Some Catholics set up "prayer stations" in their homes, placing crucifixes, candles, and sometimes a few small saint statues for their particular devotions. In doing so, they create a special place for the family to offer their prayer. But, they often call these stations a family altar, or home altar, or sometimes a shrine.

However, in Roman Catholicism, a Christian altar is "a table upon which the eucharistic sacrifice is celebrated ..."

And a shrine is "a church or other sacred place to which numerous members of the faithful make pilgrimage for a special reason of piety, with the approval of the local ordinary." (Or the bishops in the case of a national shrine, or the Holy See in the case of an international one).

Within the scope of Roman Catholic doctrine, then, is it permissible to call these home prayer-centers altars or shrines of any sort? If not, what terms have been used by Roman Catholic Officials or Documents to refer to such a space in the home?

  • 1
    This question seems to be too opinion-based. If you had asked, 'what are the equivalent terms for these Catholic family altars that have been used in history?", then that would be more acceptable on the Stack Exchange. Also, you have provided your own alternative name for these things: home prayer station. That sounds good enough.
    – Double U
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 2:53
  • In my opinion, I do not think there is anything wrong with a "family altar". Many families - even non-Christian families - have family altars called "family altars" (English name for this thing). Buddhist families may do it; Taoist families may do it; Neo-pagan families may do it to some extent.
    – Double U
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 2:57
  • Mod notice: <comments used to debate theological issues rather that offer feedback that improves questions or answers have been removed>
    – Caleb
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 11:49

2 Answers 2


Prayer Corner

The term "prayer corner" is used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

See Part 4, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 3, 2691

Catechism Compendium:

One can pray anywhere but the choice of an appropriate place is not a matter of indifference when it comes to prayer. The church is the proper place for liturgical prayer and Eucharistic adoration. Other places also help one to pray, such as a “prayer corner” at home, a monastery or a shrine.


  • For personal prayer, this can be a "prayer corner" with the Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father [Matt 6:6]. In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters prayer in common.

The verse cited (Matthew 6:6) is as follows in the New American Bible:

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

This suggests that "prayer corner" is a loose-fitting term for an "inner room" in one's home in order to foster private prayer.

According to the Catechism, a "prayer corner" may include Scripture and icons, is the private home counterpart to a shrine or monastery, and may be used to foster common family prayer.

I would also point out that the term is in quotes in the catechism, and is a rather "quaint" term. This suggests to me that the term is being specifically contrasted against more "official" modes of prayer. The humble prayer of a family in private is designated by a term with like humility.

  • +1 This is the right answer, supported by the Catechism. It's not a church (Can 1214), oratory (Can 1223), shrine (Can 1230) or altar (Can 1237). Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 8:01
  • +1 I'll wait to see if other well-supported answers surface before awarding the bounty. But, that's a great CCC find!
    – svidgen
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 14:00
  • Does the fact that the CCC also refers to it as a "little oratory" mean that some variant or modification of "oratory" would be fair game as well? E.g., "family oratory" ... or does that also run the risk of false implications?
    – svidgen
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 19:20
  • Seems like fair game.
    – Don Jewett
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 4:21

I vote for family altar or home altar. The terms clearly communicate what they are referring to and Googling either terms give good results on web and image. They are differentiated from "Christian altar" or other kinds of altars found in churches by the adjective "home" or "family"

  • Can you reconcile either of those (or any variation of altar) with Roman Catholic dogma? (Or the noted canon laws?)
    – svidgen
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 21:00
  • +1 since this answer says what they do call them, and also what they should call them in order to google for images and instructions on putting one together. For the op: The question of should versus do needs to be further explained. If its purely doctrinal, you knew the answer before asking. If its practical, this is the answer. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 4:38
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    @davidbrainerd The question is clearly about what they should or can be called without infringing on doctrine or canon law, which, as far as I can tell, only seems to speak to what they shouldn't be called. What you can Google to find pretty pictures is irrelevant.
    – svidgen
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 14:28
  • If that's the case, its probably off topic for essentially soliciting pastoral advice. Sounds like more of a question to ask your priest. Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 3:41
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    @davidbrainerd I don't see how. It's a matter of canon law. What terms are dogmatically appropriate to use for a "home prayer station." It's not a personal matter, as would be questions like, what's my vocation?, is what I did a sin?, or how can I personally cope with my doubts? Either the usage of the terms altar and shrine are canonically off limits and other terms suffice, or they aren't and they're acceptable to use.
    – svidgen
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 20:08

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