The Southeast Alaska Catholic
October 14, 2011

A few members of the St. Gregory's Women's Ministry are shown standing behind an example of a home altar. (Angie DelMoral)
A few members of the St. Gregory's Women's Ministry are shown standing behind an example of a home altar. (Angie DelMoral)

A fresh glimpse of this beautiful custom

By Angie DelMoral
St. Gregory Nazianzen parish, Sitka

At a recent meeting, the St. Gregory Women’s Ministry in Sitka learned about the long-held Catholic tradition of home altars. While a few of our members still celebrate the tradition and maintain altars in their homes, the presentation offered a fresh glimpse of this beautiful custom to those less acquainted with it.

The practice of home altars began with the early Christians, who prayed privately in their homes before churches were built for public worship. Even after churches were constructed, many Christians—saints included—continued the custom to foster personal devotion. Although the home altar tradition faded significantly in the last century, there has been a steady resurgence in recent years.

Rest assured, home altars are not intended to replicate or replace the sanctity and incomparable value of the church altar, which is the center of the church and represents “Christ himself, present in the midst of the assembly of his faithful, both as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from heaven” (CCC 1383). Nor should the home altar ever undermine the significance of visiting Our Lord at church and making a Holy Hour before the tabernacle. Rather, the home altar provides a place within the Catholic home, where members can gather to pray and focus on God.  It is a tangible way of honoring God and attesting that He has a cherished place in the home—and can also serve as a constant reminder that He is ever in our midst.  In addition, the home altar allows Catholics an opportunity to quietly share their faith with visitors and affirms our belief in the home as “the domestic church.”

Home altars, also known as the “little altar” or “family altar,” are easy to create.  Simply choose an area in your home, as prominent or private, elaborate or modest, as you prefer.  Allow it to reflect your own family’s history, petitions, and special devotions. Include religious items that hold personal meaning: a crucifix, bible, images or statues of saints to whom you have special devotion, votive/vigil candles, holy water, rosaries, medals, prayer books, photos of loved ones, children’s CCD artwork, flowers, palms, or incense; you may also rotate items as the liturgical season changes. Then set a regular gathering time to pray, read scripture, study a saint, or merely rest in the quiet solitude. Whatever you choose, God will surely be delighted to regain a rightful place of honor in your home.