House Churches:

Published on April 21, 2020

For most Catholics, the word church conjures up images of stained-glass windows, altars, stations of the cross, wooden pews and large buildings with architecture ranging from Gothic to more modern styles. Most of us link church with building, often giving a sense of stability to our faith, as well as a special space to worship God and to meet with other Church members. We easily take church buildings for granted. It is hard to imagine a community without at least one Catholic church. But early in the life of Catholicism, church buildings were not plentiful. Where did the earliest Christians gather before churches as we know them began to be built? “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46a). Chapter Two of Acts of the Apostles offers a brief yet curious insight into the lives of the earliest Christians—those who either knew Jesus personally or who were convinced by Peter’s preaching at Pentecost and afterwards. The verse quoted above suggests that the first Christians met in various homes to “break bread” (the oldest term for celebrating the Eucharist) and to deepen their faith. The New Testament provides several other references to house churches. These were evidently family homes where early believers would gather and ponder the life and message of Jesus and grow in their faith, supporting each other with prayer and Christian love. During the times of persecution for the first three hundred years of the Church’s history people continued to meet and pray in their homes. Only in the fourth century did the people of God begin to build Churches. During times of persecution in our own history, in the Penal days, people met in their homes or at Mass rocks, scattered where the persecutors wouldn’t find them. During these days we are returning to the house churches, as families can’t come to the Churches and find, once more, a time for prayer in a family setting. The children for First Communion are encouraged to create a ‘sacred space’, maybe with a holy picture or statue, the Bible, some holy water, a candle or whatever else helps to create an ambiance for prayer. Perhaps we begin to rediscover the gift of house churches these days.