Liturgical tables. Home altars. Feast Day mantels. Some families have them. Some don’t. Others, like mine, mean to celebrate the liturgical year by decorating one anew each month, but sometimes find that the calendar pages turn from one month to the next quicker than intentions turn into practice.
No matter where your family falls on the spectrum of anchoring prayerful reflection through creating space for the sacred in your home, you might want to follow an old tradition this month: making a May Altar.
Thankfully, there are 31 days in the month, so it is not too late yet to embrace this rich tradition.
What is a May Altar?
In simplest terms, a May Altar is a small surface in your home that is dedicated to honoring Our Blessed Mother during the month of May, which is also known in the Catholic church as the “Month of Mary”. It is a place for focusing Marian devotions and coming together with Our Lady in prayer.
The tradition of the May Altar is said to date back hundreds of years, with both simple displays and highly ornamental ones prevalent in homes and churches throughout the world.
What Do You Need for a May Altar
Truly, the only things you need to create an effective May Altar are:
- a bit of surface space
- a desire to honor Our Lady, and
- a dash of creativity.
Indeed, some of the most compelling May Altars consist of nothing more than a meaningfully selected image, icon or statue of Mary and a spray of May flowers placed in a prominent place.
However, depending on the ages and interests of your family, you may want to include some other items in preparing your May Altar. Some of these might be:
- an image, icon or statue of Mary
- blue or white linens (colors often associated with Our Lady)
- real or fake flowers that have connections to Our Lady, such as those we use in our Mary Garden Baskets.
- Holy Cards with images of Mary, or even playing cards, such as the 3-Part Life of Mary Cards we made last year
- picture books and devotionals about Mary
- Holy Water
- words to hymns or recordings of songs about Mary
- cushions, a kneeler, a chair or a stool nearby to encourage folks to stop and pray
How to Prepare Your May Altar
There really are no hard and fast rules about the set up of May Altars. In fact, the beauty of them is that they can be arranged wherever your family has space and in whatever way your family finds meaningful.
For my family with young children, having an “interactive altar” in our front room works well. Its placement invites my children to notice the May Altar daily, even when no formal prayers and devotions are being led at it. The use of only “child-friendly” materials, which my children help select, create and place, encourages my children to pray at their own levels at the altar, through play as much as through more traditional methods.
For other families, having a delicate, traditional sacred space, with a statue or icon of Mary raised at its center, works. Tucked away in a dedicated, quiet corner of their home, the altar becomes a place for prayerful meditation.
Pray, Play and Pay Respects at Your May Altar Daily
Wherever and however you choose to set up your May Altar, the most important thing, of course, is that it gets some use.
Some things we hope to do at ours this year are:
- reading different books and excerpts about Mary
- adding signs and symbols about Mary
- offering crafts, creations and evidence of learning that we do throughout our days to Mary
- learning some songs about Mary and singing them as we gather around the altar
- writing names or drawing pictures on paper petals of folks whose intentions we would like Mary to help us pray for and strewing the petal prayers at Mary’s feet.
Most importantly, we will use our May Altar to remind us daily of a three-letter word Mary modeled the importance of: Y-E-S!
This May, our family’s special prayer is that we may always say ‘”Yes!” to God as Mary did. This simple word can have such an extraordinary impact.
How about you? Will your family join us in honoring Mary through a May Altar? What will it look like and how will you use it? Do share your family’s ideas and traditions.
Martianne writes about her family’s journey to fully embrace God’s call in each of their lives as they live, learn and homeschool at Training Happy Hearts.