has been maintained in the ecclesial consciousness of the faithful, the understanding of the dignified position of the laity in the Eucharistic assembly by virtue of their baptismal priesthood has been lost. Afanasiev poignantly laments the loss:

The historical deprivation of laics from sacramental ministry was a result of the doctrine that penetrated ecclesial consciousness. This doctrine regarded laics as non-consecrated and thus the opposite of the consecrated, namely, the clerics and in particular the hierarchy. This division came to shape the whole liturgical order of life. All aspects of the laics’ priestly ministry disappeared without anyone’s notice. As this ministry became obscured, the veil, like the curtain in the Old Testament, reappeared in the Church, separating holy things from the people. [12]

It is the goal of this study to propose a strategy that would attempt to remove the illusory veil the laity see when they enter the liturgical celebration—the veil that does not exist in actuality but in the under-catechized hearts of the faithful—through the activation of their baptismal priestly authority.

Liturgical Formation

In order for the laic to fulfill their baptismal function and actualize their baptismal priestly authority, the laic must engage their baptismal calling within the realm of the sacred (liturgical celebration) as well as the profane (maintaining their distinctively secular identity). In the language of David W. Fagerberg, the laic must engage liturgical theology and liturgical asceticism:

Liturgical theology may therefore be called faith’s grammar in action—a genuine theology, but one manifested and preserved in the community’s lex orandi (law of prayer) even before it is parsed into lex credendi (law of belief). It is discovered in the structure of the liturgy which shapes the lives of liturgists. [Aidan] Kavanagh was fond of calling liturgy the faith of the Church in motion. “This means that the liturgy of a church is nothing other than the church’s faith in motion on certain definite and crucial levels . . . Thus a church’s worship does not merely reflect or express its repertoire of faith. It transacts the church’s faith in God under the condition of God’s real presence in both church and world.” In my language game, the structure of the of the liturgical lex orandi I call liturgical theology, and the process of shaping lives I call liturgical asceticism. The liturgy doesn’t just make the thinker think doxologically, or theologize prayerfully; it forms a believer whose life is theological.[13]

In brief, by participating in the liturgical celebration, the ritual by which the real presence of God is made manifest in the Church and world, one does liturgical theology. The way a Christian lives between these liturgical celebrations, in preparation for the formation received by the liturgical celebration, is liturgical asceticism. A life of liturgical asceticism is formed by the doing of liturgical theology (celebration); liturgical theology is enhanced for the participant by engaging in liturgical asceticism.

Through equating the liturgical prayer of the Church with doing liturgical theology, Fagerberg can describe the laic as a ‘theologian,’ claiming—as Evagrius did—that the theologian is the one who prays and thus not only those who study in the academy.[14] The distinction between theology as prayer—what Fagerberg deems Theologia prima—and theology as study—Theologia secunda—lies at the heart of establishing lay baptismal authority. In the mind of the modern laic and general ecclesial consciousness, the theologian who engages in Theologia secunda has far more authority liturgically than the everyday Catholic who prays in the pew, engaging ‘only’ in Theologia prima. [15] Fagerberg believes this understanding to be backwards:

Being a theologian means being able to use the grammar learned in liturgy to speak about God. Even more, it means speaking of God. Yet even more, it means speaking with God. That’s why Evagrius of Pontus calls prayer theology . . . Before there were universities with theology faculties, it was possible to learn and to use this theological grammar. [16]

The laity, as those who pray liturgically, are the primary theologians of the Church. Fagerberg goes so far as to equate the terms baptized or laity with liturgist![17]

When a verb is turned into a noun, the subject is usually the one who commits the action . . . I would like to primarily call by the name “liturgist” the one who commits liturgy, and only secondarily the one who studies it or directs it.[18]

Not only is the laic a baptismal priest who has an essential role in liturgical celebration through the offering of their assent, but a laic—as one who prays—is a theologian, and—as one who commits liturgy—a liturgist! This thick understanding of the theology of the laity should carry implications for catechizing lay people on their dignity/authority as the baptized.

