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Grandmother reveals importance of ‘prayer altar’ in every Catholic home

November 21, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A Catholic grandmother highlighted the importance of a Catholic family praying together and making a dedicated “prayer altar” in their home in order to raise godly children who remain faithful to the Lord during these times of crisis within the Catholic Church. 

Leila Marie Lawler, an American mother of seven and grandmother of 15 and author of The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home, told LifeSiteNews (read full interview below) that God created the family as the first and best school where children learn how to love God. 

“The Church has always reaffirmed the realities of human development, that each child is formed in the bosom of the family. It is God’s plan for man that he learn to love Him in the home, as a child, under the affectionate care of his parents,” she said. 

Lawler said parents especially teach children about loving God by praying in the home in a spot that is dedicated for this purpose. 

“Prayer, of course, is simply life in Christ. In our book, The Little Oratory, we try to answer the question, ‘What now?’ asked by the person who has awakened to the need to have this life,” she said. 

“We try to help orient the reader to the traditional custom of a little oratory; that prayer table, icon corner, or home altar so beloved by Christians in all times and places, but sadly fallen away today,” she added.

The Little Oratory, published by Sophia Institute Press in 2014, has been praised by renowned Catholics such as Scott Hahn, Thomas Howard, Joseph Pearce, Stratford Caldecott, and Peter Kwasniewski as a must-have book for parents who are serious about building up a genuine Catholic culture in their home. 

When asked about the most practical way to establish a culture of prayer in the family, Lawler said carving out a dedicated spot in the home for displaying religious items such as icons, a crucifix, a Bible, and candles is crucial. 

“The most practical step, as I say, is to establish a prayer altar in the home, and this can be very simple — a crucifix on the wall with a little shelf beneath that holds a candle and a statue of Our Lady on one side and St. Joseph on the other. It can be a tray on the kitchen table with a standing crucifix and a little vase of flowers in May. Some have room for a chapel in the home; most put their beloved sacred objects on the mantel or corner cupboard somewhere in the heart of their home,” she said. 

Lawler noted that Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan laid out a survival plan for Catholic families in 2016 that included the importance of prayer in the home. 

Bishop Schneider said that to survive in a heretical wasteland, Catholic parents must especially pray with their children daily, such as litanies and the rosary. 

Parents need to rise up to the responsibility of creating an environment within the home where children can flourish spiritually, Schneider said. 

“I think this is today the main task for families: To establish a culture of domestic churches,” he said. 

Lawler said Schneider’s comments were “heartening.”

“I thought he offered exactly the bracing tonic parents need to face their responsibilities — especially when he firmly rejected exposing children to moral dangers they certainly will encounter in our world today,” she said. 

“Bishop Schneider really understands that we are in a crisis in the Church today. Every day there is something new to disturb our peace, and most of us are most demoralized by the thought that the attacks are coming from within the Church,” she added later in the interview. 

“What I love about Bishop Schneider’s answer is that it cuts to the heart of what our struggle will always be: personal sanctity — meaning a real prayer life with Jesus Christ — and devotion to our actual, day to day duties. For parents, the primary duty is to raise and educate our children, especially in the faith. This is only in small part a matter of direct instruction. Mostly, it is a very simple matter of living our own prayer life with them, in union with the Church in her Liturgical Year, which comprises and transmits all the truth, goodness, and beauty of our faith,” she added.

***

Leila Marie Lawler interview with LifeSiteNews

LifeSiteNews: In Bishop Schneider’s “12 steps to surviving as a Catholic family in a heretical wasteland,” he pointed out quite emphatically that the family must pray together. You have written a book on this topic of prayer in the home, along with David Clayton, whose icons grace the volume. What did you think of Bishop Schneider’s comments?

Leila Marie Lawler: I loved everything he said. How heartening to hear him declare that it was a privilege to live in difficult times, when even access to the Mass was restricted. We so seldom hear this kind of truly supernatural encouragement. His experience of life under an oppressive regime gave real weight to his advice.  

I thought he offered exactly the bracing tonic parents need to face their responsibilities — especially when he firmly rejected exposing children to moral dangers they certainly will encounter in our world today.

The Church has always reaffirmed the realities of human development, that each child is formed in the bosom of the family. It is God’s plan for man that he learn to love Him in the home, as a child, under the affectionate care of his parents. We are waiting too long if we leave spiritual development and the acquisition of a prayer life to some later date, when perhaps “experts” step in and offer some program that will save the day. By then it is too late for the deep formation in a confident, child-like relationship with God. In fact, children can become deformed when exposed to “ministries” designed for this purpose. We can see the results of abdication in this area all around us.

What are the benefits of praying as a family, have you seen families flourish when they started to pray more together?

Prayer, of course, is simply life in Christ. In our book, The Little Oratory, we try to answer the question, “What now?” asked by the person who has awakened to the need to have this life. The array of possibilities is bewildering — novenas, devotions, movements — how to decide? And the same is true for families. Do we pray the rosary? Do we observe all the saints’ feasts?

