The term “home altar” may sound intimidating, but it is really nothing more than a dedicated prayer space for your home. It might be a corner of the room or a corner of your desk. Also known as a little oratory, the home altar is an old Catholic tradition that has become increasingly popular in recent times.
Why you need a home altar
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are still unable to attend Mass, and the subsequent loss of the Eucharist has left a Christ-sized hole in our hearts. On top of this, we are spending more hours in our houses than ever. What better time to bring a small piece of the Church into our home?
As Catholics, we are called to imitate the Church in our everyday lives. One of the ways we can do this is to reflect the Church in the design of our homes. A home altar is a physical space that can help remind us of the Church and ease our longing for God.
10 Ideas for your own home altar
There is no strict formula for setting up a home altar. The most important thing is to design a space that fosters prayer and reminds you of God’s presence whenever you pass it. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. A flat surface
Having a flat surface to place your altar on is kind of a no brainer, but you don’t have to wait around for the perfect piece of furniture to get started. Your home altar can be set up on literally anything: an old side table or entertainment center, a mantle, a small desk, a sturdy shelf, even a countertop or the end of your dining room table will do. If you don’t have anything on hand, keep an eye on Craigslist (be careful!) or Facebook Marketplace. You might even score something perfect for free.
Having a table cloth for your altar isn’t necessary, but it can help to bring the atmosphere of the Church into your home. If you want to go the extra mile, try coordinating the colors of your linens with the liturgical season. This will provide you with a subtle reminder of the rhythms and seasons of the Church.
Candles are often used for prayer. In Catholic tradition, the light of the flame reminds us of Christ, while the smoke symbolizes our prayers rising to God. Including a candle on your altar can help focus your prayer and serve as a powerful physical reminder of God’s presence.
4. A Bible
Most of us are guilty of not reading the Bible often enough. Place your Bible on top of your home altar so you don’t forget to make reading it a consistent part of your prayer routine. It doesn’t get better than God’s word.
5. Prayer books
You know that prayer book collection you have stashed in a box somewhere? The one that’s been slowly multiplying every time you pass that table at the back of your parish? Your home altar is the perfect place to keep it. Once all of your prayer books (and pamphlets, brochures, etc.) are gathered in one spot, you will be more likely to pull them out and use them.
6. Crucifixes, statues, and religious artwork
Your home altar is the perfect place to display crucifixes, saint statues, religious artwork or icons, special devotional items, or relics if you have them. Like candles, these items serve as physical reminders of spiritual realities and help draw us deeper in our prayer.
7. A kneeler
Including a kneeler in your prayer space is an awesome way to make your prayer more intentional while also bringing to mind the Church. Unfortunately, kneelers can be pricey and difficult to come by. If purchasing a kneeler doesn’t work with your budget and you don’t feel up to building your own, a simple pillow can get the job done just as well.
8. Prayer requests
Do you have trouble remembering all the prayer requests you’ve accepted? Gather your prayer requests in a notebook, on slips of paper in a dish, or pinned to a cork board and keep them near your home altar. That way, next time you are in prayer, you won’t forget.
9. Rosary holder
Keeping a rosary in your prayer corner is a great idea. If you have more than one, setting up some sort of rosary holder is a good way to keep them from getting lost or tangled. A key hook rack mounted on your wall will give you a place to hang them. You can also hang them on thumbtacks if your budget is tight. A small dish or basket works as well, but multiple rosaries can easily get tangled when stored this way.
10. Special items for feast days and liturgical seasons
If you really want to go all out, you can rotate the decorations on your home altar according to the liturgical season, or even for favorite feast days. Think nativity sets, different linen colors, saint statues or prayer cards, advent wreaths, etc. Small storage containers work well to hold all of your items that are not currently on display. Organize and label your tubs by season or feast, and they will be easy to find and pull out as needed.