In establishing this dignified liturgical authority of the laity, Fagerberg roots his theology in the cosmological priesthood, the priesthood that existed before the Fall, which the ministerial and baptismal priesthood now operate together with Christ to restore.[19] Placing his understanding of the cosmological priesthood in a liturgical framework, Fagerberg describes the Fall as “the forfeiture of our liturgical career,” a forfeiture of the time when liturgical theology/celebration—communion with God—was simply the way humanity existed.[20] This liturgical career is one that cannot be fully restored until the paraousia, but until that time:

The common priesthood of the laity is directed toward the cure of this now corrupted structure of the world, and the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood to equip them for their lay apostolate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to be describing the liturgical job description of the baptized when it says, “The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly since the faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king.” In order to equip and capacitate this common priesthood of his body, Christ instituted the ministerial priesthood, which is “directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads the Church.” The clergy alone is not Church, with lay spectators; and the laity alone is not Church, with hired ordained leaders. Therefore, “though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.”[21]

Here, Fagerberg affirms the theology and communio ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium, raising one’s awareness of the essential nature of the baptismal priesthood in conjunction with the ministerial priesthood. He affirms the dignity of the laic in the liturgical celebration while also calling the laic out into the secular realm to fulfill their vocation of the sanctification of the world. Fagerberg thus establishes the dual vocation of the laic as liturgist and liturgical ascetic.

The Church maintains a long doctrinal history of emphasizing the home as the educational foundation for all of humanity and the vital cell of society.

What does Fagerberg mean by liturgical asceticism and how does it correspond to the laic’s secular character/vocation? Fagerberg does not intend for one to hear ‘monasticism’ or religious asceticism in his grammar of asceticism. Instead he desires to establish a dynamic reality that exists between liturgical prayer and one’s Christian life:

Liturgical ritual cannot be isolated from our Christian life because liturgy ritualizes identity. According to Robert Taft, “the purpose of all Christian liturgy is to express in a ritual moment that which should be the basic stance of every moment of our lives.”[22]

Thus this cyclical dynamism between liturgical ritual and liturgical asceticism (Christian life coming from and flowing toward liturgical celebration) is the fullness of liturgical life—it is “lived liturgy.”[23] As Kavanagh famously stated: “Liturgy is doing the world the way the world is meant to be done.”[24] Fagerberg himself explains liturgical asceticism most clearly:

What makes it liturgical asceticism is the fact that it is a means of participating in Christ. There is a natural virtue or moral discipline that might lead a person to make ascetical experiments in goodness or justice of humility before Almighty God, but I am speaking of a discipline that is required to become a liturgist in Christ’s body. Asceticism is requisite to being a liturgist and to becoming a liturgical theologian.[25]

The purpose of liturgical asceticism is to capacitate one for liturgy, where one encounters the Almighty, an experience so powerful that it requires preparation. This type of asceticism may manifest itself in the ways that ‘asceticism’ is commonly thought to but it differs in its “arche and telos (origin and end, principle and purpose).”[26] Liturgical asceticism prepares one for participation in the Divine Trinity at the liturgical celebration.[27]

How is the laic meant to live in the time between participation in liturgical ritual in order to capacitate oneself more fully for the liturgical ritual, where God is made fully present? By engaging their baptismal priesthood as liturgist in the secular realm, through participation in liturgical asceticism or—as this study will claim—Christian Practice. This experience of the dynamic interaction between liturgical ritual and liturgical asceticism could also be deemed “liturgical formation,” a term perhaps more palatable and accessible for the layperson.[28]

Christian Practice as a Mode of Liturgical Asceticism

In order for it to form the person who engages in it, liturgical asceticism must have some sort of concrete manifestation. God became Incarnate in Jesus Christ; thus, the Christian now experiences God in and through the body. In light of this, the catechetical method of “Christian Practice” could be a means through which liturgical asceticism can be adopted. Dorothy C. Bass defines a Christian Practice as “things Christian people do together over time in response to and in the light of God’s active presence for the life of the world in Christ Jesus.”[29] Craig Dykstra makes an anthropological connection to these Christian Practices:

Learning the practices of the life of Christian faith involves practice, repeated participation in the bodily actions that make up those practices.[30]

These explanations of Christian Practice both carry an ascetical theme and correspond well to the liturgical asceticism that Fagerberg defines:

Liturgy is the place of communion with God; . . . asceticism is the imitation of Christ by a liturgist; and . . . the end of liturgical asceticism is sharing God’s life, rightly called theologia.[31]

Liturgical asceticism and Christian Practice both capacitate a person to share in God’s life, to participate in liturgical theology, and thus this catechetical method concretizes Fagerberg’s dynamic theory of liturgical formation. Liturgical asceticism and Christian Practice should fully permeate one’s life, in preparation for this liturgical ritual and in response to this encounter.

The method of Christian Practice involves a few elements: utilizing the philosophical concept of ‘practice’ or ‘habit’, identifying particular Christian practices, and engaging in an apprentice model of education for learning Christian practices. As defined by Craig Dykstra, who in turn makes use of Alasdair MacIntyre’s complex philosophical definition of ‘practice,’ practices are:

cooperative human activities through which we, as individuals and as communities, grow and develop in moral character and substance. They have built up over time and, through experience and testing, have developed patterns of reciprocal expectations among participants. They are ways of doing things together in which and through which human life is given direction, meaning and significance, and through which our very capacities to do good things well are increased. And because they are shared, patterned, and ongoing, they can be taught. We can teach one another how to participate in them. We can pass them on from one generation to the next.[32]

Thus, one could look at a practice as the formation of a habit. This concept of practice is rooted in the philosophical category of virtue ethics where some permeations of this philosophy claim one’s habits form the individual in an identity. If practices become habits, these practices inevitably form the person who engages them:[33]

Through participation in these specific practices—and others like them—the large, broad practice of Christian faith is made perpetually alive; at the same time, it is corrected and enlarged. Through the exercise of such practices, the ‘goods’ that inhere in the life of Christian faith are realized in actual human existence. By learning them—and through long, slow, steady patient participation in them—individuals and communities learn Christian faith, become Christian.[34]

It is in and through concrete Christian practices that one becomes a Christian. In Fagerberg’s terms, liturgical formation (the interplay of celebration and asceticism), capacitates a person to be a liturgist, to participate in the Divine—to become Christian. Fagerberg states:

A Christian is created by his or her entire liturgical life: the seasons of the year, sacraments, sacramentals, spiritual exercises, and more. These become the sculptor’s tools that craft a stone into a statue, or the painter’s brushes that make us into an icon of the prototype. And there is a prototype in whose image liturgical rite desires to create us: Christ is the premier liturgist, and we are his apprentices.[35]

Photo: May Pamintuan; CC-BY-ND-2.0.

Christian Practices capacitate a person for worship which makes one a Christian. In the Fagerbergian categories, liturgical asceticism capacitates a person for the liturgical ritual celebration which makes one a liturgist—a Christian. The mutual understanding of these two theories is evident. Both seek to form the Christian into a way of life that prepares one to participate in the divine life, not simply to make a Christian who feels obligated to attend a weekly service.[36] In that way, they seek to form a person in dignity and identity; they seek to establish the Christian—and in particular for this study—the laic in their baptismal priestly authority. The ritual liturgical celebration is clearly the pinnacle form of Christian practices, as it is the source from which one becomes Christian through Baptism and the summit of Christian communion with God this side of heaven. Yet, if preparing for these ritual celebrations ascetically is an essential aspect of the Christian life, and people experience God in and through their bodies, other concrete Christian practices must be incorporated in the lives of the faithful outside of the liturgical celebration. What might these look like?

