I'm not gonna lie, I bought Leila's book without really knowing what it was about. I had read her posts on it but didn't have that clear of an idea of specifics. But something was prompting me to get it and that it would be worth it. I began reading with a blank slate, no expectations and without having read any other reviews or synopses. I'm so glad I did. I found it incredibly practical and an encouragement in much of what I was already trying to do in our Catholic home. It reignited within me the desire to make our home a true domestic church and the worth and value in that pursuit. I especially loved the first chapter of the "why" of the book and the broad picture treatment they give to Christianity as a whole. What a beautiful synopsis of the entire salvation story! The incarnational nature of our Faith is given such beautiful and reasonable address. I love that the book unabashedly promotes beauty, truth, and goodness as something we can claim in our own homes as a reflection of the Divine yet in a very practical and accessible way. It doesn't apologize for challenging us to go a little further and aim for the beautiful in our homes that yes, are filled with real people and real toddlers and babies and messes and day to day life...but it does it in a way that makes it accessible and acknowledges what a worthy pursuit that is. And, I have to admit, I had a huge smile on my face when I read the following line in the second chapter:
"The home, you might say, ought to be a little Eden on earth;
or better, because we are now redeemed, a little bit of heaven."
You can see it resonated with me so much that I added it to my sidebar over there :)
What a confirmation and encouragement it was to read Leila and David's book and realize we already had a little oratory in our home, though I had never called it such!
In college I majored in Theology with a concentration in religious education, now called catechetics. During our studies I remember the importance of a sacred space in the classroom being stressed, a place of focus in the room on what the goal and end of education really should be. The role of liturgy and rite within lessons was highlighted and we were taught that our teaching, especially of the Faith, should always begin with centering our students in prayer, using that sacred space. The Little Oratory takes that method and applies it (I say more importantly) to the home, the domestic church.
I pulled that concept I learned into my home somewhat intuitively without consciously remembering those classes but believing that a Christian home should feel that way. I mean, if I really believe all this to be true, if I really have this love for a Person named Jesus, if I really believe Him to be the king of my heart and home, that this whole story, this whole thing is really real and that I belong to a huge family of God, then of course I would want to display a picture of Him and some of my brothers and sisters, at the very least in the same way I would display a picture of my children, right? It just makes sense to me. As the domestic church, I want my home to look that way. I had a little bit of experience with this growing up. We had signs of our faith scattered throughout our home and I remember having a May altar growing up. However, during the other months there wasn't anything fitting the description of an oratory.
When we moved into the house we have now, it was the front room that drew me in. An extra little room downstairs off the living room seemed so practical for homeschooling. (Does anyone else immediately place their Christmas tree when looking at a prospective house? Or is that just me?) The front room was also the perfect place for what I now know is our little oratory. Two years ago, we redid the entire room, adding built in bookshelves and window seats, refinishing the floors, stripping wallpaper, and painting. (If you're interested, you can see a before and after pic here.) Because this room is the main focal point when you turn from the kitchen into the living room, I really wanted this wall to be a beautiful place that centered our home on Christ.
I've toyed with different arrangements but this is how it currently looks (and I'm not at all happy with the photos but I'm dealing with the most frustrating light in this house the last few days!):
The space between the windows is narrow so I used something that would fit and not block the windows and also leave room for the small chairs which makes the room a little sitting room as well. I bought that shelf at a garage sale for five dollars when (possibly a few weeks before?) we were married. I love it. For some reason that little shelf as simple and rustic as it is I just find so beautiful.
On top is a vintage linen I believe I also bought at a garage or rummage sale. During Lent and Advent, I replace it with a burlap runner. On top of that is my vase currently filled with forget-me-nots from the front yard. (I just love forget-me-nots! They're one of my favorites.) I try to keep fresh flowers there but it's not always possible. The top is always changing through the year and seasons. I keep the unused pictures inside the left window seat. You can see my book of the Liturgy of the Hours and my Bible which are both used every day. Well, on the good days. To the left is my blessed candle. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with the recommendation of the book and say that I find it pleasing sometimes to have candles placed asymmetrically, provided that it happens in an entire context of symmetry.
