The Home Altar: Creating a Dedicated Prayer Space
I am a huge proponent of decorating our homes with our faith in mind. We spend so much time in our homes, as a family and with the guests we welcome. In this post, I'll discuss creating a dedicated space in our homes for prayer. The above photo is of our home altar, placed just off our dining room. This is a space in our home that draws us to prayer. It is by far the cleanest area of our house. (Notice how I didn’t include a photo of our dining room table.) We wanted an area in our home dedicated to prayer that included sacred images, sacramentals, prayer cards and a reminder of the current liturgical season. It’s not perfect. Ideally, we’d love more space for seating around the altar and perhaps a location in a quieter area of the home. If we were really ambitious, we’d actually hang up the artwork instead of leaning them against the wall. But, you have to start somewhere and we’ve found it’s better to just dive in and sort the little details out later.
So, how do you get started? Here are a few tips that worked for us:
- Find an area in your home that you will see and be reminded to pray, but ideally a little bit out of the way so your altar table doesn’t become a central spot that collects random items. This isn't a place for mail to collect and cell phones to charge. We started with our altar in the basement because it was quiet and doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. But, that was the problem! Out of sight, out of mind! The basement was cold, only partially finished, and not a very inviting place for prayer. We then moved our altar back upstairs and decided the dining room was a better fit because it ties into mealtime prayers and feast day celebrations. Even a tiny corner of a room works well. If able, you can try to face the table toward the east, as is common with Catholic Churches.
- Find a table that fits your space. A secondhand table or antique can work nicely. We ended up finding our table at Hobby Lobby. The only downside is it lacks storage and shelves beneath. So keep that in mind if you plan to store a lot of books near your altar.
- Decide on seating. Will you simply kneel on the floor or on a pillow? Maybe get fancy and purchase an actual kneeler?! We sometimes kneel on the floor, but also opted for one really nice, comfy chair we pull out from the corner. I call dibs! And then we can also pull dining room chairs around as well.
- Purchase some tablecloths to match the colors of the liturgical season. I just went on Amazon and found some cheap silk cloths available in green, purple, red, white/gold and rose. You’ll notice our purple cloth in the photo is folded up real small. We’d love for it to hang off the table. But, sadly, this doesn’t work well with toddlers who want to reach up and pull everything down! Likewise, we’ve had to push anything breakable as far back against the wall as possible. Because we want our daughter to be a part of using the altar, we keep prayer cards and smaller items within her reach. We’ve lost a few prayer cards and St. John has had a few close calls, but all in all it has worked well.
- Be intentional about what goes on the altar. It is so easy for it to become a catch-all for items. Instead, we like to swap things out throughout the year, move items around the home and try to keep the table clean and organized. We’ve placed a crucifix in the center, chosen a few pieces of art that have special significance to us, included a bottle of holy water, and printed out some prayers. Fresh flowers, rosaries, bibles, prayer books, and palm leaves are also some ideas. We try to keep in mind the liturgical season. For example, placing white lilies on the table during Easter and artwork depicting the sorrowful mysteries during Lent. As children get older, they can play a role in setting up the altar and discussing the liturgical seasons.
- Candles: I personally love to include a candle that reminds me of church incense. Think frankincense and myrhh. We are using one now that is amber and smoke.
- Now use the altar! This can be the hard part. If you are new to this, start simple and try to build a routine. The first thing we try to do with our daughter in the morning is kneel in front of the altar and say a quick morning prayer. We have even found on the mornings we forget, she will often point to remind us. (She keeps us in line). I must say, there is something so heartwarming about seeing your toddler kneel for the first time next to you. (Most of the time she is trying to throw St. Teresa at her baby sister's head, but every now and then she surprises us.) I’ve printed out a few prayers we can pull out throughout the day, most consistently being the Morning Offering. My husband and I try to sit in front of the altar and read the Magnificat together or say a prayer. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. Just seeing the altar and being reminded of our faith and saying a Hail Mary can allow for a much needed pause in our day.
We are learning much as we go, but I hope these tips are helpful for those who are interested in building a home altar of your own.
Links to some of the items pictured on our prayer altar are available here:
- St. Teresa of Calcutta Shining Light Doll
- Portraits of Saints Madonna and Child Plaque
- Carl Bloch Agony in the Garden Print
- Three Archangels Print of St. Therese of Lisieux
- Purple Table Runner
Are you on Instagram? I’d love to see what your home altars look like. Post a photo and tag @thyolivetree. I’ll reshare some of them in my IG stories so others can see and get inspiration!