Home Altars


#1

Greetings!

I’m a candidate in RCIA, but am enamored of the traditional devotions that many contemporary Catholics seem to shy away from.

I’ve just learned of Catholic home altars, and would love to construct one in my own home. Having to Catholic family members (and very few Catholic, let alone traditional Catholic friends) I’m not certain exactly of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’…

  1. What should be included on a home altar?

  2. What should be the position of things with respect to all the other things? (eg. Should Marian icons be placed to the left/right above/below other icons? What about statues? Must there be a crucifix? etc)

  3. What about the position of the altar itself? Should it face liturgical east? In my apartment, the only wall that faces east is not a wall, but the front door! What should I do in such a case?

  4. What should the actual furniture itself be? Are there specific altars that one should buy, or would the average table (properly decorated of course) be OK?

  5. Is there a certain place in the home that an altar should ideally be placed? I’m a college student living in an apartment, so my only options are in my bedroom or in the hallway (no room in the living quarters). I’m leaning toward the hallway since I have guests over from time to time and I think the visual of the altar could serve well as an evangelizing tool at the same time (meaning the altar would be seen by my guests if in the hallway but not so if placed in my bedroom). Is this appropriate? Is the home altar considered such a private devotion that it should not be profaned by being used, secondarily of course, as an evangelizing tool?

  6. Are the rules concerning liturgical colors in force with respect to home altars (green, vs violet, vs white, etc)? If so, where could I purchase linens as such?

Thanks for everyone’s help.


#2

I am interested in seeing the responses to what different people do.

My suggestion is that you keep it simple and don’t worry so much about the details- in our house we have a small table in the living room with a 2-foot statue of Mary, a small crucifix, flowers, and a votive candle. The table has a small drawer where we keep rosaries, matches, etc.

Every person will have different things depending on their particular devotions (for example Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy, etc.), but having an image or statue of Jesus and Mary I find to be essential, and the votive candle is great mainly to get in a prayerful attitude.


#3
  1. What should be included on a home altar?

Your list of people you’re praying for, any prayer books you may want to keep there, candles, statues, flowers, missals, bibles, blessed salt, rosaries, holy water, incense, in short, anything sacred you’d like to keep there! I had one once that held a stereo below, and I played Gregorian Chant. If you have a Nativity set for Christmas, use the statues of the Holy Family on your altar all year long.

  1. What should be the position of things with respect to all the other things? (eg. Should Marian icons be placed to the left/right above/below other icons? What about statues? Must there be a crucifix? etc)

If you want to really know your stuff…Mary and Scripture should be placed on the left and others to the right. This stems from the imagry of having a crucifix against the wall, which puts Mary and Scripture to Christ’s right. I have never seen a home shrine that didn’t have a crucifix, unless it’s a Mary shrine but even then, there’s usually a crucifix somewhere.

  1. What about the position of the altar itself? Should it face liturgical east? In my apartment, the only wall that faces east is not a wall, but the front door! What should I do in such a case?

Put it wherever. East is nice, for the symbolism, but if you can’t, then it’s fine.

  1. What should the actual furniture itself be? Are there specific altars that one should buy, or would the average table (properly decorated of course) be OK?

I favor TV stands, to be honest. They have a nice flat top, storage below, and are just the right height for kneeling. A table, dresser, shelf, anything is fine however.

  1. Is there a certain place in the home that an altar should ideally be placed?

There are differing opinions. The center of the home, or a private room. My opinion is put it where it will be used. I don’t think you’re likely to pray in front of it if it’s in a hallway.

  1. Are the rules concerning liturgical colors in force with respect to home altars (green, vs violet, vs white, etc)? If so, where could I purchase linens as such?

I change the cloth and the candles to match the liturgical season, but that’s not necessary. I used to have only a plain white cloth with a handkerchief of the liturgical color over it. Just get scraps of fabric or handkerchiefs from a craft store.

I think you’ll find this site very interesting:
fisheaters.com/domesticchurch.html


#4

There are no hard and fast rules as to what to include, just whatever puts you in a prayerful mood.

Personally I am devoted to the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St Joseph, so I tend to focus on images of them.

A cross/crucifix/picture of the Crucifixion is a fantastic addition. Personally I don’t hold with it having to be a crucifix, especially if you have an image of Christ on the altar anyway.

Candles/votive lights are good, I sometimes burn incense during my prayer as well. You might like flowers if you’re a flower-type person (although they should be changed frequently if so). Any bibles/prayerbooks/rosaries you have should go on your home altar as well.

And you might like to consider a container of holy water to bless yourself with. You can either buy them from any Catholic book store or bring a clean de-labelled bottle or container of your own and fill it up from your local church - most churches have a tank somewhere around, labelled ‘Holy Water’, for people to take some home, or you can fill it up from the normal holy water fonts or baptismal font/pool.


#5

Search out threads on this forum as well as the Spirituality forum and there are some pictures for you to look over.


#6

On my home altar I have a statue of the Sacred Heart, St. Therese (my patron), and Our Lady of Lourdes. I also have holy cards in holders depending on what intention I’m praying for. I also have a photo of Pope Benedict, votive candles, my rosary, and above it I have a crucifix hanging plus a framed image of the sacred heart. I think that’s all I have…:smiley:


#7

Our home altar in an alcove in an upstairs bedroom. It is a small cabinet, and inside I keep my family bible. There is a lace scarf on it and a statue of the Sacred Heart and one of the Blessed Mother. Between them is a crucifix and in front of that is a votive candle. I also have a container for holy water and a friend was kind enough to make me a kneeler. On the opposite side of the room there is a comfortable chair and a lamp where I sit to read the bible.

I find, since setting up this place of peace, that my prayer life has improved and I spend much more time reading the bible and meditating than I had previously. This was accomplished as a result of trying to visit a Catholic Church in my town, to pray during the day (now that I’m retired) and always finding the doors locked. Why do some churches open their doors to the faithful and others lock them? :confused:


#8

tho people might use the term altar for a shrine or devotional prayer corner they have at home, this is not correct, as that word properly applies only to the altar of sacrifice and that can exist only in church and only be used when consecrated by the bishop for that purpose, offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.

What you are asking about is the worthy practice of establishing some kind of devotional space at home. This can be an actual shrine, that is, a place where you put a devotional image or statue in a place of reverence and devotion, or it can be the place where you pray, have your spiritual reading and other devotional aids. or both.

there are no liturgical regulations since this will not be used for liturgy, that is, for public prayer of the Church. Of course you can pray your Liturgy of the Hours there if you wish. You can also use colors of the liturgical season for table covering, candles etc.if you wish, but there is no rule. What works best for you will be anything that fosters your devotional life. What may actually be counterproductive is a multiplicity of images, candles, books etc. Less is more, so simple and restrained may work best.


#9

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.