On March 10, 2020, the state of Michigan, where I reside, recorded its first positive case of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. Within days, the seven dioceses across the state all decided to close Mass to the public in an effort to help slow the spread of the disease and help the civil and medical authorities respond to the health crisis. But Michigan wasn’t alone as the entire country soon understood the gravity of the situation. Immediately, parishes and dioceses across the U.S. began a major outreach to move local celebrations of the Mass to online streaming services. Resources were posted on social media and websites encouraged individuals and families to follow along at home and gave instructions on how best to bring the “Sunday Experience” into the living room.
My own family was featured in a diocesan video with our three small children on April 8. The video voiceover of my wife and I described our two- and four-year-old setting out icons, crucifixes, and candles alongside the iPad. What the video left out were the screams, jumping on the couch, and running through the living room while the livestream played—not to mention the poor behavior of our children. Continually, my wife and I left these livestreamed Masses feeling unfulfilled and uneasy. We wanted to be at the sacred liturgy, but we couldn’t shake the fact that we had merely been trying to simulate the Mass in our home. We weren’t participating in the Mass: we were watching other people participate in the Mass. Four weeks into “attending Mass” in our living room, my wife and I had a serious talk about how we were going to continue to honor the Lord’s Day.
The Pattern of the Church’s Prayer
Romano Guardini opens his 1918 classic, The Spirit of the Liturgy, with a reflection on the nature of prayer in the liturgy. He begins this reflection by first establishing the difference between the characteristics of liturgical prayer and devotional prayer: “The primary and exclusive aim of the liturgy is not the expression of the individual’s reverence and worship for God. It is not even concerned with the awakening, formation, and sanctification of the individual soul as such. Nor does the onus of liturgical prayer rest with the individual.” He goes on to explain, “The liturgical entity consists rather of the united body of the faithful as such—the Church—a body which infinitely outnumbers the mere congregation.” He concludes by saying, “The liturgy is the Church’s public and lawful act of worship…. God is to be honored by the body of the faithful, and the latter is in its turn to derive sanctification from this act of worship.”
Guardini then goes on to explain the nature of devotional prayer. He begins, “Now, side by side with the strictly ritual and entirely objective forms of devotion, others exist, in which the personal element is more strongly marked…. [T]hey bear the stamp of their time and surroundings, and are the direct expression of the characteristic quality or temper of an individual congregation.” Guardini notes that, while popular devotions may be similar to the liturgy in their communal and more objective nature, they more properly express the individual piety of the local community and therefore greater stress is placed on popular devotion for the “individual need of edification.”
These two forms of prayer—the objective/liturgical and the subjective/devotional—each play a foundational role in the life of prayer and should exist side by side, since the human person has a dual nature that is at once both social and individual, objective and subjective. “The changing demands of time, place, and special circumstance can express themselves in popular devotion; facing the latter stands the liturgy, from which clearly issue the fundamental laws—eternally and universally unchanging—which govern all genuine and healthy piety.” These two forms of prayer, Guardini notes, mutually enrich each other and great care should be taken that they do not lose their particular forms for the sake of the other. “There could be no greater mistake than that of discarding the valuable elements in the spiritual life of the people for the sake of the liturgy, or than the desire of assimilating them to it.” Each must be respected for what it is, Guardini concludes, so that the totality of human piety may be expressed; the objective by liturgical prayer and the subjective by devotional prayer.
This notion is not merely the opinion of one theologian writing a hundred years ago, however. In the document Sacrosanctum Concilium we have described this dual nature of prayer when the Council explained that “[t]he spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father, in secret…. Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church.”
This understanding of differing forms of prayer and their role was operative in the document Liturgiam Authenticam which lays down the principles of translating liturgical texts: “Even if expressions should be avoided which hinder comprehension because of their excessively unusual or awkward nature, the liturgical texts should be considered as the voice of the Church at prayer, rather than of only particular congregations or individuals; thus, they should be free of an overly servile adherence to prevailing modes of expression. If indeed, in the liturgical texts, words or expressions are sometimes employed which differ somewhat from usual and everyday speech, it is often enough by virtue of this very fact that the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing heavenly realities” [emphasis added].
Here again, we see applied the concept that the body at prayer in a liturgical assembly transcends the particular congregation or individual. Rather, it is the whole Church which assembles, even to the extent that it includes those members of the Church which may no longer have earthly life. Liturgiam Authenticam argues that even sacrificing language that is immediately familiar and perceptible in favor of language which is more opaque to the specific congregation can be considered a good because it expands that congregation into the larger worshiping Church. This principle expresses the nature of the liturgy and the language it employs when worshiping God in a liturgical way. The very style of the vocabulary reveals the transcendent nature of who the worshiping assembly is.
