A Tactile Prayer Life - Making Your Family Altar

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I am a very tactile person when it comes to prayer. I like to have physical Bibles, prayer books, and rosary beads. This works out well when trying to teach little kids about prayer since they are very tactile too!

My greatest struggle with prayer is just starting! I have found having a family altar, or oratory, very helpful as a reminder that we should have prayer in our homes. Here's the typical things we have on our family altar.

Note: Apologies this will not have many pictures. Many of my liturgical items, kid faith art, and statues got crushed/beheaded in the move. A new opportunity for improvement awaits!


Nothing makes you think of Jesus more than seeing the guy himself in the moment of his crucifixion. Even young kids really get what the cross is all about when they see at least one crucifix on a regular basis.

Family rosary is never gonna happen if it's always proceeded by a scramble to find rosaries scattered all over the house. It also helps the kids to understand that rosaries are not toys when they are kept in a special place in the house.

Holy Family Statue

I really love statues of the Holy Family since they often show Jesus as a small child, and it seems to blow kid's minds that once upon a time Jesus was a little kid like them. It presents Joseph and Mary in their context as Jesus' mom and foster father which has helped my kids understand what the big deal is about them.


Fire is one of those magical elements that signal to kids "this is a big deal".
Having a candle stash by your altar is nice when you want to light a candle as a reminder to pray during a particular period of time during a day. Maybe someone is having surgery, is in labor, or doing a job interview. One more way to stay prayerful even when we have to attend to daily concerns.

I have three stashes of candles around my house: candles for prayer, candles for emergencies, and candles for ambiance/make the house smell pretty. I strongly suggest getting unscented candles for your family altar since it's sad to have to blow out a prayer candle that is making you nauseous.

Liturgical Year Items

These rotate depending on the time of year. I stash my blessed palms in a vase on the altar during the Easter season. We fill a red construction paper heart with the names of our loved ones who have died and place it on the altar for the month of November. There's a huge range of what you could do, but changing the look of the altar with the seasons has really helped my kids see where the differences are in the liturgical seasons.

Holy Water/Other Blessed Items

It's amazing how many blessed items a family can accumulate! In order to keep them together (and not forget they are blessed and should be treated differently) I like to keep them near our altar. Not necessarily on the altar since they are not all needed on a regular basis. A great example for this is the blessed chalk we use for the Epiphany house blessing. We only do the blessing once a year, but the rest of the year I need to manage not to use the chalk that is blessed as regular sidewalk chalk for the kids (because we did have father bless Crayola sidewalk chalk. It was on sale.)

Kid Faith Creations

The kids both participate in our Little Lambs faith formation program which sends us lots of super cute liturgical year crafts. Some of them are things I think are clever and useful for family prayer, and the kids get a lot of pride in seeing something they made go someplace as special as the family altar.

For more ideas about family altars, I highly recommend the book The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home by David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler. It is very detailed so don't be afraid to take what you need and come back for more later.

This post is part of the Catholic Women Blogger's Network (CWBN) monthly Blog Hop! Make sure to click over to the hop to check out more posts on this month's theme: Different ways to pray - holiness in our daily lives.

Do you have a family altar? How to you like to physically live the liturgical year in your home?


  1. Great post Kirby. I have a half hazards altar in our home now because there isn't good spot for it. But you have encouraged me to put effort and thought into how the altar affects my littles.

    Amy @ The Salt Stories

    1. Thanks! Finding a spot is my current challenge in our new place.

  2. Beautiful post.
    We have a few Altars and many items throughout our home. It's a daily reminder to pray or reflect.

    1. One thing I want to add at some point is holy water fonts by each bedroom door. We have one to go by our main door, but I like the idea of using holy water as a blessing before bed.

  3. Lovely. I didn't think of these things until my children were grown but I've started intentionally leaving them out for the grandchildren.

    1. I love that you do that for your grandkids!

  4. We have a pseudo-altar... I don't pray at it, but at the table as we enter the front door, we have (as my husband terms it) "my Catholic stuff." It consists of Holy Water (and, in this new house, a fount), usually some Rosaries (although those have "disappeared" with the help of little hands lately), my Mothers' Book of Prayers, prayer cards, and little angel statues. We also have our blessed palms from Palm Sunday.

    Thanks for sharing how you find an altar beneficial, and what you have on yours!

    1. It does seem to naturally gather into a spot doesn't it? My solution for keeping littles from running off with the rosaries was to hang them. They make cute racks for hanging rosaries, and someday we might upgrade to that, but for now I use individual thumb tacks in the wall. Works well and helps them not become a tangled mess!


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