Dykstra gives a full list of categories that might be helpful: the Church also has within her tradition the Liturgy of the Hours and sacramentals:

Unlike the sacraments instituted by Christ, the Church herself creates sacramentals for another purpose: to sanctify everyday life. Although indirectly, even those sacramentals come from the Incarnate Word, who by taking flesh consecrated the world, thereby making human activity a sign of his creative and redemptive presence. The Church gives us the sacramentals in service of the sacraments, of which they are imitations. As her actions, they express the Church’s desire to sanctify humanity on its pilgrim journey. Through the sacramentals all created reality comes into the orbit of God’s blessing, making all manner of people, situations and objects occasions of grace.[37]

Sacramentals are given to the People of God so that they may sanctify their everyday life. The sacramentals given by the Church are a portion of what one could consider Christian practices and a means to liturgical asceticism. The sacramentals of the Church are things such as altars, crucifixes/crosses, holy water, Advent wreaths, Christmas trees, Easter lambs/lilies, sacred images/icons, saint medals, scapulars, rosaries/chaplets, etc.,[38] and resemble the features of the liturgical celebration. How do these Christian sacramentals and the performance of the practices associated with them (e.g., praying the Rosary) form the Christian person ascetically in preparation for the liturgical celebration? Dykstra believes strongly that Christian practices are means of grace and works of the Spirit:

The practices and disciplines are means of grace, not tasks to accomplish or instructions to follow in order to grow in the life of faith. To do the latter would be to engage in the practices ‘according to the flesh’ rather than ‘in the Spirit.’ Instead these practices and disciplines are gifts to the community, by means of which God may use the community to establish and sustain all people in the new life given in the Spirit. We come to value and appreciate these practices and integrate them more fully into the structure of our own lives as we come increasingly to see this. Then we have reasons and motives of our own for engaging in them and take increasing personal responsibility for initiating, sustaining and making them available to others. Then they become part of who we are.[39]

The theology of sacramentals claims something quite similar:

Whereas the seven sacraments confer sanctifying grace because they are actions of Christ himself, the sacramentals prepare us to cooperate with it. In traditional theological language, the sacramentals are efficacious ex opere operantis Ecclesiae; that is, they bring forth spiritual fruits by virtue of the Church’s intercessory prayer and the recipient’s willing cooperation in faith and in love.[40]

If the practices or sacramentals are empty of meaning for the practitioner, the practices will not have the intended effect of formation. The practices/sacramentals must take on meaning for the laic. They also must be inherently connected to the Eucharistic celebration:

it . . . is wisely advised that we use sacramentals in harmony with the sacred liturgy. In order to conform to the norms of Vatican II, we should make a special effort so that sacramentals “harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it, and lead the people to it.”[41]

Thus incorporating sacramentals into Christian practices is essential for drawing a connection between life outside of worship and the liturgical celebration.

The founding experts of the Christian Practice model of catechesis, Dykstra and Bass, recommend an apprentice model of education:

Learning [a practice] can be greatly aided by good coaching, by apprenticeship to those who have achieved some degree of excellence in the practice, and by reading, conversation, and argumentation about the practice . . . in all its parts, complexity and coherence.[42]

It seems appropriate, then, that the locus of education in Christian Practice be the Christian household—deemed by the Church the locus of Christian education—where members of the family can apprentice one another in the practices they employ.[43]

If Christian practices or sacramentals are practiced in faith and draw one into the Eucharistic celebration, the practices may enable Catholics to claim their baptismal priestly authority in a more concrete way than the current ecclesiological consciousness surrounding the liturgical celebration allows. By acting as one with authority within the secular realm—where the Church has deemed that the laity do indeed have authority —through engaging in Christian practices/sacramentals in their own home, the laity will also activate the liturgical authority they should experience in their assent to the Eucharistic celebration. If there is a greater sense of baptismal priestly authority for the laic within the home and within liturgical celebration, perhaps the laic will feel compelled to activate other pieces of authority given to the laity by the Church, like the rights and obligations given them in Canon Law.[44]

​To connect the home to the church is to connect the family to the Eucharist and the sacramental life of the Church.

