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Home altar basics: what and why, how and where

Home Altar

Why do you carry home altars, Catholic Woodworker?

Some of the most unique items we make at the Catholic Woodworker are our home altars, in both their regular and larger sizes. And like everything we make, these altars have a story.

Jonathan, our founder, traveled a lot for work. He wanted to create a routine of prayer that would keep him grounded, wherever he was. What Jonathan realized was that if there’s something you hold dear—like prayer—you not only make time for it, you make space, literal physical space. 

But how do you do that when you’re on the road? You need a physical space that somehow goes wherever you go. Jonathan thought about it some more, applied his talent for working with wood, and the first Catholic Woodworker home altar was born.

 

What does that mean for me?

Our home altars might be unique, but Jonathan isn’t (sorry, Jonathan). Like him, you are probably busy and on the go. Also like him, you probably value the habit of prayer and keeping the Lord on your mind throughout the day. Why not have a sacred space that keeps you rooted in what’s really important, no matter where you are?

Consider another aspect of having a home altar. First, let’s clarify that these aren’t altars in the same sense that you would find them in your parish church, where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated, where relics are stored, and so on. That’s a different category, and it’s important to not confuse categories.

But the concept of an altar, any altar, is that it’s integrated in some way with the idea of sacrifice. And in the Letter to the Hebrews we read, “Through [Jesus] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name” (13:15). 

Your prayers really are a sacrifice of praise, united with all that the Church says, does, and offers in the name of the Lord. Just as it’s important to have a dedicated sacred space, we’d argue it’s important to have a space that unites us with the whole Church—suffering, militant, and triumphant.

 

What should I put on my home altar? 

Start with a suitable, sturdy surface, like our walnut bases. After that, there’s no rule book to give you an answer, but the general idea is to assemble meaningful religious items in a manageable area.

The ones we make include a crucifix. You’ll remember the relationship between altars and sacrifice, including Jesus’ saving death on the Cross. Our altars also come with a holy image, specifically a sturdy, beautiful Baritus Catholic prayer card depicting Mary, the Sacred Heart, or one of the saints. If this is a DIY project, ask yourself: what items like these do I have in my home?

 

Where should I put my home altar? 

Consider your goals. You want to make a statement, even if it’s only to yourself, about the importance of God in your life. So you want a central location where you will see the altar. Moreover, you want to actually use the altar as a place of prayer. 

So someplace like your kitchen might be a bad idea—maybe it’s too high-traffic to pray peacefully, or you’d never notice it there. Or it might be the best place—you’re a homemaker and your kitchen is a workspace where you spend a lot of your time. As long as the altar fulfills its purpose, the rhythm of your life will tell you where to put it.

How often should I update my home altar? 

Again, there’s no rule book. But recall that we said one benefit of a home altar is that it connects you with the Church. Some people reflect that connection by changing their altar decor with the liturgical seasons. If you choose a Catholic Woodworker home altar, we offer sets of prayer cards from our partners at Baritus that you can use for just that purpose, rotating the images throughout the year.

 

How do I care for/clean my home altar? 

That depends on how it’s assembled, and from what. But treat your altar gently and reverently—this is a sacred space, after all. And keep it free from the dust and clutter that would obscure its relationship—and your relationship—with God. If you purchase one of ours, then an occasional treatment with a soft dust rag, using the light touch, will do.

 

You’ve answered all my questions. Now what?

Check out our full lineup of home altars here, in multiple sizes. Or it can be exciting and meaningful to construct one of your own. In which case, we have to mention that we offer a variety of sacred objects—like pocket crosses, prayer cards, designer rosaries, and crucifixes—that could help you out there as well!
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