This is the easy one. Yay! Hurrah! Special treat for me! No hate mail today! Or maybe not. I said that last week about the “personal” post and soon found both my pretty house and my virtue maligned. Alas, such is the life of a Catholic blogger.
Anyhow, for the sane Catholic set, selling sacramentals isn’t hard. We love our statues, crucifixes, and Divine Mercy images. We know they belong in our homes….and outside too. Nothing says, “A Catholic Lives Here,” like a Marian grotto in the front yard…or the back yard if there’s no good spot for one in the front.
I’ll admit though, this need wasn’t always evident to me.
Growing up, my parents’ home wasn’t decked out in paintings of the Last Supper. It was the 80s— a time when my mom’s tastes ran to the country side—so it was more about hanging baskets and dried flowers back then. I did have a crucifix in my room, though (given to me at my baptism), that I can remember looking at whenever nightmares struck. It comforted me then in ways I couldn’t describe.
Later, during my years running in Protestant circles, I saw few sacramentals in the homes of friends—lots of Bibles, of course, and the occasional picture of Jesus, but certainly no crucifixes or paintings of the Blessed Mother. That was to be expected. Protestantism has a different relationship with matter than Catholicism does, so like their churches, their homes were more Spartan when it came to the faith.
Because of that, though, once I returned to the Catholic Church and started spending more time with Catholics who took their faith seriously, the number of sacramentals in their homes came as a shock to me. Everywhere I looked there were Sacred Hearts, palm branches, rosaries, and holy water fonts. Truth be told, I didn’t like it much.
Yes, yes, I know, bad Catholic. But, that’s the truth. A lot of the sacred images seemed tacky to me. More seemed just plain ugly. And the sheer number almost always struck me as excessive. I saw the point of hanging one beautiful crucifix on the wall, but one in every room? Didn’t people want anything else on their walls? Didn’t they find anything else beautiful?
Fast forward 16 years, and now I’m the one with a crucifix in most every room…and three in my bedroom.
I’ve come to depend on those crucifixes—and all the other sacred images in my home—much like I used to depend on the crucifix hanging in my childhood bedroom. They comfort me. They strengthen me. And they remind me, in the midst of all the chaos, stress, and busyness, of what matters most.
Which is to say, they do what sacramentals are supposed to do.
As I wrote in the OSV article (and have written about more extensively in These Beautiful Bones), sacramentals serve “as gentle reminders of our faith, linking us back to God as we go about the business of our day. They help us think of him, thank him and rely on him. As such, they become conduits of grace, channeling God’s help and love to us in the midst of our hectic lives.”
When it comes to how you display these sacramentals in your home, there are no rules. Do whatever floats your boat. Although, if you held a gun to my head and forced me to give some general principles, I’d say the following:
1. Variety is the spice of life.
It’s probably a good idea to have more than one reminder of God hanging on your walls or sitting on your shelves, but not so many that there’s no room for pictures of loved ones…or anything else you find lovely. The world is chock full of beautiful things, and since we’re talking about a domestic church here, not a parish church, it’s perfectly acceptable to cultivate a little variety in your décor.
2. Proportions matter.
Sacramentals can be as new or as old, as cheap or as costly, and as small or as big as you like. Scale, however, is something to consider. Unless your dining room is the size of a cathedral, life-sized statues of Saint Anthony and Saint Therese might—just might— look a bit out of place in it.
If you really want your home outfitted like a Rococo Basilica, more power to you. But, if not, try to fit the sacred object to the space, not vice versa.
3. Put it anywhere.
As for where you can put them, a family altar or little oratory (like that described by David Clayton and Leila Lawler in their book of the same name) is a wonderful idea. You can also do what I do and have small sacred spaces throughout the house. Or you can place things scattershot. It all works.
Here, the only obvious thing to do is keep the breakable sacramentals out of reach of small children. Unless, of course, you are working on cultivating detachment. Which I am.
4. Like it.
Finally, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that you should like the sacred images you’re displaying. You should find them beautiful. After all, you want the sacramentals that surround you to bring you peace and joy. You want them to draw you closer to the Lord… not make you shudder at his bad 1970s haircut.
There is such a thing as bad sacred art, and the mere fact that it’s Catholic doesn’t mean you have to display it in your house. That may seem self-evident to many of you, but trust me, I live in Steubenville, and it’s not evident to everyone. It’s really not. So, once more: It doesn’t matter if it’s a deal from a garage sale or a gift from your Aunt Maude; if you don’t like it, you’re no under no obligation to display it.
Personal taste will of course vary. What I think simply lovely, you may think fussy and out of date. But that’s okay. Like we talked about last week, the things in my house will reflect me and my loves. Not surprisingly, most of the sacramentals I have are like the other things in my house: old. They’ve been picked up in thrift stores and passed down through the family and fit right into my vintage, flea-market furnished home.
In the same way, the sacramentals in your house should reflect you and your loves.
And if that love just so happens to take the form of a purple glitter Jesus? Well, I guess I’m glad that sacramental has found a home…that isn’t mine.
Previous Posts in The Catholic Home series: