The Domestic Church: 7 Steps to a Proper Catholic Home

The focal point of a Catholic home should be the family altar. This would be a place in which the family can gather to offer their prayers to God and ask the Saints to pray for them.

home altar 1

1. The King of the Catholic Home

It has been said that the Catholic home should be seen as “The Domestic Church”. With this being said, the Father is the head, the Mother is the beloved spouse, and the children are brought up learning to love and serve the Blessed Trinity. The true head of the Catholic home is Christ, just as the Head of the Church is the Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness. Christ should be known and recognized in each Catholic home as King; the family’s week should be centered around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and prayer is a must.

2. Proper Prayers

Parents should encourage their children to pray to the Lord Our God, The Blessed Virgin, and the Saints in their own words as well as the traditional prayers of the Church.

  • Prayers of the Rosary: Sign of the Cross, Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Fatima Prayer
  • The Nicene Creed
  • Blessing before and after meals
  • Prayer to Guardian Angel
  • Act of Contrition
  • Act of Faith
  • Act of Hope
  • Act of Charity
  • Hail, Holy Queen
  • St. Michael prayer
  • The Eternal Rest Prayer

The parents are encouraged to also teach these prayers to their children in Latin as well.

“The day the Church abandons her universal tongue [Latin] is the day before she returns to the catacombs” — Pope Pius XII

3. Holy Water

Prayer can be encouraged through the most minor of things, such as placing Holy Water fonts in bedrooms and ones main door. All Catholics should know the use and purpose of Holy Water, St. Teresa of Avila says:

“…There is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the cross, but return; so holy water must have great value.”

Parents too should bless their own children with Holy Water, by signing them on their foreheads. Lastly, each child should have a Blessed (by a priest) Crucifix in their bedrooms above their beds. The child should be taught to kneel when rising and going to bed and say their prayers with their parents.

4. The Focal Point of the Home

As soon as Catholics move into a new home, they should ask a priest to bless it. All families should consider with great deal consecrating their homes to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Why? It is a simple way of letting Christ know that He is King.  The center of any home let alone a Catholic one should NEVER be a television! The focal point of a Catholic home should be the family altar. This would be a place in which the family can gather to offer their prayers to God and ask the Saints to pray for them. Family Rosaries, prayers for special graces, family novenas, and Lectio Divina should be said in front of the home altar.

5. Home Altar: Orientation & Necessary Items

Family altars, should ideally be placed on the Eastern wall, in the same orientation of church buildings; however, it is not necessary. The altar can be simple or elaborate, but beautiful nonetheless. Basic items that should be placed on the altar include:

  • Crucifix
  • Statue of Our Lady
  • Holy Water
  • icons (statues of Our Lord, Virgin, and/or Saints)
  • Blessed Salt
  • Rosaries
  • Charcoal incense burner
  • Blessed Candles, vigil candles, and Baptismal candles
  • 1962 Roman Missal

6. Home Altar: Recommended Literature

One should also consider: Breviary, the Douay Rheims Bible (only approved translation) Little Office of Our Lady, Holy Cards, flowers, the names/pictures of dead family members, palm branches, sacramental certificated (Baptism, 1st Holy Communion, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony). It would also be wise to keep a small library of books that will cultivate our Catholic faith: traditional Catechisms (Baltimore catechism, etc), “Lives of the Saints”, “Summa Theologica”, the writings of Sts Therese the Little Flower, St. John of the Cross,  St. Louis de Montfort, etc.

7. The Liturgical Season at Home

Families should change the home altar as the liturgical seasons change as well. During Passiontide (last two weeks of Lent), icons and statues should be covered with a purple cloth and there should be no flowers on the altar. In May, one might want to Crown Mary with Roses, keep a vigil candle going for as long as possibe, and bring Her various votive offerings, etc. Some families even clothe statues of the Virgin according to the liturgical season, for example, dressing Her in a white veil for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, or black on Good Friday.

Parents should make the liturgical year come alive for their children. This will help them pay more attention to the Mass and sermons, etc. During family devotions, it would be wise to dim lights, burn incense, light candles, play sacred music. Catholic spirituality whether it is Eastern, or Latin is about engaging the senses.

Let us be inspired by the words of a great Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila:

“In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.”

Queen of families, pray for us.

 

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  • Bruce

    We do a few of these, but not all, and are still just as Catholic as the Pope.

  • Excellent post. I have 2 children in catholic elementary school and desire to dedicate our days and nights to prayer and enrichment of our faith. Your tips on this post encourage me in the proper way to do it.

  • Innkeeper

    Interesting.. It would work for a family that attends only the Extraordinary Form or an SPX parish.

  • Tamara Moravec

    Just beautiful!!

  • Jacob

    This is a wonderful post. We should all consider the role the television plays in family life. It saddens me when I see “family” rooms oriented around one.

