Every Catholic home should be considered a microcosm of the Church, with the Father as the head, Mother as the cherished spouse (both equal before God in dignity and, always, treating each other equally in charity), and with the children brought up learning how to know, love, and serve God. The true head of the Catholic home is Jesus, just as He is Head of the Church but appointed a Vicar in the Supreme Pontiff, our Holy Father. The constant awareness of Christ’s Kingship, with the family’s week centered on the Mass, and day centered on prayer, is key.
At a minimum, in addition to being encouraged to pray in his own words, prayers that every Catholic child should know are:
- the prayers of the Rosary: Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Fatima Prayer, and the Sign of the Cross (the very smallest of children should know how and when to sign themselves)
- The Nicene Creed
- Blessing before Meals
- Blessing after Meals
- Prayer to Guardian Angel
- Prayer to St. Michael
- Act of Contrition
- Hail, Holy Queen
- The Eternal Rest Prayer
All of these prayers can be found in both English and Latin on the Traditional Catholic Prayers, Creeds, and Ejaculations page of this site (please, if you’re able, consider teaching your children some of these prayers in Latin!). Prayer should be further encouraged by placing Holy Water fonts near your front door and in each child’s room. They should be taught what Holy Water is, what using it signifies, and how to use it — and parents should bless their children with it, signing them on their foreheads. Each child’s room should also have a crucifix hanging over the bed (these crucifixes should be blessed by a priest).
Ideally, every family should consecrate their home to the Sacred Heart, overtly stating their intentions of making Christ the King of their household. The detailed procedure on doing this will be found on this site’s page on Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In any case, you should ask a priest to bless your home as soon as you move into it (aside from the blessing of new homes, there is a tradition of having one’s home blessed also on the Feast of the Epiphany).
In contradistinction to the typical home which has a television set as its centerpiece, the focal point of a Catholic home should be the family altar — a place where the family can gather to offer up their prayers to the Most Holy Trinity and to ask the Saints to pray for them. Morning Offerings, family Rosaries, prayers for special intentions, family novenas, Lectio Divina, etc., can all be made here. 1
Family altars, ideally, should be on the Eastern wall of a home, in the same orientation as church buildings. The altar can be as simple or as elaborate as one desires, but should be beautiful and conducive to contemplation. A few key items to be placed on or around the altar table are:
Sacred Scripture (Douay-Rheims)
icons (statues and/or two-dimensional)
a Holy Water font
a cellar of blessed salt
charcoal incense burner
vigil candles, candles blessed at Candlemas (to burn on All Saints Day and in times of trouble), and Baptismal candles (for use at weddings and during Unction)
Other things one might want to consider are the Breviary or the Little Office of Our Lady, Holy Cards, flowers, prie-dieux, the names of dead family members printed on beautiful parchment so we may be reminded to pray for them (having their funeral holy cards there would be nice, too), pictures of the Stations of the Cross or the Mysteries of the Rosary, something with which to play sacred music and Gregorian chant, sick call sets, palm branches from Palm Sunday, certificate of a papal blessing, etc.
It would be especially good if at least a small library could be built up containing books to feed the faith: traditional Catechisms for children and adults, Butler’s “Lives of the Saints,” Thomas á Kempis’s “Imitation of Christ,” St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica,” St. Augustine’s “City of God” and “Confessions,” the writings of St. Thérèse de Lisieux (the “Little Flower”), St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, etc. “Coffee table books” that include beautiful pictures of Christendom’s great works of art and architecture would be very inspiring, too.
Family altars, like the rest of the home, can be decorated according to the liturgical season, changing tablecloths, sacred images, and flowers according to that Season’s liturgical colors and themes (check here to see a list of flowers by liturgical color). One tip I have is to buy one of those little tiny 6″ easels made to display small pictures, or some decorative place card holders, and then buy an assortment of Holy Cards to place on them according to liturgical season or Feast. For ex., on the Feast of St. Nicholas, a Holy Card bearing his likeness can be set out; on Good Friday, a card depicting the Crucifixion; on the family’s Name Days, depictions of their patrons can be placed on it, etc.
