(All of the Summer in the Little Oratory posts can be found here.)
This week, we’re talking about chapter three, “Making the Little Oratory in the Home.”
Are you excited? I hope you are.
We’ve had two chapters of great, food-for-thought material about home and family. Now it’s time to get into the question of “how do I do this thing?” So this chapter is mostly practical tips about what your oratory should be, what should be contained there, and how to set it up. The authors note that these are all suggestions, and you, of course, do not have to follow them! The table or shelf is meant to “be simply a place of beauty” (32).
The advantage of the Little Oratory, first and foremost, is that “…at last, a place for those things that float around your house–the odd statue, the prayer cards, the icons, the rosaries.” (31) (If you’re like me, you have a LOT of prayer cards! )
So, what should we use? A table or shelf will work quite well, out of reach of toddlers who might destroy it, but low enough that an older child could look at the objects on the table. A console or sofa table is mentioned specifically by the authors (33) as good ones to try. You can also build a corner shelf, if you’re a crafty sort of person.
Once you have the table or shelf, you can cover it with fabric, like the altar at church is covered with the altar cloth. Natural fibers (linen, cotton, etc.) is recommended by the authors. My table isn’t currently covered–I might change my mind about this–because I don’t want my rosary to snag on lace, and I also like the high shine of the wood underneath. A table runner, as mentioned in the book, is something that might work, though, provided it’s small.
The authors talk about images next. What belongs here? They mention three things:
- a crucifix at the centerpiece (I’m working on finding one for this purpose!)
- To the right of the crucifix, a picture of Christ glorified (icon of Christ in majesty, the Transfiguration, the Sacred Heart, the Sacred Face, etc.)
- To the left of the crucifix, an image of Our Lady.
“These three images, Christ suffering on the Cross, Christ glorified, and the Mother of God, are the beating heart of every prayer corner.” (38)
Of course, these images must be beautiful and true. Here’s some criteria the authors give for evaluating art for the Little Oratory (or, indeed, any art, I think):
- Is it beautiful? A nearby church has one of the ugliest statues of Mary I have ever seen. It’s carved of dark wood and shows her in a very advanced (and very unflattering) state of pregnancy. Yes, of course, Mary was pregnant. But this carving is not beautiful, and it does not “enhance our efforts to speak to God…or a saint.” (39) It’s just ugly. It’s best summed up by the comment I overheard once while attending Mass there: “What is that?”
- Does it reflect the Truth? Is the content of the image consistent with the teachers of the Church? (39)
- Would I spend eternity (or at least a long time) with this?
- Is it well done? Using the first example of the Mary statue–there are so many well-done statues of Mary, like the one at my current parish which depicts Our Lady of Grace. It is beautiful in the true sense of that word, and it’s very well done in execution.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy that Gothic and Baroque art “at its best” are the best examples of combining beauty and theological significance. (40) Not every expression of art is Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, and that’s fine. Think of the preceding qualifications. “Avoid anything contrived or distorted, or somehow rejecting tradition,” the authors state. (41)
Other objects for the prayer table include:
- Candles, especially votive candles;
- A censer;
- Easel or stand;
- A Bible;
- Prayer books, such as the breviary, rosary books, books of blessing and compendia of devotions, the stations of the cross;
- Prayer-intention journal;
- vases, and
- prayer cards.
“Above all, regardless of its simplicity or otherwise, make it beautiful. Its beauty will convey more of faith than anything else.” (47) Obviously, you don’t need all these things, but just the things that you like. On mine, I have two Bibles, my rosary beads and rosary meditation books, and prayer cards. I also generally keep my breviary there, at least at the end of the day, so I know where to pick it up again the next morning.