It is proposed that this liturgical asceticism by mode of Christian Practice should be done in the home. Why the home? Along with the two other offices of prophet and king, the laic engages their baptismal priesthood at work, in leisure and social life, and in their home. The Church maintains a long doctrinal history of emphasizing the home as the educational foundation for all of humanity and the vital cell of society (see LG §11, Apostolicam Actuositatem [AA], §11 and Familiaris Consortio, §36). The Church intrinsically associates home life with family life. From the time of Lumen Gentium, a grammar began being used to discuss the family unit: ‘the domestic church.’

From the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are born, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism are made children of God, thus perpetuating the people of God through the centuries. The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state. (LG §11, emphasis added)

The development of doctrine surrounding this brief reference in Lumen Gentium is interesting to follow. The phrase itself has gained in popularity since its initial use but it was not formulated without debate. The term ‘domestic church’ was originally derived to establish ecclesiological affinities between the home and the local church.[45] Bishop Pietro Fiordelli was the resident Vatican expert advocating for this terminology which was based primarily on his ecclesiological understanding of the home:

In his ecclesiological remarks Fiordelli argued that the universal Church comprised a vast number of local churches or dioceses, but that the diocese was not the last sub-divison of the Church. Christian families should be conceived as a minisulae ecclesiae (mini-churches). As proof for the antiquity of this teaching, he cited texts from St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine that described the family as a small church or as a domestic church.[46]

St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom’s theologies are integral to the formulation of the theology of the domestic church. Using these theologies, Fiordelli attempted to advocate for the ecclesial significance of the family, which—if it had any—would need to find its grounding in the sacrament of Baptism. Although the Sacrament of Marriage is obviously an essential piece and the starting point for family life, ecclesially speaking, if the domestic church were to be considered as Fiordelli envisioned, Baptism would need to remain prevalent in the theology of the domestic church as the sacrament that sets the laity into their proper ordo/function in the hierarchy.

An early draft of Lumen Gentium reflects this reality. Citing Augustine, this early draft claims that parents “exercised an ecclesial function.” Another earlier draft placed the term ‘domestic church’ in a section on “the universal priesthood, the sensus fidei, and the charisms of the faithful,” suggesting a more integral connection to Baptism.[47] The final text, cited above, places the domestic church in the section addressing marriage, deemphasizing the ecclesial connection originally intended by Fiordelli.

Photo: Joe Green; CC-BY-ND-2.0.

This debate regarding the sacramental rootedness of the Christian family continues today, and could be a study in itself. For the sake of this study, it is important to note that the debate is not settled, and yet also acknowledge the dual contribution of these sacraments to family life. Given the pastoral situation that Church faces in regard to “irregular” situations of family life in the Church (single parent, divorced parents, divorced and re-married parents), as well as granting dignity to the children of a household in which the parents are not married but contribute to the faith life of the domestic church, discussing the domestic church as rooted in the sacrament of Baptism—while still upholding the ideal family as rooted also in marriage—opens the doors to ministering to those in “irregular family situations,” allowing such families to feel welcomed, not as if they are falling short of an ideal and thus cannot be considered a ‘domestic church.’ In fact, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken this pastoral approach. In their pastoral letter Follow the Way of Love, they state: “Baptism brings all Christians into union with God. Your family life is sacred because family relationships confirm and deepen this union and allow the Lord to work through you.” The bishops highlight Baptism not to undermine the sanctity and grace that comes with matrimony, but to acknowledge the grace and font of life that Baptism brings to family life. As Richard Gaillardetz states: “Starting with baptism allows us to place in the foreground, not questions of membership in the domestic church but rather on the ways in which one’s baptismal call is realized in the household.”[48] Regardless of one’s family make-up, if one focuses on the grace of the sacrament of Baptism, all baptized families can be considered ‘domestic church’:

If the concept of the domestic church is to be ecclesially helpful, it will require greater attention to the very notion of “domesticity.” By “domesticity” I mean that complex of relations and practices that constitute a functioning Christian household. This analysis would certainly embrace the relations and practices enacted in sacramental marriage, as well as single-parent, mixed and blended families. However, it also allows us to consider other forms of Christian community characterized by a commitment to a common domicile.[49]

These other forms of Christian communities that Gaillardetz mentions could include those living the single vocation as well as those engaged in intentional community and, of course, family life. This study will advocate for the use of the term ‘household church’ instead of ‘domestic church’ to highlight the expansion of domesticity that Gaillardetz calls for. The term encompasses all of those who are a part of a household—not limiting the concept of ‘domestic church’ to only those households that fulfill the ideal formulation of mother, father, and child(ren). Retaining the term ‘church’ maintains the ecclesiological connection between the life of the household—rooted in the Baptism of those in the home—and the life of the local Church. In this way, the sacrament of Marriage—just like the sacrament of Holy Orders—does not replace the sacrament of Baptism but is a way of fulfilling one’s baptismal call to holiness. Those who are baptized, and are not married or ordained, still have an essential role to play in the Church as liturgists in their liturgical assent and as sanctifiers of the world. Claiming this authority can come from the education received in the home or the life one lives in the home solely by virtue of Baptism.

The concept of household church makes for a fluid relationship between the ecclesial entities of the home and the local church. Being that the locus of Christian education is the home, it would be naive to deny that what occurs in the home affects the local church:

According to Familiaris Consortio (1981), the Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can and should be called ‘the domestic church’ (58). The vitality of domestic spirituality, then, directly affects the vitality of the church as a whole. Indeed the paucity of attention to the spirituality of the domestic church risks weakening lay confidence in vocation and holiness. It also truncates our vision of spirituality and our ability to carry forward the rich traditions of Christian spirituality in meaningful ways.[50]

As has been discussed before regarding liturgical formation, the local Church forms the person through liturgy and the baptized are responsible for the practices/ascetical habits that prepare them for and enhance the liturgical celebration of their local church. As Philip M. Mamalakis beautifully articulates:

To talk about the church of the home is to connect the home to the church; to invite Christ and His body, the Church, into the home, uniting, sacramentally, the sphere wherein human persons are formed (family) with the sphere wherein union of human persons with God is accomplished (church). When the home is connected to the church it becomes the church of the home, the place where persons are formed and transformed in the love of Christ expressed as a turning toward one another as unto the Lord.[51]

If, then, these practices are done from a deep understanding of one’s authority as a baptismal priest or theologian or liturgist, the authority one takes on in the home in regard to Christian practice has the potential to translate into a felt authority at the liturgical celebration—a sense that when one is at the liturgy, one plays a necessary participative role. Thus the home should be a place saturated in sacramentals and Christian practices, images that bind the family to the life of the local church and tradition. Not only this, but these rituals/practices should also be creatively interwoven and connected with the everyday activities of one’s life. This is how one “lives liturgy” outside of the liturgical ritual.

The profound and the ordinary moments of daily life—mealtimes, workdays, vacations, expressions of love and intimacy, household chores, caring for a sick child or elderly parent, and even conflicts over things like how to celebrate holidays, discipline children, or spend money—all are the threads from which you can weave a pattern of holiness.[52]

Practices cannot be mere empty ritual but should carry significance for the Christian formation of each individual of the home. Rituals should be geared not only toward enhancing prayer and spirituality but also virtue formation as well as social awareness and action:

This mission—to be the first and vital cell of society—the family has received from God. It will fulfill this mission if it appears as the domestic sanctuary of the Church by reason of the mutual affection of its members and the prayer that they offer to God in common, if the whole family makes itself a part of the liturgical worship of the Church, and if it provides active hospitality and promotes justice and other good works for the service of all the brethren in need. Among the various activities of the family apostolate may be enumerated the following: the adoption of abandoned infants, hospitality to strangers, assistance in the operation of schools, helpful advice and material assistance for adolescents, help to engaged couples in preparing themselves better for marriage, catechetical work, support of married couples and families involved in material and moral crises, help for the aged not only by providing them with the necessities of life but also by obtaining for them a fair share of the benefits of an expanding economy. (AA §11)