Artistic mothers (or fathers with the rare interest) can embroider altar cloths with appropriate Seasonal symbols and colors. Another idea is to embroider phrases or appropriate verses from Scripture along the borders or at the center of altar cloths that summarize the Season’s “mood.” The Seasons’ colors and some appropriate symbols for them are:
||Advent candles; Advent wreath; empty crib; St. John the Baptist; “Veni, veni Emmanuel” (Come, come Emmanuel); “Ecce Dominus veniet” (Behold, the Lord our God shall come); “Ero cras” (the O Antiphon acrostic meaning “Tomorrow I come”); the titles given to Jesus in the O Antiphons: Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex Gentium, Emmanuel
|star; manger, candles; bells; mother and Child; angels;
Christmas candle; holly; ivy; Christmas rose; poinsettia; Glastonbury thorn; wreath; Christmas tree; mistletoe; cardinals; robins; yule log; “Glória in excélsis Deo” (Glory to God in the Highest)
Time after Epiphany
||water and wine of miracle at Cana; fish and loaves; Scallop Shell; “Benedícitus Dóminus Deus Israel, Qui facit mirabília magna solus a saeculo” (Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, Who alone doth wonderful things from the beginning)
||chains; tears; “De profúndis clamávi ad te, Dómine: Dómine, exáudi vocem meam” (From the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord: Let thine ears be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant)
||Cross; crown of thorns; nails; Chalice; Host; “Kyrie eléison” (Lord, have mercy); “Immutémur hábitu in cinere et cilicio” (Let us change our garments for ashes and sackcloth)
|empty Tomb; egg; lamb; the Paschal candle; bells; peacock; butterfly; phoenix; “Christus Resurrexit” (Christ is risen)
Time after Pentecost
|the number 1,000 (the letter “M” in Roman numerals); Church; Peter’s Keys; crown symbolizing Christ’s Kingship; “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat” (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands); “Vive Christus Rex” (Long live Christ the King)
(Just a little note on setting up altars, nativity scenes, etc.: artistic elements should be arranged so that the most important is to the right according to Christ’s perspective — which is usually to the left side from our perspective. Recall how in our churches, the left side of the Church from our perspective is the superior Gospel and Mary side of the church while the right side from our perspective is the inferior Epistle and St. Joseph side of the Church. This is because from the perspective of Christ on the Crucifix which hangs above or sits on the altar, the Gospel/Mary side is to His right. In following this principle when setting up a creche, for ex., Mary should be to Christ’s right — but to our left. So, if you have a Crucifix or other representation of Christ on your altar, keep this in mind.)
Also in keeping with the liturgical Seasons and Feast Days, icons and statues can be covered with purple cloth during Passiontide (the last two weeks of Lent); statues of Mary can be crowned with roses in May; lilies (especially blessed lilies) can be placed there on the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua (13 June); Advent wreaths can be set up on the first Sunday of Advent; the crèche (“nativity scene”) could be set up here during Christmastide, etc. Some families even clothe statues of Our Lady according to the liturgical season, for example, dressing her in a black veil for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows and Good Friday, in white or gold for Christmas and Easter, etc.
It is very important for parents to make the liturgical year come alive for their children, to make it a part of the rhythm of their children’s lives. This will help them pay more attention at Mass during the Gospel and sermons, and it has the psychological benefit of helping the children feel both “grounded” in a stable, traditional family, and a part of something “bigger than they are” in terms of the Church, the cycles of the liturgical year being something shared by Catholics for millennia. These “little things” connect you to your children, your children to each other, and your family to the Church. From a secular angle, it is good, too, to have family history books, family trees, information about any countries of origin in your family’s past, etc. — in other words, to have, as much as possible, at least basic geneaological information — so that kids have a sense of their ancestors, feel a part of something much larger than themselves, and have a sense of themselves as rooted in History. It is also another way to encourage kids to pray for their dead family members.
Customs for particular Feast Days and Seasons are as varied as the number of families and countries that exist. These customs touch on everything from prayers to food to things like Advent calendars, skulls made of sugar, and bonfires. These are explored elsewhere on this site, but one thing I’d like to mention here is the planning and starting of Mary Gardens in the Spring — especially on the Feast of the Annunciation — and at bulb-planting time.
