Catholic Home Altar - How To Build and Set Up a Prayer Corner

How to Make a Catholic Home Altar

It is a tradition of Roman Catholic families to designate a place in their home to share their faith. A sacred space where they can pray or be in silence in the presence of God. The Coronavirus pandemic led to increased demand for home altars, and in some cities, churches have not been allowed to re-open. Traditional home altars have become a place where families can watch mass, pray the rosary and keep in touch with their parishes via a live stream.

There is no one particular way to create a home altar. Its size depends on how elaborate you desire and what space allows. Some Catholics choose their bedrooms, others the living room, or even assign a room in their house for prayer.

Why Have a Home Altar?

Having a space dedicated to prayer in your house displays the priorities in the family unit. It shows that you have embraced the full responsibility of the "Domestic Church." The term domestic church refers to a Christian family, where the faith is lived out daily, catechizing its members with love and encouragement to be virtuous. The concept of gathering to worship and share the Gospel before God's presence around the altar has a biblical root. In Matthew 18:20:

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

God promises to be with us when we gather to praise His name. 

Setting Up Your Home Altar

There is no formula or list of "must-haves" for your home altar. This could be an endeavor that keeps growing with its members. You can start small, and as the faith grows over the years, this sacred space can expand. It is essential that each of the members of the family can have a unique item that represents them, like their favorite saint, favorite prayer, or color.

Inspiration for the décor can be drawn from church altars that can be recreated at home. Or even Pinterest, there are many devout Catholics that have proudly shared their home altars. You can be as detailed as buying linen to follow the liturgical calendar.

You can start with a sturdy table; this table will host the icons, prayer cards, crucifix or cross, candles, Bible, etc. It is advised that you dress the table in white linen or, if you want to match the liturgical seasons Pink, Green, Purple or Red: Advent, Lent, Sacred Paschal Triduum, Easter, and Ordinary Time. This serves as a visual reminder of the disposition of the heart during these seasons.

The Bible is the Word of God. It is usually placed at the center of the altar. You will need a bible stand to elevate it honorably. Through the bible, we receive the messages that the Lord wants to share with us and how He will speak to your family specifically. On each side of the bible, you can place votive or prayer candles to represent God's presence. He is the light of the world. The candles can also represent the liturgical seasons; buy them in each color.

Prayer books are also an important part of the home altar. There are missals, the breviary, and prayers and books of the saints. These can be placed on a smaller table next to the altar or underneath it for easy access.

As a Catholic family, there must be a rosary on the altar. You can place it next to the bible if it is just one on display or hang a rosary holder next to the altar. Devotion to Our Lady is at the core of the Catholic family prayer life. We know that the rosary is our strongest weapon against evil.

The Catholic church celebrates beauty, and many of the saints have been directed to create or communicate visions that have enriched our traditions and devotions. St. Faustina had a vision of the image of the Divine Mercy. A Catholic home altar is decorated with Sacred imagery. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus make up the Holy Family. These role models should be part of your altar. There is beautiful printed art that you can place above the altar, like Byzantine icons or statues. A great idea is to also have statues or figurines of the saints that you draw inspiration from.

Do you like nature? St. Francis of Assisi can teach you how to find God in all creatures. Do you worry often? St. Padre Pio can be a reminder to pray and surrender your fears to God's providence. You can build your intercessory team in heaven on your altar. In some cultures, images of family members who have passed are part of the home altars as reminders to pray for their souls every day.

Some families like to use incense before praying to call upon the presence of God and as an offering for their intentions.

Every Catholic should have a crucifix to remind them of the commitment required to serve God. Jesus' sacrifice of the cross to save us is the ultimate example of love. We are reminded that love involves sacrifice, constant dying to self for the unity and protection of the family bond. Crucifixes are often placed around the house above the central doorway, indicating that the family home belongs first to Christ and that Jesus is welcome.

"To me, every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.'" Isaiah 45:23.

If space allows, a kneeler would be an exceptional piece of furniture added to the altar. Kneelers help to comfortably humble ourselves before the Lord, recognizing that He is above us. A prayer kneeler invites family members for personal prayer and meditation before the altar at any time of the day.

To bring the beauty of creation to the altar, a flower vase with fresh flowers helps host an environment of life and renewal of our hope and trust in the Lord. It is a tradition to have flower arrangements as part of the décor of Church altars.

Traditionally, Catholic homes often have holy water around the house. Your altar can have a bottle permanently to bless yourself and the family throughout the day.

You can be as detailed as you want when building your Catholic home altar. Pray to the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother for help; she made a worthy altar for Jesus in her womb.

How to Use The Prayer Altar

Many families have a prayer routine. Mine, for example, wakes up for morning prayer at 7:00 am; this is very personal for every family. We try to work a time where the entire family can participate. We recommend the use of the Ibreviary app to pray the Psalmody.

At 3:00 pm, we light votive candles and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet before an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At 9:30 pm, we gather again to pray the rosary to our blessed mother before a picture of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Throughout the day, we stop by the prayer room to talk to Jesus. We have a prayer room, our sacred space, where we placed an old church's bench to bring the church home. Each item points to a greater being, beauty itself, God.

For our favorite saints' feast days, we dress up the prayer room in a color that represents the saint's order or their patronage, light a candle before its image, figurine or statue, and it becomes a celebration!

Some books can guide us on how to live our faith life better. In "The Little Oratory," authors David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler provide ideas for incorporating the altar into family life. To help Catholic families more fully live the Church's liturgical life, the book includes advice on how to integrate Catholic devotions in every room of the home, why the Liturgy of the Hours is essential to instill the habit of prayer.

As the central gathering place for prayer, the home altar is the focal point for family religious activity. It is a space reserved for spirituality, where prayers are recited, offerings and sacrifices made and spiritual occasions celebrated. It is where we make petitions to God and prayers of intercession to the saints.

Items that are seasonal can be included, like an Advent wreath, where each week we share a reflection and light up the candle ( Advent season starts November 29th, 2020); for Christmas, we can place a smaller size Manger scene. For Lent, we can have the Stations of the Cross imagery to pray together every Friday. Palms Sunday could be decorated with palm branches. If you celebrate your baptism day, your baptismal candles can also be part of the décor.

Heirlooms Bring Generations Together and Keep Faith Alive

In the Catholic culture, faith is passed on from generation to generation. Prayer books, rosaries, altar linen, bracelets, holy medals, crucifixes that belonged to our grandmothers or uncles, cousins can be inherited. These items give a special meaning to the home altar and remind us in a special way that we should work intentionally to keep our family traditions alive.