In a homily delivered at Chartres on Pentecost Monday in 2015, His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider offered to the pilgrims gathered there both an analysis of the most pressing challenge facing the Church today as well a strategy for meeting and, with the grace of God, mastering that challenge:
“In our time, the natural family and the Christian family have become the principal object of attack for the destruction of the civilized world by the neo-Marxist gender ideology. Paradoxically, we are living in the age of the family precisely because it is under attack. It is today that the family is called to witness to the Divine beauty of its essence and of its vocation.”
Bishop Schneider spoke at length on the vocation of the Catholic family and the importance of establishing what he repeatedly referred to as the “domestic church” – a notion which, despite having deep roots in Catholic patrimony, only became part of the Church’s active vocabulary after the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, where it is used to describe the family as the human context in which we first encounter the Catholic Faith. As his own family was among those which endured intense persecution in the rabidly anti-Catholic Soviet Union, Bishop Schneider is eminently qualified to speak on the subject of the domestic church. As he relates in his book Dominus Est, it was largely due to the existence of an underground network of families – particularly their courageous mothers – that the Faith survived the murderous oppression of those dark times. Viewed within the context of his personal experience, the urgency of Bishop Schneider’s message becomes clear: in order to survive the next major wave of persecution, the Church must prioritize the establishment of domestic churches.
What, then, is a domestic church? And how is one established? To answer these important questions, it is helpful to review three vital components of the domestic church: the sacramental marriage, the blessed home, and the consecrated family.
The perfected end of Catholic marriage is not merely the begetting of children, but rather the rearing of children to the glory of God, a process referred to by St. Augustine as “regeneration.” This both contrasts with and completes the simple “generation” of offspring desired by pagans, for the Catholic marriage does not aim to merely propagate the human race and raise up heirs according to the flesh, but rather to raise up sons and daughters to the Living God according to the spirit. This is one of the deeper – and often overlooked – significations of Our Lord’s elevation of marriage to the status of a Sacrament: through natural marriage, we add people to the kingdoms of men; through sacramental marriage, we participate in the adding of souls to the Kingdom of God.
Similarly, the Catholic home is not merely a material domicile, i.e. a place to eat and sleep and attend to the other needs of the body. In truth, the physical building in which we reside is little more than a storehouse “where rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal.” The Catholic home, on the other hand, is a dwelling place of God’s children, the interactions of whom are governed not by the laws of men, but by the law of God’s love observed in faith, hope and charity. It is a place of spiritual solace, a refuge from the attacks of the world, freed from the corruptive influence of irreligious newspapers and books, bad radio and worse television programming and the unregulated use of that paragon of temptation to immorality, the Internet. A powerful expression of the spiritual dimension of the Catholic home is the beautiful practice of the annual Epiphany blessing: as the presence of the Holy Family transformed a poor stable into a temple of God where the Magi knelt in humble obeisance, so does the blessing of Christ elevate our modest house to a true home fit for the rearing of children to God.
The Sacrament of Marriage and the blessing of the home serve as essential prerequisites to the third and crowning component of thedomestic church: the family consecration. While the life of the Catholic family as such is blessed with sufficient grace through the aforementioned means – in addition, of course, to regular Confession and the frequent reception of the Eucharist – family consecration takes the spiritual life of the family members to the next level, as it were, as it unites them as a family to a specific devotion. Similar to the way in which a shrine is a focal point of public devotion, consecration gives the family a spiritual “center” for the kind of devotional practices unique to the family, i.e. practices which are both private and communal in nature. Further, the practice of a family devotion grants a wealth of additional graces, such as the gaining of partial and plenary indulgences on feast days and memorials, which would otherwise be difficult to obtain as private individuals. Armed with these additional graces, the consecrated Catholic family is a spiritual force to be reckoned with, a veritable battalion of the Church Militant.
Taken together, these three – the sacramental marriage, the blessed home and the consecrated family – can be seen as representing the foundation of the domestic church. However, while the first two are still relatively common today, the third has fallen into virtual oblivion in the post-Conciliar era. As the flourishing of the domestic church is directly correlated to the flourishing of religious vocations, the family represents an obvious target for those seeking to destroy the Church. Deprived of the additional graces of consecration and confronted with the confusing counsel of a diabolically disoriented clergy, Catholic families today find it increasingly difficult to remain true to their marriage vows and to fulfill their solemn obligations in regards to their children. A crucial measure, therefore, in fortifying Catholic families against the attacks to which they are currently being subjected is the establishment of domestic churches through a renewed understanding of the importance of the family consecration.
While there are several devotional traditions which include acts of family consecration, there is one which towers above all the others: the family consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Not only was this form of consecration requested by Our Lord through an inspiration received by its first promoter, Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey, but it further received the explicit and ardent support of several popes of felicitous memory, including Popes St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI and Pius XII. The devotion to the Sacred Heart in general, and the family consecration to the same in particular, has been lauded as the devotion par excellence for restoring and defending the piety of the Catholic family, and, next to the recitation of the Holy Rosary, no other devotion has been granted so many easily obtainable indulgences.
The consecration of the family to the Sacred Heart is properly part of a more comprehensive ceremony known as the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Home. This ceremony, though only celebrated since its institution a little over a century ago, was quickly recognized as the weapon of choice in combating the wicked forces arrayed against the Catholic family. In his 1915 letter of approbation to Fr. Crawley-Boevey for his work of promoting the Enthronement, Pope Benedict XV provides both his emphatic approval of the Enthronement ceremony as well as a sobering depiction of the evils it was instituted by Heaven to check – which are, unsurprisingly, the very evils running rampant today:
“Nothing […] is more suitable to the needs of the present day than your enterprise. To pervert, both in private and in public life, the concept of morality engendered and fostered by the Church, and, after having almost effaced the last vestige of Christian wisdom and decency, to lead human society back to the miserable institutions of paganism: such is the plan which too many are trying to realize today. Would that their efforts were fruitless! Moreover, the malicious efforts of the wicked are primarily directed against the family, for, containing within itself as it does the principles and, as it were, the germ of all human society, they clearly see that the change, or rather the corruption, which they are trying to bring about in human society will necessarily follow once the corruption of the family itself has been accomplished. Hence, divorce laws are introduced to put an end to the stability of marriage; children are forced to follow an official teaching for the most part estranged from religion, thus eliminating the authority of parents in a matter of the highest importance; moreover, countenance is given to the spread of a shameful course of selfish indulgence which contravenes the laws of nature, and, striking a blow at the human race at its very source, stains the sanctity of marriage with impure practices. You do well, then, dear son, while taking up the cause of human society, to arouse and propagate above all things a Christian spirit in the home by setting up in each family the reign of the love of Jesus Christ. And in doing this, you are but obeying our Divine Lord Himself, who promised to shower His blessings upon the homes wherein an image of His Heart should be exposed and devoutly honored.”
The Enthronement ceremony itself consists of the blessing of an image or statue of the Sacred Heart, the Consecration of the Family, and the act of Enthronement, at which time the blessed image or statue is installed in a place of honor in the home, referred to as the ‘throne’. Since 1942, it has been customary to combine this with the Consecration of the Family to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a special blessing of the children, if present, as well as a prayer for the peaceful rest of any family members who have passed on to their eternal reward. The Enthronement ceremony is properly concluded with a communal prayer of thanksgiving, the Salve Regina and a short litany. It is best if the ceremony is conducted on a day of special significance, such as the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Feast of Christ the King, or a wedding anniversary, as the communal commemoration of the day of Enthronement helps to keep the flame of devotion burning brightly through the many trials faced by the family. Pope Pius XII, in his many addresses to newlyweds, was fond of recommending the Enthronement ceremony as one of the first acts to be undertaken in the Catholic home, ensuring that each new family was under the protective graces of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart:
“Therefore, dear newlyweds, the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – the Heart that so loved mankind – must be installed and adored in your homes as would the image of a closest and most beloved relative. This image will pour forth the fullness of His blessing upon you and your children. Installed means that this image should not be made to watch over your rest in a quiet room, but must rather reside in a true place of honor, such as above the entrance to the dining room or in some other place where there is much going in and out. As Our Lord says, ‘Everyone, therefore, that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.’ Adored means that, from time to time, a loving hand should place a few flowers, light a candle, or keep a lamp burning before the costly statue or simple image of the Most Sacred Heart as a continual sign of faith and love. Further, it means that the family should gather around this image every evening to adore it together and to pray for a renewal of its blessing. In a word, the house wherein the Most Sacred Heart is properly adored is that in which it is recognized by all as the King of Love.”
In a radio address delivered at the conclusion of the 1945 Sacred Heart Congress in France, during which 300 fathers consecrated themselves to the Most Sacred Heart with the intent of undertaking the Enthronement ceremony in their own homes, Pope Pius XII explained the relationship between the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart and the Kingship of Christ:
“Your house, thus blessed, shall attain henceforth its proper end as a sanctified home, and may contain nothing which could offend the Eyes, the Ears or the Heart of Jesus. There, He is King, and He must receive, in your loyalty to Him, an uninterrupted tribute of reverence, respect and love. As the Supreme Lord of your home, He is interiorly connected with all of its life, and there may be in it no suffering, no joy, no fear and no hope in which you do not allow Him to participate. This is the meaning of the Kingship of Christ: all is sanctified.”
The excellence of the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a means for the establishment of the domestic church thus becomes readily apparent. The Enthronement, ideally the first act undertaken by the newlywed husband and wife, is the formal recognition of Christ as King over both their sacramental union and their blessed home, transforming it quite literally into a part of the Kingdom of God. When entering into such a home, it is customary to make the Sign of the Cross with holy water kept near the entrance to both symbolically wash away the contamination of the outside world and to remind oneself of that whereby one has been given access to God’s Kingdom: the Sacrament of Baptism. Crossing the threshold and looking toward the image of the Most Sacred Heart seated upon the throne, one is reminded that the world of men has been left behind; here, Christ is Lord and King.
Through the Enthronement ceremony, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pulsing with the life of God and nurturing each family member with a superabundance of graces, becomes the spiritual heart of the Catholic home. The image of the Sacred Heart upon the throne, the focal point of family prayer and devotion, serves as the altar, as it were, of the domestic church. Thus established, the domestic church is more than simply a place of respite from the continual attacks of the world; it is a house of God, an embassy of Christ, a forward base of operations for the Church Militant. Indeed, there is little on earth that the Enemy hates more than a domestic church wherein the Sacred Heart of Jesus reigns supreme.
The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Home can be performed by any Catholic priest, though the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) have taken up the propagation of the ceremony with renewed vigor, and are eager to see families avail themselves to the many graces which flow from it. More information and material related to the Enthronement ceremony can be obtained from the following websites:
- What is the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the Home?
- Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Home
- The Value of Enthronement to the Sacred Heart
Originally published on June 3, 2015.
Matthew Karmel is the nom de plume of a teacher, freelance writer and translator living in Zurich, Switzerland with his wife and four children. A lifelong Catholic, he is also the author of the blog The Radical Catholic.