During family devotions, “set the scene.” Turn down the lights, burn incense, light candles, play sacred music when appropriate, etc. Use sensory cues to let everyone know that what will be done now is set apart and sacred. Of course, prayer throughout the day, aside from special sacred times, should be encouraged, too; our lives should be a prayer! An old joke comes to mind: Two Jesuit novices both wanted a cigarette while they prayed. They decided to ask their superior for permission. The first asked but was told no. A little while later he spotted his friend smoking and praying an Ave. “Why did the superior allow you to smoke and not me?” he asked. His friend replied, “Because you asked if you could smoke while you prayed, and I asked if I could pray while I smoked!” The point is that while prayer while going about the mundane is, of course, always good — we are exhorted to “pray without ceasing” — it is also good to set aside time just to worship God with no distractions.
Catholic children should be taught about our virtuous Saints! Give your children heroes, inspire their imaginations and feed their will to do good. They could be taught about the Saints as their Feast Days are celebrated throughout the Sanctoral Cycle, as the family’s Name Days are celebrated, etc. The family as a group should adopt a patron Saint for their home just as each particular church has its own patron and guardian angel (St. Joseph, patron of families, is a natural for this cause!). Some families, like some religious orders, choose a different patron each year on the Feast of the Epiphany. Call on Saints who have patronage in various situations, such as sickness, traveling, etc. Hang an icon of St. Martha in your kitchen, an icon of St. Barbara for use during storms, etc. No matter what, the Church Triumphant should be experienced as being as real to your children as the Church Militant!
…And the reality of the Church Suffering should be clear and relevant to them, too. Though we all have the hope that our dead family members are already in Heaven, it is possible that they are in Purgatory for a time. Our beloved dead should never be forgotten, and prayer for them should be a part of your children’s lives. Praying the Blessing After Meals ensures that the souls of our dead ancestors are prayed for every time we eat.
Parents should also bless their children, at the least on the Lord’s Day. The traditional way of doing this is for the children to kneel and for the parent to either place his hands on the child’s head and/or trace a Cross on the child’s forehead while saying:
May Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, bless you, my child(ren), for time and eternity, and may this blessing remain forever with you. Amen
St. Ambrose wrote of this practice:
You may not be rich; you may be unable to bequeath any great possessions to your children; but one thing you can give them; the heritage of your blessing. And it is better to be blessed than to be rich.
On a different level, Catholic homes should be filled with books, art, music, the necessary things to make crafts, etc. There should be plenty to feed the mind and heart, and to engage the body. A well-trained child should rarely speak of “boredom” or offer it as an excuse for getting into trouble or whining; he should learn to entertain himself, to imagine new games and to marvel at and learn about the world about him. Young children never hate to read and to learn! That comes later, after bad teachers who ignore the importance of phonics and don’t know how to engage a child’s interest make them feel stupid, and when television has robbed them of imagination and taught them to think in sound-bytes and quick-moving images. It is too much television that trains them to feel restless unless pounding music and rapid-fire motion are assaulting their senses. For the love of all that is holy, keep your children far away from large doses of television (and, most certainly, far from programming that assaults basic Christian morals unless they’re “of age” and you talk with them about what you’re seeing). A mellow-paced “Mr. Rogers” type show or a good movie never hurt anyone, but incessant quick-cuts, relentless soundtracks, commercials, etc., especially in large doses, are killers of the soul.
The other killer of the ability to marvel is the bored adult who’s lost that ability himself. Cynical teachers who hate what they do and treat children like inmates; uncultured parents who haven’t picked up a book in years; Pharisaic parents who forget that the purpose of rules is to serve charity and who sap the joy out of a child’s life with their drive for power, inane rules, and lack of humor; older teenagers around them who do nothing but express angst — if this is what your child sees, this is what he will model himself after.
If you don’t: read, draw, paint, play a musical instrument, do genealogy, embroider, knit, purl, tat, whittle, carve wood, dance, make furniture, build model airplanes, birdwatch, brew beer, ferment wine, stargaze, make mosaics, learn foreign languages, shoot guns, camp, do archery, garden, bake, work on cars, write stories, model in clay, fly kites, develop screenplays, play sports, collect something, walk in the woods, write poetry, learn about astronomy, etc. — I think you get my point — then turn off the T.V., pick something, and begin now. If you’ve lost your child-like love of learning and sense of wonder, pray to regain it!