    I would add a portrait of our Holy Father and one’s local bishop to the list. Having these in a family area (not necessarily on the altar) reminds us of the strength of our Church.

  • Daniel Latinus

    Where does it say say that the Douay translation is the only approved translation? By whom?

    • Regina

      It was decreed at the Council of Nicaea I believe. It’s been so long ago that I was in school but seem to remember this.

      • USCCB Approved Translations of the Sacred Scriptures for Private Use and Study by Catholics
        1983 – Present

        The 1983 Code of Canon Law entrusts to the Apostolic See and the episcopal conferences the authority to approve translations of the Sacred Scriptures in the Latin Catholic Church (c. 825, §1). Prior to 1983, Scriptural translations could be approved by the Apostolic See or by a local ordinary within a diocese.

        What follows is a complete list of the translations of the Sacred Scriptures that have received the approval of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops since 1983.

        In addition to the translations listed below, any translation of the Sacred Scriptures that has received proper ecclesiastical approval ‒ namely, by the Apostolic See or a local ordinary prior to 1983, or by the Apostolic See or an episcopal conference following 1983 ‒ may be used by the Catholic faithful for private prayer and study.

        Books of the New Testament, Alba House

        Contemporary English Version – New Testament, First Edition, American Bible Society

        Contemporary English Version – Book of Psalms, American Bible Society

        Contemporary English Version – Book of Proverbs, American Bible Society

        The Grail Psalter (Inclusive Language Version), G.I.A. Publications

        New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)

        New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, National Council of Churches

        The Psalms, Alba House

        The Psalms (New International Version) – St. Joseph Catholic Edition, Catholic Book Publishing Company

        The Psalms – St. Joseph New Catholic Version, Catholic Book Publishing Company

        Revised Psalms of the New American Bible (1991)

        So You May Believe, A Translation of the Four Gospels, Alba House

        Today’s English Version, Second Edition, American Bible Society

        Translation for Early Youth, A Translation of the New Testament for Children, Contemporary English Version, American Bible Society

  • Carlos Urbina

    Thank you all for reading the post. To clarify, these were all things that used to be considered “norms” for Catholics prior to the 70’s. During that time period the Latin Rite of the Holy Catholic Church went through rapid and extensive changes. This post was not meant to condemn those Catholic families who do not do any of these things, it was merely to exhort those who wanted to raise Catholic children who would not leave the faith. It was also meant to help those cultivate their Catholic faith better. Regardless of whether a Latin rite Catholic attends the Ordinary or Extraordinary Forms, they should at least know the basic prayers listed above, and in turn teach them to their children.

    Thank you, Jacob for the suggestion!

    Daniel the Council of Trent: “Moreover, the same Holy Council . . . ordains and declares that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church, be in public lectures, disputatious, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and so no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.” (Fourth Session, April 8, 1546). Also, Pope Pius XII I stated in his 1943 encyclical letter Divino Afflante Spiritu, this means the Vulgate is “free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals.” And the Douay-Rheims bible is a faithful, word-for-word translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible of St. Jerome.

    Pax tecum.

    • Regina

      Carlos, we never had this during the 50’s, 60’s growing up. It was not the norm. I went to 12 years of Catholic schooling and never did we have or do this in our homes nor did we have all that statuary in the home as pictured. Perhaps in European countries, but certainly not in the USA.

      • SophieEvans

        You are awesome. It is nice to see people who were around in the church before Vatican II reminding rad trads that some of their notions are not based in reality.

  • Rick

    I agree with all of this except for the altar.

    The altar is to offer sacrifices, hence appropriate for a Church where the Priest, authorized to offer sacrifices, will make proper use of it. Yes, you say you “offer prayers” but you don’t need an altar for that.
    I don’t want to sound offensive, but it seems to me a bit clerical, just like the debate about Ministers of the Eucharist which is not always practiced correctly (a discussion much too long for a post).
    Just an opinion, I’m not saying don’t do it. It’s just a bit odd anyway… you’ll scare away your non-catholic friends and then lose the opportunity of doing apostolate with them and lead them to (our) the true faith.

  • Perhaps, you should rephrase this: “The true head of the Catholic home is Christ, just as the Head of the Church is the Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness.”

    I think that, just as the true Head of the Catholic home is Christ, so too is He the true Head of the Church. The pope is merely the “papa” of the universal Church, just as the father of the family is the “papa” of his own domestic church. (“Pope” MEANS “papa”!)

  • Robin

    Back to the middle ages!?! Focus is all on rites and rituals and religious items and nothing on what really matters… a life lived in love and compassion. Didn’t Jesus give a simple message? Yet we have all these steps and prescribed religious red tape that misses the point!
    I know someone who is so intensely Catholic in the old tradition doing all these stuff yet he is a mean person who does not treat his employees fairly. So is he a good Catholic? Misses the point completely.

