The Powerful Light of the Family Table: A Place of Belonging and a Sign of the Domestic Church

The Powerful Light of the Family Table: A Place of Belonging and a Sign of the Domestic Church

The Powerful Light of the Family Table: A Place of Belonging and a Sign of the Domestic Church

I grew up with an old saying: “The family that prays together stays together.” And that’s a maxim that I believe in and it’s something my husband Bob and I tried to encourage in every stage of our parenting life. For us, as Catholics, that translated into Sunday Mass, grace at meals, prayers before bedtime, and spontaneous prayers during the day. Not to mention devotions outside of that, like the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or observances in keeping with the Liturgical Year.

Yet, equally important was the family dinner table. Dinner has always been a point of connection, of conversation, of visiting with one another, checking in and talking about the highs and lows of the day. Often what was on the menu was never as important as what was shared around the table. What a gift it is to have someone care enough about you to ask, “How was your day?”  It’s such a simple notion of belonging, but it builds connections and grounds intimacy. And now that Bob and I are quasi-empty nesters, and the daily table is smaller, we still need to offer that gift to one another, and find ways to invite others to join us.

Recently, The Onion posted a social commentary that I feel was right on the mark called, “Lonely Nation Gathers Outside Window of Happy Family Eating Dinner Together.” It was a touching spoof  but I found it achingly painful to think that so many people have gone without this humble social connection, this domesticity, this rootedness. The light from within the home shined out of the windows illuminating the crowd gathered outside in the dark to observe the dinner hour.

There is a small little ritual at our home table for dinner. The person who usually sets the table lights a candle. This is not to dim the lights or to be romantic. It is to remind us of the Light of Christ — as in Jesus is the unseen guest, the One who is present with us. He sees us, hears us, is with us. There is a sanctuary light always on in a Catholic church to remind visitors there of the Holy Guest — Jesus — in the tabernacle. We light our little candle on our table in all seasons to be mindful that He is ever-present.

When each of my children left for college, I told them we would remember them around this table every night… we would see them in this light. For, thanks to the Body of Christ, they are with us, even still. This little candle reminds my mother’s heart that there is a connection, unseen and unheard, and Someone’s eyes and ears are present to my children wherever they are in the world. I feel the same way about our parents, siblings, relatives, and loved ones near and far. They are with us in Christ.

In a larger way, the importance of the Christ connection in our Church is what can and should draw us to Mass on Sundays. The table is set, the candles lit, and the meal is prepared. It’s something we need and truly long for, even when we have to fight the calendar and the current cultural norms to commit to it. At Mass we listen and we converse with Jesus. We tell him about our day, our week, and what’s on our mind and heart. He is present to us, truly present in the Word and in the Eucharist, and He keeps us close at heart after we depart.

I’ve just learned that Pope Francis is calling for a Synod on families. Speculations are varied as to the themes of marriage and family, of divorce and remarriage, that may be discussed there in October 2014. With this announcement, as with The Onion’s “news”, I heard a call for every Catholic home to deepen the bonds of its domestic church, or to begin anew, to organize itself around the table more. This, truly, is one way we can evangelize and spread the good news to one another, in the simple call to be in relationship around the table. On the global scale, I’m glad the Universal Church will be taking up the bigger questions that affect the family. Many of our sisters and brothers are missing at our Sunday table at Mass. Our family that is the Church needs to do more to invite them inside.

Let us pray for how we ought to respond in our homes and in our churches…

How do you share the light of faith around your table?

Copyright 2013 Pat Gohn


About Author

Pat Gohn is a married "empty-nester" with three adult children and one grandchild. By day she is the editor of Catechist magazine. And by night the host of the Among Women Podcast. Her books include the award-winning Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, and All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. Visit


  1. What a beautiful family custom! I have been discouraged recently by the lack of people at my family table–1 kid in college, 1 kid working an after-school job, and my husband with extra-long hours at work more often than not. That leaves me and the middle-schooler in an almost-daily battle because I insist that he eat dinner at the table with me rather than in the family room with SportsCenter.
    Family dinner has always been important to me and I need to pray about how I can adjust this to our current circumstances.

  2. What a beautiful post. I have been a stickler for having everyone sit down as a family every night for dinner. If it’s a soccer or orchestra night, dinner may be as early as 5pm but we all must eat together even if the others have no commitments. We always eat together and not one bite allowed until we have held hands around the table and said grace. When the kids were small, my husband was rarely home for dinner (still not). It was hard for them to reach across the table to form a circle of hands. To solve the problem, I made “helping hands” – an arm made from cardboard with foam hands at each end to complete the circle at my husband’s place. Now that the boys are teenagers, we longer need the “helping hands” to reach across the table. I keep it in the china closet drawer as a reminder of our core value of forming a prayer circle before each meal.

  3. Leslie Lenko on

    This is truly a beautiful article. I really liked the idea of praying around the table for adult children in college, etc. So many families have high school and college age children that will rarely be at the dinner table. The family gathered in part or in whole around the dinner table in prayer for each other is a beautiful thing! Thank you for your inspiration! Leslie Lenko

  4. Pingback: The powerful light of the family table — a place of belonging and the sign of the domestic church

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