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Home Altars and Family Prayer

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Home Altar

One greatly misunderstood feature in Catholic homes is the prayer altar. Non-Catholics would look at it as a pantheon for the “idols” they allege Catholics keep. The truth about these altars run deeper and is very biblical. These altars around which devout families often prayed the rosary together (remember the Filipino, “orasyon”?) are actually reminders that the household should be a “contextualized” Temple that is Christ’s Body.

I write this on the Feast of the Dedication of John Lateran, the first Church building of Christianity, given to the Pope (was it Miltiades?) as a gift by Constantine. The Church building came after hundreds of years of Church life lived in small family households under the blanket of persecution. Nowadays there are Christian sects who make buildings first and then recruit Church members afterwards. The Church building, however, is for the Catholic simply a sign that wherever it is found, Christian life is already lived in family households. It is the external sign of the presence of the Temple which is Christ’s Body.

The family is the cell-Church, the smallest incarnation of the Body of Christ. It is a particularized image of the Temple of Christ’s Body. Jesus’ words in today’s gospel also applies to the family in a special way: “My Father’s house is a house of prayer”. The household must a be house of prayer. This is the main reason why the family apostolate is always an apostolate of prayer. Father Peyton many years ago, came up with a slogan that summed this up: “The family that prays together, stays together.” The prayer that he recommended was a prayer that was already recited in many households at the time, the rosary.

Catholics know that the recitation of the rosary is meditation on the mysteries of the life of Jesus and Mary. It was for centuries the simple folks’ substitute for the prayer of psalms. The Dominicans promoted it as a popular way of instructing people in the faith. With the recitation of the rosary, it was easy to remember the stages of the life of Christ, from the moment Gabriel announced His birth to Mary, until the time Mary herself as the Queen Mother is crowned by her Son, the King of Kings.

During these past years, the scenario around these home altars have changed in certain Catholic families. Around the 1980s the practise of enthroning the Scriptures in the households was promoted. Members of Catholic charismatic movements and prayer groups especially have, alongside the enthronement, promoted the practice of using the Scriptures for shared prayer. Basic ecclesial communities have also begun to come out of the rural areas to spread into more urbanized ones. These are groups of families that come together regularly to study the Sunday gospel, reflect on it and on its basis, make resolutions for incarnating it in their lives. Perhaps after the recent Synod on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church, the home altar will take on a new coloring: it may become for families the extension of the altar of the Word at which the lectio divina becomes a family affair.

Home altars are not for decoration. When these become mere showcases for one’s collection of antique statues, then they become nothing more than that, showcases. A nice display perhaps, an interesting conversation piece for house parties, but not a reminder that where the altar is, there a family intending to be Church lives.

Originally posted 2008-11-09 02:19:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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