    • Just because a person is a sinner who attends the Extraordinary Form (we are all sinners no matter whether we hold to the older practices or not) doesn’t mean something is wrong with the old ways. The recommendations are to help build a love of God through the use of sacramentals and fervent Catholic family prayer. Piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. It leads to the good works we should all be doing. What is written here is a facet of Catholic living.

  • vincent

    the office is a great family prayer.we say compline daily.

  • LRoy

    In a sense my whole house is a church-I have a crucifix in every room including the bathroom and kitchen, several rosaries throughout, candles (never lit), statues. If I could have a Host I could (but I can’t so I don’t). I have a special place for my bible and religious DVDs. I have a contra (whatever you call it) “Jesus Saves” or “Resist Satan” with each step I take.

  • LRoy

    Oh yeah, I have pictures of Jesus and I talk to it as if He was really there. Wacky but true.

  • RJKH

    Thank you for this post. It’s a good reminder of what we all should be striving for, a stronger, richer Catholic family. does having all the “things” in your home make you a good Catholic? Of course not. Does having your home portray the “Domestic Church” help in raising faithful children? Yes it does. It reminds me of learning to make chicken soup from scratch. I used the prescribed amount of water for a 3 lb. bird and the broth was exceptional. The next time I tried it, I added more water thinking I’d like more soup! The broth was not as exceptional or tasty. If we keep diluting our Catholic faith with all its’ beautiful traditions, we’ll get something not so exceptional or beautiful. Just a thought from a Catholic homeschooling mom striving to contribute from her “Domestic Church”.

  • PAF

    I don’t understand those posting who are catholic and think that having icons and altars are only ‘appropriate for churches and priests’. I grew up in the 50s and 60s. We had crucifixes in every room, holy water fonts in bedrooms and main entry, on our dressers were rosary, prayer books, missal, holy cards, in mine was my Infant of Prague statue that i asked for and received for my first communion gift. In the parlor were other icons on a table with a crucifix and prayer books where the family prayed. In the month of May we always set up a ‘May altar’ for special honors to Our Blessed Mother. As for TV, in the 60s we watched Life is Worth Living with Bishop Fulton Sheen as well as our local station which carried the Family Rosary. I don’t think that having these items in the home and using them for prayer (individual and family) dilutes our faith at all. They serve as reminders of our obligation as catholics to pray and help us in prayer and to learn more about our faith by having the books handy for reading. Only when these items stopped being displayed throughout our home (in the 70s) and family prayer was something we ‘didn’t have time for’ did our family begin to ‘fall away’ from our faith. Some of us luckily found our way ‘home’, as for myself, I continue to have these items placed faithfully on an altar in my homes entry, have any new residence consecrated and encourage my family to return ‘home’ and share my faith with them. As I pray and/or read the bible or other devotional books I keep near my altar, I am reminded of Our Lord’s call to worship, call to love and care for our brothers and sisters thus I am moved to heed the calls.

  • No need to get hostile.

  • We do a lot of these now, it’s wonderful! Thanks for posting, I’m sharing.

  • Z

    These things are important, for sure. Just be very certain that the kids know Jesus judges the heart, and is the friend of all children. So is their guardian angel. I have seen kids really loaded up with all the ‘bits and pieces’ but still maybe insecure inside, worried that they are always getting it wrong, etc. Learning the prayers correctly and knowing how to use them at the times of need is very important, BUT also, free talks to God are right. Prayer is NEVER wasted; a blessing will always come from the prayer and go to someone in need, or help to resolve something. Even if the puppy dies or their friend goes away, the prayer was not ‘lost’. It can never be lost.

    For sure, get that ‘grinning devil’, the TV, out of the focal place of the living and sleeping areas! If it’s entertainment, it’s in the FIFTH place on the list of worldly activities, after eating good food, (family meals where possible), doing chores to help out, doing homework, and doing exercise. And even then, a creative hobby or skill should be fifth!

    Finally, kids are going to feel many episodes of shame and embarrassment with all that ‘Catholic stuff’ around. It will happen. All the things they ‘can’t do’. Most music DVD’s cannot even come into a truly Christian home these days, including devout Protestant homes. Concerned parents know this. Degrading ‘fashions, trashy teen magazines, etc, should not be in the closets, or on the body or in the mind. They can learn to sing, “Faith of Our Fathers, Holy Faith’; it is useful.

    And it is also very helpful to remember the days when Jewish kids had to do ‘funny things’ or couldn’t eat certain stuff, or had to stay home every Friday night, or whatever….But no matter how embarrassing, their faith and their parents demanded it. Surely we can do this too.

  • IhearttheRCC

    Awesome and true!

