Like most Catholic families, our Sunday routine is ordered around the parish Eucharistic liturgy. We rouse ourselves from our morning slumber, force the children into something resembling their Sunday best, fight with them over the need to wear shoes (the parents, as you imagine, are strongly pro-shoe), and wrangle them into the car. We bring along religiously-themed items for them to employ in a sanctified manner during Mass, realizing that such items will at some point be used as instruments of violence by the children.
What is most surprising about the interruption of this routine during the COVID-19 quarantine is how much we all miss it. The first Sunday spent in quarantine, we tuned into our parish’s Sunday Mass, only to see our son immediately become angry. He wanted to be there, and watching Father Bill on TV was no replacement. He expressed this not in words per se but in an hourlong temper tantrum. We learned our lesson. Replicating the precise Sunday routine in the O’Malley household in the time of COVID-19 is impossible.
So, what have we done? I’d like to propose three thoughts for cultivating a spirit of Eucharistic sacrifice on the Sabbath, especially for families with young children.
In our home, the TV is where the children tune in to such educational programming as Dinosaur Train and 1940s Mickey Mouse cartoons. Participating in the Mass on this television was impossible for our kids and ourselves alike.
For this reason, we needed to establish a space that was set apart. In our home office, we created a domestic altar of candles, a Book of the Gospels and iconography, including a crucifix we purchased years ago from San Clemente in Rome. This space, even when we’re tuning in to a livestream of the Mass on a large monitor, is the focal space of Eucharistic devotion.
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Before Mass, we play sacred music, marking it off from the typical music playing within the home. We light the candles. And we allow silence to descend on what is otherwise a typically noisy home. We get dressed in our Sunday best. For at least an hour, the home office is a space set apart.
Kids will be kids
Because we’re in our house, we also recognized that there is no way to force the children to remain in the office. It’s their home, and they’re likely to wander about. Stopping this wandering is detrimental to everyone’s sanity.
My wife has created an atrium in our family room inspired by the works used in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It includes spaces for prayer, peg-dolls of figures from the Scriptures set up around the cross, a child-sized altar with a wooden paten and chalice, and various sheets for coloring and drawing.
Now, not every family comes equipped with the number of religious artifacts that we possess. You could say, we’re a bit odd. But children don’t need much, and simply offering them a space apart, where they’re free to pray on their own and in their own way, is enough. Some religious materials, some sheets for coloring — this can be enough. But it must be theirs to hold, to contemplate, placed at their level for adoration.
On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, when the passage from the man born blind was read, our son spent much of the time coloring a sheet depicting the healing. Almost intuitively (and likely because of years of Eucharistic formation at our parish), he colored Jesus as infused with yellow gold and the man born blind in darkness. Although he did easily articulate why, our son was, in fact, contemplating the glorious sign from the Gospel of John in a way appropriate to him. And in his drawing, he contributed something for our entire family to contemplate.
Kids will be kids in such domestic worship. Don’t fight it, and instead learn from it. You might find yourself renewed in the process.
Longing for more, turning toward the Lord
Watching a parish Eucharist is not the same thing as being there. And that’s a good thing.
The sacraments of the Church recognize that we’re embodied, material creatures. Watching the Mass from home, we can still use our bodies. We can kneel during the consecration, we can stand for the proclamation of the Gospel. But we cannot eat and drink the body and blood of Our Lord; we cannot see the blazing gold of our parish church; we cannot see one another face to face.
There have been a lot of tears the past three Sundays on the part of the adults (and some from the children, for other reasons). We miss the Mass.
What we’re doing from home is not a replacement for the Eucharist. I don’t, for example, kneel before the television during the consecration. Instead, I kneel before the cross in our office. I listen to the words of the consecration, the silence of an otherwise noisy church, and gaze upon the crucifix of Our Lord. He is the one who will come again in glory.
Turning toward a crucifix allows me to remember to long for more. And that’s the kind of prayer that is infusing our home throughout the day. Sometimes, we invite our young children in if they’re willing. But, our entire home during the quarantine is infused with this spirit of the Sabbath. I’m praying the Rosary a bit more, doing morning and evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours like a monk, kneeling and lying prostrate before that crucifix.
We’re learning to long once more for God. Our domestic ritual, of course, is very real. It is a communion of a sort. But it is also forming us to long for more.
This longing, of course, is something that is good for us to cultivate. Many people right now long for the presence of God. There are those in the hospital who are afraid of dying alone. We can’t visit our elderly in nursing care right now. We’re apart from our families; we’re afraid of losing our jobs; we’re afraid of dying. Longing for more is the spirit of our age right now.
Whatever we’re doing won’t replace Sunday Mass. And we’re OK with that. We’re OK with its inadequacy.
Someday, we’ll be back in our parish, joining our voices with the choir of angels in the assembly of believers.
For now, we sing our songs of lament and praise in Granger, Indiana, the four of us clad in our Sunday best (minus shoes), the 2-year-old interrupting the homily with an impromptu playing of an avant-garde piece on the piano.
I guess this is family Mass in the time of the quarantine. And we’re hoping that the desire to praise God is enough. At least for now.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.