We try to help orient the reader to the traditional custom of a little oratory; that prayer table, icon corner, or home altar so beloved by Christians in all times and places, but sadly fallen away today. By means of this little oratory, life along with the Liturgical Year (called by Pius XII “Christ himself”) becomes possible to organize. 

Connecting our prayer to the Liturgy of the Church in her seasons and hours simplifies it and also gives us the assurance that we won’t miss out on anything! Living the Liturgical Year is the perfect “curriculum” for parents to follow, as it is suited to all ages and abilities. It begins organically at Advent and continues throughout the year, every year! We can always begin again, and we always have the opportunity for profound encounter. Even the most intellectually gifted theologian still kneels at the Christmas creche; even the youngest child can experience the wonder of the Trinity at Pentecost. 

The best way is not to present any part of this prayer life as “activities for the children,” but as our own expression of faith, in which we gradually include them as they grow.

What are your practical ideas on how to establish more of a culture of prayer in the family?

The most practical step, as I say, is to establish a prayer altar in the home, and this can be very simple — a crucifix on the wall with a little shelf beneath that holds a candle and a statue of Our Lady on one side and St. Joseph on the other. It can be a tray on the kitchen table with a standing crucifix and a little vase of flowers in May. Some have room for a chapel in the home; most put their beloved sacred objects on the mantel or corner cupboard somewhere in the heart of their home. 

We describe in detail in the book how to go about doing this, and even provide beautifully printed icons, made by David Clayton, that are in the back and can be detached and framed. 

The little oratory becomes the organizing principle of the family’s prayer life, and we describe how in the book, going into the Liturgical seasons and how they manifest in the little oratory, and so on. Most of all, this place in the home isn’t so much a matter of doing but of simply radiating, by means of humble beauty, the truth of the faith of those who dwell there. 

This radiance of truth has a profound effect on children and indeed on all who enter the home, visitors or family members. The organization I speak of isn’t just for the actual prayers said there, but within the hearts of the family. Somehow, the room where the icon corner is becomes tidier; the family begins to pray their Grace before their meals; the father comes to see the importance of leading the rosary; the mother is more attentive to the children’s catechism (if only to answer the questions! “Why do we have an icon of that saint?” “Why is Jesus on the Cross?”).

I have had many readers tell me that their life together has indeed flourished when they reclaimed this simple and ancient practice of a little oratory, for family prayer.

Bishop Schneider mentioned making a sacrifice to attend Mass, even if it is far away from home. How does that relate to prayer in the home?

When we make the decision to orient our home with an icon corner or little altar, as Christian families have done from antiquity, it helps us to see that the home is indeed “a domestic Church.” Why? Because the husband and wife are united in a sacrament, marriage, and this sacrament (like all of them) depends on and derives from the pre-eminent one, the Eucharist. So the home really is sacred in a way that another building is not. It is the place where this life together in Christ is lived — even above and beyond what was promised by Our Lord when He said that “when two or more are gathered in my name, I will be there.” 

When we live in the home with the realization that “the kingdom of God is among you,” the Holy Spirit himself excites in us a longing to unite with the sacrifice of the Mass. If we leave Mass on Sundays with the sense of “well, that’s over now for the week,” we and our children will be very unlikely to have a strong faith — and yet, what are we to do? We can’t spend all week in the church! 

No, we take what we have been given at church and we bring it to the world, renewing the flame of Christ’s life in us alive every day in the home. We do this by means of vocal prayers, and certain ones suggest themselves, such as grace before meals, morning offering, night prayers, and rosary. We also do this in our other activities — our interactions with each other, conversations, enjoyments, meals, work, and yes, even disagreements and sufferings, which are opportunities to forgive and love even more.

You speak of difficulties. Isn’t it hard to pray together as a family?

It can be hard! We are hampered by lack of experience in many cases, and by human nature! In the book we have a whole chapter devoted to helping the reader overcome the problems, including getting small children to say the rosary and what to do when one spouse isn’t Catholic or isn’t motivated. In all, I’d say that people have found that the book helps them by being fairly thorough but also by a realistic understanding of the challenges. Many have told me that they were anxious at first, but then found that the book made everything seem much more doable.

Why do you think Bishop Schneider made such a point of the importance of praying as a family?

Bishop Schneider really understands that we are in a crisis in the Church today. Every day there is something new to disturb our peace, and most of us are most demoralized by the thought that the attacks are coming from within the Church.

For me, a convert, my way through difficulties in knowing how to respond to all the upheavals of life truly fell into place when I made a simple little oratory in our home. I think it will help others follow the good bishop’s advice as well! We wrote the book because we each longed for such a book in our own journey in faith; until we did, it really didn’t exist.

Every day I get asked, “What should my attitude really be in this crisis? How can I make it through? There’s so little I can really do.” What I love about Bishop Schneider’s answer is that it cuts to the heart of what our struggle will always be: personal sanctity — meaning a real prayer life with Jesus Christ — and devotion to our actual, day to day duties. For parents, the primary duty is to raise and educate our children, especially in the faith. This is only in small part a matter of direct instruction. Mostly, it is a very simple matter of living our own prayer life with them, in union with the Church in her Liturgical Year, which comprises and transmits all the truth, goodness, and beauty of our faith. 

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