The Creative Cloister
Exploring the artistic roots of our Catholic Faith While ‘Sheltering in place’
Shine up the Home Shrine
I miss Mass and I miss being immersed in a space that is holy and beautiful. We are pretty much closed out of the churches now and learning to cope with that at home, so the fact that the family is the domestic church takes on much more significance. Many of us, for the first time, are bringing the Mass into our homes, and trying to adjust to these Lamentations in the living room. That means it is probably a good time to take a look at the home altar.
This space for holy activity needs to reflect the beauty and order of heaven as far as we are able. With all of the rancorous discussions, fear, and uncertainty that swim through our days right now, it is important to have a place of peace, with familiar holy faces and a flame to remind us that heaven is in control. This time is uniquely suited to produce great growth in holiness, if we can quiet the chaos and focus on Our Lord and His mission for us.
Fr. Koliński, recently gave an excellent homily on the subject and kindly gave permission to let me share it with you. I have linked the PDF file below. Take some time to read this very powerful challenge to us all.
“So, I again ask all of you,...how are you striving during this graced period of time to not only grow in holiness yourselves but also to be a leaven to your family and to the world around you?
You may lament that you cannot come to church to pray in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament but He also told us that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
If you want His presence among you now, gather around your home altar as a family and call upon His name. He will be there in your midst.”
When we created a shrine on our living room mantle many years ago, I knew it would help to focus us during the family rosary. I also wanted a tool, right in the middle of my space, that would help me to keep my attention on the big picture as I careened through the day. Plus, I wanted to clear up any questions about what kind of house people were walking into.
A home altar set up for Mass attendance submitted to SJCs Facebook page
I went rummaging through my accumulated pile of statues, framed art, holy cards and other Catholic paraphernalia. It was kind of a big pile. That worked in my favor though because certain pieces worked well together, while others would have clashed because of color, size or style. Some had a strong tie to one of the Liturgical seasons. A few were wonderful relics that needed better digs than that ‘box-of-neat-things’.
Jackie's terrific home shrine
The other advantage of this grand pile of options is that it allows a continual transformation that keeps the altar from getting overlooked when it becomes too familiar. Most of my stuff is spread around the house on various tables and shelves. When I want to change the main home altar I go rummaging for the right pieces. My instinct is to use less rather than more but that is largely a matter of taste. Some people prefer to have the whole host of heaven visually present. Home altars will vary greatly from family to family and from season to season. The important thing is to be intentional about what to include so that you are creating a space that draws you toward God.
Here is a home shrine Pinterest board to get the creative juices flowing.
Here is a mishmash of ideas:
- Stop for a few moments and think about what you want to have on your home altar. Choose the pieces carefully, rather than tossing together a bunch of things that you just happen to have. This is the most special place in your home, so it is worth investing in wonderful items that work well together and draw your attention to God.
- Consider the entire liturgical season. What does it look like during Lent? Advent? Easter? Christmas? Ordinary Time? Feast Days? Begin a collection of items that will rotate across your shrine. We often incorporate an antique saw box to elevate some of our items. It acts as a storage place for many of our pieces.
- Statues are usually the focal point. All of ours have come from thrift stores. For right now, Ebay or FB Marketplace will offer interesting options. Some of the beautiful vintage ones are really reasonable.
- A nice frame with a printed image also works great as the main focal point. You can change it with the season choosing something that works with the rest of your pieces.
- This is the traditional location for the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart images. Here are a couple of links about this terrific devotion.
- If you have children who draw, frame up their rendering of Blessed Mother or Jesus. It’s a great way to get them involved in the home shrine project.
- Collect printed images for the major feast days and holy cards of saints that are significant to your family members. Add them to the shrine on those feast days. You can find great images of holy cards to print out from the extensive collection on this website:
- Find a couple of really nice, small frames for holy cards, fine art images, prayers, or symbols. It’s better if the back is set up for easy change outs. You will want to make a note of the window size for all of the lovely things you will print out.
- Sew a set of shrine cloths in all of the liturgical colors. No sewing machine? No problem. Some of mine are just rectangles that I pulled threads from all the way around to make fringe. They look great.
- We prefer to have a candle lit when we pray. Choose your candle stick(s) votive holder intentionally to work with the other things on your shrine.
- Get a candle snuffer, unless you’re the sooty candle-pinching type. Wax on the walls is not cool. Related to that, the long sticks used to light votive candles will be helpful if you use those seven day candles on your shrine. Also, I’ve seen people decorate their match box so it isn’t an ugly presence You could also tuck your snuffer, matches and stick lighter in a small decorative box.
- related to that, invest in one of those candle followers if you use tapers to eliminate the candle drip problem.
- A holy water font would be great.
- Small blooming orchids have the perfect scale to add natural beauty without overpowering the main elements. Their blooms last a very long time.
- Also, a small vase for flowers is great. And for that matter, plant some flowers in your yard especially to supply your home altar.
- A stand for the Bible.
- A stand or receptacle for your rosary.
- Super extra points if you have a kneeler. Biretta Books sells them. Pillows work in a pinch.
Carrie's home altar
Liturgical Seasons on the Home Shrine
- Purple cloth
- Jesse Tree ornaments (there are several available free to print online). An interesting branch in a heavy vase can display them. Sometimes we spread them out on our old ladder. A small brass bowl or basket holds the ornaments waiting to go up.
- Small potted evergreen or pine branches
- Image of Blessed Mother and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem. The Visitation is another image possibility
- small white lights.
- Statue of Blessed Mother
- your advent wreath
- A basket of straw and the empty manger waiting to be filled by children registering their sacrifices.
- Gold cloth or white lace
- Holly with red berries or evergreen branches
- Framed Christmas Card image of the Nativity
- Three Kings making their way to the Nativity moving closer over several days.
- Small casks or bottles with ‘gold’, Frankincense, and ‘Myrrh’.
- Lighted star
- Image of the Adoration of the Magi
- Purple covers for your statues and art
- three square topped nails
- crown of thorns
- ‘Lent Eggs’ The image can change every day following the story of the Passion
- Small receptacle for leaves for ‘Lent Sacrifice Tree’
- Image of Crucifixion or Standing Crucifix
- White cloth
- Resurrection statue or image
- Decorated egg
- White candle.
All Souls Day
- We’ve printed out photos of our relatives who have died, framing them in funeral bunting artwork. We hang them on a branch and display a print of the ‘Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord’ prayer. We intercede for them and all of the souls in Purgatory.
All Saints Day
- A display of images of the saints.
- White cloth
- Statue of Blessed Mother
- Make a crown of flowers. Small silk ones will last through the month.
- Blue flowers in a vase
This home altar can be so fluid and varied, so make it a priority to keep up with it by scheduling regular changes according to the seasons and special dates throughout the year. I have found it helpful to take photos of the ones that I particularly like. They are saved to a Home Shrine folder so I can refer back the them and quickly reconstruct things if I’m pushed for time.
During these strange and troubling times we need to pray and pray hard. We might as well have something inspiring to look at while we pester heaven. Have at it!