Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Personal Altars in Celebration of Holy Week

A personal altar with a rosary, prayer candle, and religious texts
This type of  altar can enhance how spiritual traditions are practiced at home.

A personal shrine, oftentimes called a personal altar, can help a person focus and maintain his or her daily prayers and meditations.

Not to be confused with the consecrated altars found in churches, this type of altar, or prayer space, can easily be put together in a matter of minutes or hours. No matter a person's religious affiliation, this type of altar can greatly enhance how spiritual traditions are practiced at home.

How Does a Personal Altar Work?

These altars, or shrines, offer the faithful places in the home where they are called to, and reminded to, reflect. Placed in a prominent or central location in a home, simply seeing the altar can remind a person of the intent to pray. For example, a person might simply place a religious item or a few items that have great significance in the center of a dining or kitchen table. During mealtimes, this person, or a family, can be reminded of the importance of prayers of gratitude before meals. If this is a busy place in the home, this small shrine might help family members find a moment of peace or calm in an otherwise over-packed day.

Alternatively, if a personal altar is placed in a quiet location in the home, a person can create the perfect environment to relax and meditate peacefully, without distraction or interruption. The choice of a location, or the choice for multiple locations, is up to the person or family depending on their needs.

What Types of Items Can Be Placed on a Personal Altar or Shrine?

Any type of item that allows a person to reflect on the Christian message is a useful item on a personal altar. Items could be personal, like photographs or original, handwritten prayers and intentions. Items could also represent the ritual and ceremony of various Christian religions, like a cross or crucifix, holy water, prayer cards, rosaries, hymnals and worship texts, or prayer candles. At various times of the year, according to the Christian calendar, items on a person’s altar can shift and change for the season.

Families of mixed religious backgrounds can work together to create shrines or altars that represent values common to both traditions.

What Can I Place on My Altar or Shrine for Holy Week?

During Holy Week, items a person places on a personal altar might relate more directly to the week’s worship and message. For example, a person might choose this location for Bishop Untener’s black (Lenten) or white (Easter) books, palms from Palm Sunday, a reminder of a Lenten sacrifice, a collection plate, readings and reflections on Baptism, a painting or statue depicting Jesus at Gethsemane, readings from The Passion, or readings from The Stations of the Cross.

A person might also choose special times throughout the week to exchange certain items for others depending on the day. For example, an image of The Last Supper might be displayed on Thursday, and perhaps a hammer or nails might be displayed on Friday. Dyed eggs or a lamb statue might be displayed on Sunday.

The most important point to remember is that a personal altar is just that - personal. The intent behind such an area in a home is to assist an individual or family with creating a spiritual life that can be celebrated in the home. There are as many options for placement and items as there are individuals and families. There's no wrong way to create an altar or shrine in your home, as long as it is used to encourage spiritual or religious growth.

Want to read more about altars?  Try The Purpose and Benefit of Personal Altars or How to Pray the Rosary.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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