Lastly, these practices should be inherently linked to the liturgical celebration. Following again Mamalakis’ thought:

To connect the home to the church is to connect the family to the Eucharist and the sacramental life of the Church. “Only in the sacraments does the Christian community pass beyond the purely human measure and become the Church.” In addition, bringing the practices of the church, the prayer, scriptures, music, images and the liturgical life into the home serves to make the home into a little church. The Christian home, like Christian marriage, “cannot be considered a private affair or an individual matter. It is an ecclesial event. It is the entrance of the couple into the gathered church, to share its life and values, forming all personal and familial life in the direction of the kingdom of God. Yet it is not the imposition of religious rituals on the family that makes it sacred, but the presence of Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit in each member, and each person’s response to Christ in each interaction, that makes family holy. The religious rituals serve to support these interactions within family life. Families are not church only when they read scriptures, pray, study the faith, or help the needy. They are church in their (turning toward) love, and it is Christ’s love that constitutes the church of the home.”[53]

The household church in no way replaces the local Church and is intimately connected to the universal Church through its integration into the local Church. The Eucharist should remain the central focus of any catechetical formation in the home. If the engagement of ritual/sacramentals/Christian practices in the home moves away from the reality of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit in each person’s heart, these would become mere routines and lose their fruitfulness.

Pastoral Application

A possible pastoral project stemming from this theology would involve a new position at the parish level: a Pastoral Associate for Home Life (PA). This PA would conduct a program engaging the liturgical formation of baptismal priests in the context of Household Churches. The whole process would be elective, geared toward those who do not already know how to be a baptismal priest in their home, and would begin with outreach in order to engage people in the initial step of desiring such formation. Meetings for this program would occur in the home of the people who elect to engage. As Pope Francis noted in his most recent encyclical:

Given the pace of life today, most [households] cannot attend frequent meetings; still, we cannot restrict our pastoral outreach to small and select groups. Nowadays, pastoral care for families has to be fundamentally missionary, going out to where people are. We can no longer be like a factory, churning out courses that for the most part are poorly attended. (Amoris Laetitia, §230, emphasis added)

Thus going to people’s homes is an important piece of this project. Having a PA corresponds to the catechetical model of Christian practice and the necessity of an apprenticeship. This person should be fairly well versed in a variety of spiritualities/practices as well as the Tradition of the Church (i.e. sacramentals). They should, at the very least, have a pool of resources at their disposal. They should also have the skills to be a good formator.

The PA would engage the family in goal based planning. No family is the same, and so they cannot fit a “one size fits all” model. It may take a few visits to the home before a real spirituality emerges. What is essential to maintain are:

  1. the use of sacramentals in some way to connect the practice of the Household Church to the liturgical celebration;
  2. several habitual Christian practices that correspond to the movements of their particular spirituality and home life (so as to not be burdensome); and
  3. the utilization of the dignifying language of Household Church, baptismal priest, liturgist, theologian, and authority by the PA that will then be used in the home. This ensures that the Christian Practices are indeed forming the person toward this understanding of authority.

Finally, the family would do a House Blessing themselves upon the departure of the PA from the final home visit, symbolizing an independent activating of their baptismal priesthood without the guidance of the PA. This would take place when the family members felt prepared to be on their own with their new routine or when the PA prescribes. The PA would remain a resource for all families who engaged with the program.

A Final Prescription: The Hypothesis of Holy Water

Since the first and last thing we do when we enter our local Church is bless ourselves with holy water as a reminder of our Baptism, and since we’ve claimed that habitual practices form us into an identity, I wondered about the use of holy water at the entrances of Household Churches. Could holy water form the laity into their identity as authoritative baptismal priests? If one blesses oneself in the place where they act most authoritatively as a baptismal priest, having authority over their Household Church, then perhaps the affective sense of authority will be carried via the matter of the water when one blesses oneself upon entering their parish.