The growing child must also have the space, silence, and tools to marvel, “create” (as it were), think, and learn in addition to having his desire to do so unmolested by television and bad role modelling. Prepare a space where he can be a child.
Try to at least have dinner together as a family, and make dinnertime pleasant with conversation and games. For things to talk about and games you can play at the table, download these Word documents:
Questions for Family Dinner Table Conversation and For Couples (17 pages)
Pages of questions, in the manner of the books “If” and “The Book of Questions,” designed to provoke conversation and help people to learn about one another, perhaps while sitting around the family dinner table. Before the list of questions are other questionnaires, including Proust’s Questionnaire, the famous, short list of questions James Lipton poses on “Inside The Actors Studio,” the “Questions to Build Intimacy” for couples, and more. Some of these are for adults; others are for children and families as a whole.
Making Family Dinners Fun, a.k.a. Things To Do To Kill Time on Long Car Trips (25 pages)
Lots of things you can do at dinnertime, and games you can play with your family. The games require no pencils, no paper, no dice, no cards, no nothing, so they can be played around the dinner table during dinner itself, as well as in the car, while waiting in line, etc. Some are good for younger kids, some are good for older kids and adults, some are good for all ages. There is a special section on things to do and play in the car, and the four Travel Bingo cards referred to in this document are here: One Two Three Four
And on a final note, keep your sense of humor! Life is serious — quite serious — but it is also wondrous and sometimes hysterically funny. If you are so stressed, so cynical, so rigorist or “educated” that you can’t laugh, then something’s got to give. Deal with it before you pass that dour trait on to your children or let it infect your marriage. Pray about it and talk to a spiritual director or other wise person. You will be happier and healthier, and so will your family.
Addendum: The above paragraph was to have been — and was for a long time — the final paragraph to this page. But after having run a Catholic discussion forum for a few decades now, I think I need to add something else — a warning. Catholic parents are understandably — and rightly — concerned about protecting their children from “the world.” But I’ve seen that many go way too far and engage in a sort of protectionism that doesn’t respect a child’s need to fit in with his peers. So many parents confuse innocence with ignorance, and I find this a very serious problem. Ignorance pertains to the intellect; innocence pertains to purity of heart. One can know about every evil under the Sun but still be pure of heart. Our Lord, for example, was certainly not ignorant about a thing while on earth, but was still pure of heart!
When children have questions, they need and deserve honest answers given to them in a manner appropriate to their mental acuity and emotional maturity. No child wants to feel “stupid” among his peers! He simply must be aware of what the world is like lest he be made to feel “stupid,” which can only breed resentment. And that resentment can, once the child becomes a teenager, turn into full-blown rebellion. Further, your child can’t fight what he doesn’t know! Making great “mysteries” of things very often backfires, and this phenomenon deeply concerns me as I watch Catholic parents try to raise their children so that they’ll one day be faithful Catholic adults.
Parents have to concern themselves with their children’s social needs, their needs to fit in or to at least not stand out as if they’re ignorant relics from some overly-romanticized past that never existed in the first place. What children wear, their knowledge of trends and fashions and popular culture — these things are, to a degree and whether we like it or not, socially important. Of course, the modern world places an extremely inordinate emphasis on these things; that’s a given. But if you dress your child so that he doesn’t look modest but weird, if you keep him so cloistered that he doesn’t know who the biggest celebrities du jour are, and so on, you’re setting him up to resent you when he is mocked by his cohort, and you’re setting him up, too, to, God forbid, resent the Holy Faith as well. I repeat: ignorance is not innocence!
I recommend that parents watch some of those very popular but problematic TV shows and movies with their children so that their children know about them and can talk about them, so they don’t feel like “freaks” among their peers by being ignorant about them while they’re also taught to understand them in the proper way. Watching these things with your children gives you the opportunity to talk about them during and afterward! You can teach them about the world, thereby allowing your children to not be ignorant or to look “stupid” or “uncool” among their peers, while also teaching them why some of those things are troublesome. And you may well learn a lot about your child in the process, hearing about his concerns, what he’s experiencing, etc.
