Ancient man was religious. Ancient religious man had sacred places in the community where they would gather to re-present the mysteries of their faith. Here, at the temple or sacred site, there would be celebration, worship, liturgy, and sacrifice. Ancient religious man also made his a home a sanctuary. In the ancient Roman family there would be a Lararium or altar place where sacrifice or worship happened. This was either in the atrium in richer families or in the peasant families it was located near the hearth. This sacred space in the home became a fixed point upon which the lives of the ancients revolved. Their lives were ordered towards communion with the gods as something/someone(s) higher than themselves.
Now what about modern man?
Modern man is generally non-religious. There are no sacred spaces for non-religious man. Why? Simply because a space becomes sacred because there is a connection with the Divine there. If the Divine doesn't exist in modern man's consciousness, then there is no sacred space per se (one could debate that a place where a significant memory happened could be a sacred space in a modern sort of way). There is no fixed point by which modern non-religious man orders his world. Thus his world orbits around the fixed point of himself. He is autonomous! As Rousseau and Locke and Hobbes cry out!
His home becomes a place of utility. A place where he can rest so that he can work again. A place that can be changed out, exchanged, discarded and sold. The home is a functional place. There is no lararium in the home. It is has been replaced by the television. And as most homes no longer have a hearth, the television becomes the new hearth. Or ... maybe I'm old school ... maybe today the hearth has become a smart phone and the smart phone is the nexus of the home of which there are 4 or 5 ... which brings us back full circle to the autonomy of the individual being the fixed point.
And then there is the Catholic home.
Catholics grow up interacting with sacred spaces. Every Church is a sacred space built to house the real presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We enter a Church and our children need to stop talking. There is no running in the sanctuary. We genuflect, bow, have incense, bells, specific dress, liturgy, priests and so forth. It is a fixed point by which we dictate the rhythm of our lives. Times of the year become sacred through and in this sacred space.
Our homes are also a sacred space (or should be). The family is a microcosm of the Church. Our homes should not be simply places of utility where we come to rest in order to work (as if work was our highest aim). Unity is our highest aim. Union with each other and God. Our homes need to lend themselves to building and preserving this unity.
My wife and I have chosen three strategies by which to make our home more of a sacred space.
1. Family Prayer Altar
This is the most common way of making the home a sacred space. The prayer altar is the place where we begin our day and end our day. The children each have their own candle and when it is lit, they know they have been prayed for. It is here that we see our sacred time dictated - the altar changes its colour according to the liturgical season, it gains a Jesse tree during Advent, and a good deed jar during Lent.
Biffert Family Advent Prayer Altar
2. The Supper Hour
The supper table for our family has become a way of making the home a sacred space. We try to make every supper, every day of the week a sacred time. The children are called to supper and stand quietly (for the most part) behind their chairs and wait for the host (their father) to bring everyone together. Then, we sing a seasonal hymn or Latin hymn together and pray. At the host's consent, the boys hold out the chairs for the ladies and we sit. The food is passed around and no one is touch the food until all have received and the host takes the first bite. The table is set with nice dishes, candles are lit, flowers are on the table, each child is trained how to use a cloth napkin (rather than their sleeve) and we engage in discussion. My wife leads the discussion and we teach the kids how to properly engage in dialogue. It truly has become a special, sacred time in our family.
3. Beauty in the Home
I used to buy into the adage "Let kids be kids." Now I believe children have ample time to be children, but they can also be trained to be civilized and in fact, it is our jobs as parents to do so. Thus, we have made a purposeful decision to put beautiful things in the home that children are not allowed to be rambunctious around. For example, we have a nice set of dishes. Rather than having the little ones eat on plastic or tin, we all eat on the nice dishes and learn to do so with manners. We purchased some nice furniture that kids are not allowed to jump over or on, which helps us to train them to be civilized and treat things with respect. What we've realized is that when we started making efforts to bring beauty to our home, the respect for the living space increased and thus the reverence. Beauty has been helping to make our home have sacred spaces.
I'd love to hear what you do in your home! Please share!
The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion by Mircea Eliade
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