A Lost Distinction
From October to November of 1983, the University of Notre Dame conducted a study of parish life as it stood 18 years after the Second Vatican Council. The study sampled 1,850 parishes and covered a multitude of aspects regarding the late 20th-century parish, including the identification, family and ethnicity, activity level, etc. of membership. It covered leadership, both lay and clerical, liturgy and spirituality, the fostering of community, religious education, and finances. It is still a useful study because it gives us a glimpse into the direction of the parish in the first generation after the Council.
The study describes the character of 19th- and early 20th-century parishes as strongly devotional, with ethnic parishes providing specific flavors of Catholic devotional practice. The study describes a strong culture of novenas, parish missions, statues of patron saints and feasts. Yet, when discussing the patterns of piety in the late 20th century, it had this to say: “What Flannery O’Connor called the ‘novena-rosary’ style of religion has undergone a dramatic decline. Gone is the elaborate network of devotional Catholicism with its statues, medals, scapulars, novenas, and parish revivals.”
If what the study describes is true, what meets the subjective-devotional need of the human person discussed above? If the person, who is a combination of objective/subjective and liturgical/devotional, once had prayer forms that met and enabled particular communities and individuals to express their piety to God in a well-rounded way, then what are the implications of such a wide-ranging abandonment of devotional prayer today?
This need for subjective expressions of piety required an outlet, and as the Mass was now practically the only avenue of devotional prayer, that need was then imposed on the sacred liturgy. The study noticed this phenomenon as well when it described the already-changing liturgy: “Undoubtedly the most visible indicator of this change in Catholics’ devotional or spiritual lives is the variety of Sunday liturgies or Masses in the parish…. Today within the same parish community, a visitor can observe quite different styles of liturgies that are indicative of very diverse patterns of piety. The 8:00 Mass is often strikingly different from the 10:30 Mass. It is almost as though there are different congregations within the same parish.” 
Today within the same parish community, a visitor can observe quite different styles of liturgies that are indicative of very diverse patterns of piety. The 8:00 Mass is often strikingly different from the 10:30 Mass. It is almost as though there are different congregations within the same parish.
Again, the study describes what most of us witness weekly at our own parishes. One Mass is for the group that likes contemporary music, one is for the crowd that prefers traditional hymnody, and then there is the third group, the quick Mass, which seems to be designed to get everyone in and out as swiftly as possible. If the nature of the liturgy, as objective/universal, is meant to draw a particular congregation beyond the confines of its specific time and space to include and unite with the whole Church, the new ways in which the Mass is prayed in our parishes labors to include and unite even the other members of that particular parish. There exists, then, a double loss: the abandonment of one form of prayer, the devotional, has brought about the further loss of the liturgical as the people of God experience it. Of course, the objective/universal pattern of the Mass remains the same, but the fruit of expression by those participating in it, is negatively affected.
Home Restoration Project
And this deconstruction of both liturgical and devotional life is where I believe Covid-19 provides an opportunity. On the one hand, having Masses suspended for several weeks or months requires a plan to “bring back” the liturgy whether during or after the pandemic. This gives parishes a chance to reconsider how exactly the sacred liturgy is being celebrated and how to best cultivate the fruit of objective worship in their congregations. On the other hand, the shutdown is providing parishes the chance to do an examen-like review of everything in the parish, and this process affords the opportunity to reintroduce a deeper and more wide-ranging devotional practice in the parish life. With the nature of devotional prayer being specific to time and place, one need not simply resurrect devotions from the past, but instead creatively explore the ways in which the particular people of a particular parish will best express their piety in 21st-century America.
The shutdown is providing parishes the chance to do an examen-like review of everything in the parish, and this process affords the opportunity to reintroduce a deeper and more wide-ranging devotional practice in the parish life.Richard Budd
The family, as the ecclesia domestica, has an important role to play in any possible renewal. In his 1981 document, Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II said, “[b]y reason of their dignity and mission, Christian parents have the specific responsibility of educating their children in prayer, introducing them to gradual discovery of the mystery of God and to personal dialogue with Him.” He goes on to say that this education is the result of praying with children as well as the witness of our own lives and the role our prayer takes in responding to various moments.
