Home Alone Catholics Need Home Altars
Home altars are vitally important to the spiritual health of our family. When we gather together as a family at the home altar, we show God that we are willing to be present in public worship, to offer prayers to God in communion with each other. This post is as much a reminder of that for myself as it is for those who may be reading this.
Many try to answer to the crisis in the Church–and anyone who is sufficiently catechized is well aware of the nature of the crisis–by offering solutions that don’t work and aren’t Catholic. Over at TheThinkingHouseWife, Laura Wood said it well when she said, “This is all the inevitable unfolding of the principles of Vatican II and of a false hierarchy, which has abdicated its authority. The only answer is to pray at home, availing ourselves of Spiritual Communion and Acts of Perfect Contrition, — avoiding the false solutions of Traditionalists who set up chapels without any authority and the blatant schisms and heresies of “Orthodoxy” or Protestant sects.”
We can’t be Sedevacantist chapel goers, offering prayers to God through illicit clergy. That won’t do. And it goes without saying we can’t go to Orthodox chapels unless we fancy being schismatics. And Protestantism is enticing to those who think Christian worship can be reduced to pop melodies and sugary-sweet lyrics about God, but for people who think that divine things are somehow sacred, that won’t do either.
What is needed, then, is a space and place to offer to God public acts of worship even if that is done in private. The answer, of course, is a home altar. Here we can offer to God our thanks for His daily blessings, as well as offer our tears and petitions, and, above all, we can offer praise and worship through St. John’s Mass (links are not endorsements!) and the Holy Rosary.
I said that this post was as much a reminder for me as it was information for you. You see, I have been neglecting my public prayer with my family ever since I started working. I really commend those working men who can be the spiritual leaders of their families as well as the breadwinners. It is a difficult juggling act. The cares of the world pull on a man’s mind away from the spiritual necessaries by the demand of the physical necessaries. That is why a home altar is so important.
Our home altar (featured above) is placed in the middle of our home really. It isn’t tucked away in some corner of the house, which would be ideal for contemplative prayer and devotion to be sure. Our altar is front and center, and harkens to us to come there and offer prayer throughout the day. The Angelus is a good prayer practice to get into, because it is traditionally said three times a day.
We pray the Mass of St. John, which is really just the offertory and spiritual communion, on Sundays as a family. And we pray the Rosary on Sunday as well. We used to pray the Rosary every day, and do so always at the altar, but it has become increasingly more difficult to pray the Rosary daily since our cares, worries, and work have increased–we as a family we tend more toward Martha than Mary:
“Or by Mary who sat and heard our Lord’s words, is signified the contemplative life; by Martha engaged in more outward services, the active life. Now Martha’s care is not blamed, but Mary is praised, for great are the rewards of an active life, but those of a contemplative are far better. Hence Mary’s part it is said will never be taken away from her, for the works of an active life pass away with the body, but the joys of the contemplative life rather begin to increase from the end,” (St. Gregory).
How to Furnish Your Home Altar
Whether we are called to the active or the contemplative life, however, we all need a home altar as Home Alone Catholics. The number one most important thing that we can furnish our home altars with is devotion. The second is candles–you simply cannot have a Catholic altar without candles. Wax candles get expensive, so think about investing in electric candles. Your kids will love changing out the dim ones for bright ones every evening–you have to do it during the evening because that way the light is fresh and bright all through the night for anyone who may want to sneak over to the altar for a midnight votive offering.
In addition to devotion and a good set of electric candles, or wax candles if you have the cash, is a bell and incense. “The devil hates everything beautiful and the bells are specifically used to draw attention to the divine worship of God,” (An Exorcist Explains Why the Devil hates Bells So Much). There is something enchanting about the sound of a bell ringing over the crying of an infant or the washing of dishes in the sink. Get a good bell, one which has a silvery smooth ring to it. Ours is a cheap one, but it has a solid ring to it which can be heard throughout our home, even through doors and the noise of rambunctious children.
I do not know much about incense other than that I use frankincense and myrrh and charcoal and a brass censer. I do not know why, for instance, incense tends to transport my soul from time and place into the Holy of Holies like a wormhole or something. But it does. If you have never prayed with incense at home, do. It will change everything.
The altar itself can be something actually like an altar or just a table. Children will appreciate an altar that is shorter as will short adults, so think about that when picking out the best piece of furniture to offer your daily prayers at, preferably while kneeling–because that is what Catholics do.
To keep your altar fresh and inviting and decorative throughout the year, consider alternating between the seasons on each Ember Day. We have pumpkins, leaves, and autumn decor in our baskets right now. The kids love to arrange them. Our winter baskets are especially splendid and charming. The baskets beautify the altar but they also allow the contemplative soul to ponder the meaning of pumpkins, and other fruits of the Earth, while praying: “If you do not think it extraordinary that a pumpkin is always a pumpkin, think again. You have not yet even begun philosophy,” (Miracles and Modern Civilisation).
And one more thing: don’t forget the Crucifix.
I hope I have made it sufficiently plain (if to no one else then at least to myself) why home altars are indispensable to Home Alone Catholics today and how fun they can be. Please share your own ideas of your home altar in the comments section.