Another problem in this regard is the way some parents have of overstating their case against something or someone they don’t want their children to have anything to do with. Hyperbolic language, mischaracterizations, treating the designated “Bad Thing” or “Bad Person” as all bad, all the time, as possessing no redeeming qualities (especially if a person), not acknowleding the nature of those things and people honestly — all of these amount to untruths, whether overtly or by ommission. Children can see through those things — or will come to see through them. For ex., if you don’t want your child to become a Miley Cyrus super-fan, calling her “talentless” is not something you should do. It is a lie. She does have talent. She does have a great voice. Your kids can see that; it’s obvious. So your overstating your case will only cause them to question your other characterizations that may well be true (e.g., she dresses very immodestly, her example is a bad influence, etc.). We simply must be honest with our children and to not interact with them from a place of fear!
I have to tell you that after having done what I do in the traditional Catholic world for so many years, I am very afraid that too many parents, by mishandling what I’ve talked about in the past few paragraphs, will be in for a huge, devastating surprise when their children come of age. Christ, have mercy!
There’s a Stranger in Your House
Please read this article about what we allow television to do to our families. It is so sadly true! If you have a television, consider putting it inside a locked armoire, and hiding the key in a different room — anything to make watching it something one has to think about rather than a matter of mindlessly flipping a switch and getting “hypnotized” for hours on end. Set limits in other ways: if you don’t get rid of it entirely: use it only for taped movies, or watch it for only X hours a week, or watch only certain programs that you’ve chosen in advance (if you do this, consider taping the programs so you can fast forward past the commercials and keep your children away from a source of our materialistic and sexualized attitudes). Whatever you do, be on guard as to what your children watch, and don’t for a minute think that Saturday morning cartoons are safe. They are filled with New Age thinking, globalist-agenda brainwashing, sassiness, cynicism, and ugliness. Two additional articles on the dangers of television follow this article.
There’s a Stranger in Your House
To Spank or Not To Spank?
A very serious issue! Read the fascinating study of what happened in Sweden when spanking was made illegal in 1979.
To Spank or Not To Spank?
The Truth about Men & Church
This is an extremely important article that reveals, based on a Swiss study, how crucial it is that fathers — not just mothers — attend church and practice their religion. You will be amazed at what the study showed. A summary (my emphasis): “In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular).” Article written by Robbie Low (an Anglican at the time of writing) and first published in Touchstone Magazine.
The Truth about Men & Church
Living the Faith in Exile
Some words on living true to Christ’s eternal Church while being relegated to the Catacombs. How can we manage? How can we keep the Faith and Catholic culture alive in the midst of our pagan culture?
Living the Faith in Exile
The Christian Home: A Guide to Happiness in the Home
Though this work by Fr. Celestine Strub, O.F.M. was given an Imprimatur in 1934 and, so, uses language we might consider “quaint” nowadays, this book beautifully describes what Catholic home life should be like. The book was written in a time when Catholic schools were Catholic, and Catholic periodicals were Catholic, so remember this as you read of these things in the book. Now we must be much more wary of what is passed off as faithful to our religion:
Chapter I: Necessity of Religion in the Home
Chapter II: Prayer in the Home
Chapter III: Catholic Atmosphere in the Home
Chapter IV: Good Reading in the Home
Chapter V: Harmony in the Home
Chapter VI: Necessity of Home Life
Beginning at Home: The Challenge of Christian Parenthood
This online book by Mary Perkins includes discussion and study topics that parents should think through together. The husband and wife in a Catholic family should make a conscious effort to, as Mrs. Perkins says, “sacramentalize” family life; in order to do so, they must have that as a clear goal and discuss together ways of bringing it about.
Chapter I: The Christian Pattern
Chapter II: Our Neighbors
Chapter III: “…You Did It Unto Me”
Chapter IV: Things
Chapter V: Places
Chapter VI: Work
Chapter VII: Training for Life’s Work and Play
Chapter VIII: Vocations
Chapter IX: Redeeming the Times
Chapter X: Sex Education
Chapter XI: Attaining Our Ideals
1 A few pictures people have sent of their family altars.