Whatever form these Christian Practices take, their capacity to activate the authority of the baptismal priesthood of the laity cannot be underestimated. It is often perceived that practices are cold or empty ritualized traditions that bear no weight on internal faith, transformation in holiness, or alignment to Christ Jesus; yet, if one is properly catechized in the meaning and mystery of these symbols, engaging the symbols will allow the faithful to enter into the Mystery more fully. Not only this, but the ritual will encourage authority in liturgical practices within the home and the parish, and perhaps even in evangelization of one’s neighbor through the thoughtful witnessing and handing down, the traditio, of these practices.

Featured Photo: Fr. James Bradley; CC-BY-2.0.

[1] Afanasʹev, Nikolaĭ., and Michael Plekon, The Church of the Holy Spirit (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 19.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] Ibid., 6.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 18.

[7] Ibid., 19.

[8] Ibid., 15–16.

[9] Ibid., 17.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 19.

[12] Ibid., 39.

[13] David Fagerberg, Theologia Prima: What Is Liturgical Theology? (Mundelein, IL: Hillenbrand Books, 2004), 4; citing Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (New York: Pueblo Press, 1984), 8.

[14] Ibid., 5–6.

[15] Ibid., 133.

[16] Ibid., 5–6.

[17] Ibid., 8.

[18] Ibid., 7.

[19] Ibid., 8.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 8–9; citing CCC §1546, 1547, and LG §10.

[22] Ibid., 17, emphasis added; citing Robert Taft, “Sunday in the Byzantine Tradition” in Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding (Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 1997), 52.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 231.

[25] Ibid., 22.

[26] Ibid., 21.

[27] Ibid., 21–22.

[28] Ibid., 122.

[29] Dorothy C. Bass, and M. Shawn Copeland, Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 5.

[30] Craig Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 71.

[31] Fagerberg, Theologia Prima, 5.

[32] Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith, 68–69, emphasis added.

[33] Bass, Practicing Our Faith, 5.

[34] Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith, 70.

[35] David Fagerberg, “Liturgical Theology as a Point of Synthesis” in Roczniki Liturgiczno-Homiletyczne [Annals of Liturgy and Homiletics], Issue 2 (58) (Lublin, Poland: John Paul II University, 2011), 32.

[36] Bass, Practicing Our Faith, xx.

[37] Ann Ball, A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1991), 12, emphasis added.

[38] Ibid., 5–6.

[39] Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith, 45–46.

[40] Ball, A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, 12–13.

[41] Ibid., 14; citing Sacrosanctum Concilium, §13.

[42] Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith, 71.

[43] See John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, §36.

[44] Code of Canon Law, 208ff.

[45] Florence Caffrey Bourg, Where Two or Three Are Gathered: Christian Families as Domestic Churches (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), 26.

[46] Ibid., 26–27.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Richard Gaillardetz, “The Christian Household as School of Discipleship: Reflections on the Ecclesial Contributions of the Christian Household to the Larger Church” in The Household of God and Local Households: Revisiting the Domestic Church, eds. Gerard Mannion and Thomas Knieps-Port le Roi (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 114.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Claire A. Wolfteich, “It’s About Time: Rethinking Spirituality and the Domestic Church” in The Household of God and Local Households: Revisiting the Domestic Church, eds. Gerard Mannion and Thomas Knieps-Port le Roi (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 152, emphasis added.

[51] Philip M. Mamalakis, “Early Christian Perspectives on the Church of the Home” in The Household of God and Local Households: Revisiting the Domestic Church, eds. Gerard Mannion and Thomas Knieps-Port le Roi (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 146.

[52] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB], Follow the Way of Love.

[53] Mamalakis, “Early Christian Perspectives on the Church of the Home,” 146; citing Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, and Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View (Belmont, MA: Norland, 1972), 61, and A. C. Calivas, “Marriage: The Sacrament of Love and Communion” in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 40 (Brookline, MA: Greek Orthodox Theological Institute Press, 1995), 257.