Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Catholic Prayer: Family Shrine


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One of the easiest and yet most effective means of religious instruction and training of children in the home is the prudent use of a little family shrine.


A simple, small table, not too high, covered with a piece of cloth, will suffice. On it the parents could place a statue or picture representing the theme of the current liturgical season or feast. A simple backdrop of the proper liturgical color will readily teach even the smallest children to follow the spirit and meaning of every season and feast with a true understanding of the wonderful cycle of the liturgical year. Thus the pulsing life of Christ's love and grace, radiating from the visual representation, will imbue our children with the sweet and solid spirit of piety based on the liturgy of the Church. There will be no need of elaborate explanations; for what the children see at the shrine will impress their hearts and minds more eloquently than a flood of words could do. In the following paragraphs, a few suggestions are given as examples for the proper use of a religious shrine in the home.

"God's Television" In a family of my acquaintance, who utilize the shrine as described, the children have come to call it "God's television," and they are much more interested in it than other children are in their "worldly" television sets. No wonder, for this "television" is three-dimensional, colored, and truly inspiring with its lasting impressions of the things of God.

There is, for instance, the Advent Crib. It can be used most fittingly and with great spiritual fruit during the whole season of Advent, to express the deep meaning of the liturgical character of that sacred time. A crib is erected at the start of Advent and put on the family shrine, but without the figures of the Infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The shepherds can be arranged a little distance from the crib, tending their sheep on the pastures of Bethlehem. This arrangement makes the crib a true token of Advent: the stable is waiting, the ox and ass are there, the shepherds and sheep are present; but the manger is empty because Jesus is not yet born; Mary and Joseph have not yet arrived; and the angel has not yet appeared. But the Lord will come soon! Everything points to the expectation of his birth.

It is amazing how well children will enter into the spirit and true understanding of such a visual representation of Advent. It teaches them to look forward to the arrival of the Savior, to prepare their hearts, and prayerfully to desire His great feast day. Now these thoughts are exactly what the Church expresses in her Advent liturgy.

In our home we had such an "Advent Crib" on a little table in a quiet room. It was simple but most attractive. Behind it mother had put a purple backdrop, to teach us the meaning of the liturgical color of this holy season. How often did we children, even without being told, go into this room, look at the empty crib, and tell Jesus how anxious we were for him to come into the manger at Christmas! Great graces are granted to a child through such appropriate visualizing of the events commemorated in holy liturgy.

What an unspeakable joy it was when finally the Advent Crib became a true and real Christmas Crib! On the morning of the Feast of the Nativity we rushed downstairs and found the crib — now against a white background — with the Baby Jesus in the manger, with Mary and Joseph, with the angels and shepherds. In front of this beautiful shrine we said our Christmas prayers every night during the season, sang our carols, and listened to our parents' Christmas stories and legends.

A few days after Christmas, usually on Holy Innocents' Day, mother or father placed the statues of the Magi inside the rear entrance of our home. This was done during the night. In the morning we found the Magi with their servants and camels. A little angel, carrying a star, stood in front of them. We joyfully greeted them, for they had come to find the Lord in "Bethlehem." To our great delight, they did proceed from day to day; every morning we found them closer to the room where the crib was. They traveled in this way until, on January 6, we beheld them in front of the crib, adoring the new-born Savior. The angel stood on the roof of the stable, holding up his star triumphantly.

In the course of this delightful pageant, we learned all the details of the Gospel story about the Magi and their trip, and the great meaning of the feast of the Epiphany. Thus, at the age of four, we probably knew more about the history and liturgy of this great feast than many older children know today. What is more, we not only grasped these things with our minds, but we experienced them with an amazing joy and devotion — thanks to our good parents.

At other liturgical seasons of the year, features and methods similar to those mentioned above, can easily be used. In Lent, some representation of the suffering Lord could be employed, e.g., pictures of the Stations, each exhibited for a few days and explained by the parents. In Holy Week, we had a crucifix on our shrine table, with a black curtain for the backdrop. I shall never forget the deep and lasting impression this sight made on me when I was a little child. I understood clearly how holy was this week in which our dear Savior suffered and died for us. On Holy Thursday, however, the black backdrop was replaced by a white one, and a picture of the Last Supper stood on the table. The glorious aspect of the shrine at Easter, with the statue of the Risen Lord, the golden backdrop and the beautiful flowers — all made a most profound impression. These impressions prepare the hearts of the little ones for the true living of the holy liturgy in later years.

Prayer Source: Year of the Lord in the Christian Home, The (reprinted as Religious Customs in the Family) by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., The Liturgical Press; reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, 1964