On the first shelf reside our devotionals. Prompted by the book I replaced the disorganized and cheap basket I had holding the rosaries and prayers cards with another one I had (one I think I inherited after my grandfather passed) that is a little bit better quality and is divided so that now the rosaries are on one side and rosary cards, prayer cards, medals, etc. are in the other. Along side the basket is any current spiritual reading and a tiny icon of the Mother of God my brother-in-law brought us back from Greece.
On the lower two shelves I just replaced our nature table items. For a couple of years I had to remove it all in fear of Luke's destructive powers but I think he may be old enough now to not crush all of our treasures and my little identifying cards. But then again, this afternoon might find me moving them all again and putting his board books back on which have resided there the last year or so. I have the nature items loosely categorized, rocks, minerals, plant life on the bottom shelf and animal life on the second. I did like when I originally had them separated into three groups but I wanted to use the next shelf for devotional books and the miniature wooden Mass set that the younger two may use during prayer time. So our human devotionals take the next two shelves and the Word of God and the Liturgy of the Hours reside on top. I love that it ascends like that.
Directly above the shelf is a pewter Scorzelli crucifix, a replica of the one carried by the last four popes. I love that crucifix. This specific one is actually John Paul's that we got for his First Reconciliation but we commandeered for family use. Around the entire wall hang our icons. It was quite a task making sure they were all perfectly measured and symmetrical. In a spurt of book inspired cleaning I actually dusted off each one of them yesterday and rehung them. They needed it badly!
In the middle hangs a wood crucifix icon which was also brought to us from Greece and surrounding that are the icons of the patron saints of our family, alternating sides in descending order. On the left is St. Joseph, St. Francis, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Michael, St. Luke, and the Annunciation (Luke's middle name being Emmanuel). On the other side are Mary, Mother of God, St. Therese, The Holy Family (our child in heaven is named Joseph Mary in honor of the Holy Family), St. Raphael, King David, and St. Dominic (although David's middle name is actually after St. Dominic Savio...they didn't have an icon of him :). All of those icons are really notecards I purchased from Monastery Icons and Building Bridges Images extremely inexpensively (about $1-2 each) and framed with inexpensive but matching frames from Christmas Tree Shops. Making an oratory beautiful does not have to be expensive, though I believe beautiful real art is worth spending money on. That is, of course, if you have it ;)
The rest of our Bibles, Scripture aids, hagiographies (fancy word for saint biographies - lesson of the day), Catechisms, and other devotionals reside on specific shelves on the built-ins to the right and left of the oratory.
This room has become the room where we pray, read, play, rough house, visit, and with a small desk in the corner once in a while the boys will do their lessons here (usually when I need to separate them). This is the room where I curl up with my coffee and wake up and pray and prepare for the day. I'm happy with my choice of a soft neutral shag rug to soften the space and make it inviting for the kids to be in despite the fact that it camouflages Legos so well. John Paul spends hours at a time snuggled up in that left window seat reading almost every day.
Because the shelf is narrow and the crucifix hangs behind, I decided this year to change things up and place a little May "altar" somewhere else. This is in our living room.
I've told you about our garbage-picked faux mantle before. There's a burlap runner underneath. The Mary statue is one given to me by a friend that I repainted. More forget-me-nots :) To the left are my very asymmetrical beeswax candles and rummage saled candlesticks. To the right is a pottery jug and vintage glass bottle both found on our property when we moved in. Oh, and a random candle. Above hangs an empty frame which I find beautiful in itself. I know some people probably think that's weird but I think it sets the space apart and highlights Mary. This mantle changes all the time with the liturgical and natural seasons but this is how it looks now.
Throughout the rest of our home are little (or big) visual reminders of the ones I love. A kneeler in the bedroom, a crucifix in every room, and pictures or statues, all chosen with great care, that remind me every time I see them of the bigger story. I need those reminders.
Thank you so much to Leila and David for writing this book and providing the encouragement I needed to reprioritize and revalue this pursuit in our home.
(If you'd like to purchase one, you can click on the book below.)