In reflecting on the Second Vatican Council’s definition of the family as the domestic church, Pope Paul VI taught that “there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church.” Therefore, if there are two patterns of prayer in the Church, liturgical and devotional, there should analogously be found in the family both “domestic liturgy” and “domestic devotions” that answer the call of John Paul II for education in the discovery of the mystery of God and the personal dialogue with him. Formally, this call should consist of a “Domestic Liturgy” and “Domestic Devotions.”
Domestic Liturgy will be those prayers which have a more universal character to them: they are prayed with a standard form, at a standard time, and in a standard manner. All the members know what to pray, when to pray, and how to pray. All are expected to participate. Examples of these are morning and evening prayers or prayers before meals. Even a prayer rightly thought of as devotional, such as the family rosary, can be instructive of this more universal character of prayer. These “liturgies” can also include the ways the family brings the liturgical year into the home through the celebrations of the seasons or the various solemnities and feasts of the year. At its fullest, it will include praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the home as is recommended for families by the Church.
Domestic Devotions will be instructive of the particular need to express one’s piety to the Lord. Families should promote, cultivate, and defend the prayers of individuals to unite with the “Father who sees in secret.” As John Paul II indicated, instructing on this aspect of prayer will begin with the witness of parents’ own lives, taking time away to spend with the Lord. As children grow, parents can encourage their children to develop their individual piety through such practices as devotion to saints, time spent in Eucharistic adoration, or the reading of scripture. Finally, its expression will reach maturity when the members of the family can spontaneously pray and express their heart and desires in petition or praise for themselves or on behalf of another in the family. It is particularly beneficial for spouses to pray with and for the other, from the heart, expressing the personal character of their prayer to God.
What is of ultimate importance for the education in this liturgical/devotional schema is that the family develops a common prayer life which is universal and more objective in character that will train for the universal character of the liturgy, and that they develop a culture of subjective, individual prayer which will find full expression in the popular devotions of the individual community of the particular time and place in which they live.
The family can better contribute to recovering this vision in our parishes in two ways which are natural to the domestic church. The first way is the cultivation of this pattern of prayer within their own homes and the second will be to act as catalysts in their community by inviting other families into their prayer and promoting prayer between families in common expressions of faith and devotion. This is precisely the model Pope Paul VI envisioned when he spoke about the evangelized family becoming the “evangelizer of many other families.” Then, with the parish being, in the words of Pope Francis, a “family of families,” the larger ecclesial community will benefit from the recovered balance between liturgical prayer and devotional prayer. Liturgical prayer will then not need to bear the burden of both objective and subjective prayer. It can return to its role of being the objective worship of the whole of the Church.
This is the proper exercise of priestly ministry in the family. With the education of life as one of its central tasks, the family not only is suited to educate in prayer, but also to order its life around this dual nature of prayer. The family’s place in renewal is central, then, because through their interactions with other families, the wider community will encounter a fuller expression of prayer and be educated by this more complete worship of God.
Ultimately, my wife and I decided to stop watching livestreamed Masses. We found the experience wasn’t beneficial to our family and in trying to maintain this semblance of normality we were actually limiting our opportunities to enter more fully into prayer. We were trying to defy our circumstances, to a degree, and engage in the objective worship of the Church when it was literally impossible because we were not present. We were trying to make our devotional prayer liturgical, the opposite problem of liturgies being overly devotional.
We were trying to make our devotional prayer liturgical, the opposite problem of liturgies being overly devotional.Richard Budd
Instead, we decided to fulfill our Sunday obligation to worship through lectio divina with the family, which, with our small children, was more open to “audience participation” than watching Mass on TV! We also made the commitment to begin praying a few hours of the Divine Office every day. Here was our access to the liturgical worship of the whole Church which we could participate in from home. This practice has provided us exactly the benefit that liturgical prayer promises: a structure, a skeleton, of objective, common prayer by which the rest of our day of domestic devotions is supported.
This is the contribution the domestic church can offer the parish church in recovering what she professes about the liturgy. Communities of families, recovering the order of prayer, owning and promoting the beauty of the devotional life and promoting it with their friends, may, with God’s grace, cultivate a more complete culture of worship and in so doing, truly satisfying the longing of human hearts.
 Romano Guardini, Spirit of the Liturgy (Chestnut Ridge, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998), 19.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 20.
 Sacrosanctum Concilium, 12-13.
 Liturgiam Authenticam, 27.
 The Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life, Report no. 2 (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame Publishing Company, 1981), p. 8.
 See Pope John Paul II, Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 11.
 The Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life, Report no. 2, p. 8.
 Familiaris Consortio, no. 60.
 Evangelii Nuntiandi, 71.
 Amoris Laetitia, 87.