  • JBNF

    Thanks, this is a great list! We just started setting up our first family altar and are working on memorizing some simple prayers with our still little ones. I think the important thing is that when someone enters your home, including you and your children, they should be able to tell and FEEL they are in a Catholic home. I find it so comforting when we make new friends and go to their home for the first time seeing a picture of the virgin Mary on the wall or a rosary on a side table. If anyone, including your children’s friends, is offended or uncomfortable in the presence of such Catholic “things” then they probably need that exposure even more! Of course not every family is going to be able to do EVERYTHING on this list, and may not even feel it necessary, but do whatever you can to instill the Catholic faith in the hearts of your children now! Once they head off on their own with just their guardian angel by their side you will be glad that you made time to help them enrich their faith… and in the process, enriched your own!

  • Fernanda

    Great post! The people reactions show how much work we still have to do in our family!

  • Jared B.

    The family altar thing sounds awesome…once the kids are all grown up a bit. Putting so many blessed things within reach of a toddler (Hint: do you own X? Then X is within reach of your toddler. No exceptions.) I’d have to go confess a “near occasion of sacrilege” ;-)

  • Dave Pawlak

    RE: Bible translations: don’t forget the Knox translation of the Bible, available through Baronius Press. Also, some traditionalists seem to have no problem with the Jerusalem Bible (parts translated by J. R. R. Tolkien).

  • dave

    So sad that this site totally misses the catechism: both our purpose on earth and the one true mission of the Church on earth. Our purpose on earth is to know God, Love God and then Serve God. This site is merely Loving God, adoring God and Devotions to God. These are wholesome, but merely intermediate steps to Serving God. If you interupt those dominoes and never get to the end of Serving God what good is the devotionally intensive environment? Where is the personal relationship with Christ which helps one discern the thousands of life’s instances when we need God/Christ. And the one true mission of the Church is Evangalization. All devotions should be directed at those two greater goods. Way too many households of this influence think the devotions are an end in themselves. Give me the family that is at a Soup Kitchen on a Saturday night (ok, saying some Our Fathers on the way over would be cool) and I will give you a Catholic Family.

  • Ray

    A home prayer corner, room, oratory, etc. may not be for everyone, but I believe it can certainly help. Here is what the CCC says, “For personal prayer, this can be a “prayer corner” with the Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father. In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters prayer in common.” (2691).

    BTW, Rick is correct about the use of the word altar for home prayer spaces.

  • Allen M Miller

    Thank you for this list!!!! All of us need to have these constant reminders.

  • Dylan Dickerson

    Well it should be for everyone, this is what the Orthodox Christians do, and remember, for the first thousand years of Christendom, everyone was a Catholic Christian. Orthodoxy was not clearly defined until, by necessity, the great schism. It is only because the Roman Catholic Church has not emphasized these sacramentals that each Catholic should have, that most folks are unfamiliar or find them foreign. All the “these are great ideas” surprised me honestly, since, like our brethren of the East, we should be holding and doing these same traditions in the West as Catholics. My personal Apostolate is to bring (back) Eastern Byzantine icons and devotional practices to the west. That they all may be One, Pax+

  • Xhanti

    this is lovely

  • cammy

    Am planing erecting a catholic altar in our home; dis piece is really very helpful. All d same, many catholics need 2b more enlightened cos most are just catholic church goers. God bless ur good work 2ru Christ our Lord. Amen!

  • SophieEvans

    I would like to know what a single Catholic person’s role in this is? Nothing? We aren’t considered part of the Domestic Church?

    • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

      As a Single, my home altar was in my living room, the first thing anybody saw as they came to my door. Delivery people, maintenance workers, any kind of door to door evangelization, neighbours, even the landlord, commented not only on the beauty of the altar, but the serenity they felt in my apartment. I also kept prayer cards and hand-made Rosaries to give them if they expressed interest in any of the images or icons. The TV was in a small alcove under the stairs.

  • I have been a Catholic for only 2 1/2 yrs. My journey home has been a long one. I have always wanted a quiet place to pray. My bedroom has become a small “Chapel” lol. I love all the ideas and find it encouraging that everything I have put out is what is listed here.

    For those wondering, I love having these things around me. Being in my room, I feel more at peace seeing so many reminders that the Lord is close by. I sleep better. I reminds me to pray for everything.
    I’m prone to have nightmares, so if I wake up and see images of Mary and Jesus close by, I can relax and fall back to sleep easier.

    I love having Holy water in my room in a spray bottle. When I was going through RCIA, I woke to see a dark shadow in my room. I sprayed it and it suddenly left. That bottle has not left my bedside! :)

    So for those wondering if all this stuff is just “trappings of the faith” or what purpose does it have… even though I’m new at all this, I can say, It brings me comfort, builds my faith, reminds me to pray and is a visible sign of an inward commitment that I made to Follow Jesus. He was known to go off by himself to pray and it mentions this in the Gospels.

    Thanks for your post!