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Religious decor creates a homey place to pray

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On the day they moved into their new home, Aripra Rossi and her husband, Eric, parishioners of St. Timothy Church in Chantilly, placed blessed saint statues on a covered box to create a prayer shrine. Now that the newlyweds are more settled into their home, the treasured religious pieces are displayed on a bookshelf in their bedroom.

Each morning when they wake up, they see images of Christ, St. Sharbel and Our Lady of Czestochowa flanked by candles. As they work at home, they can take a moment to refocus and pray in front of the shelf. At night, they recite a rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet together there. “It’s definitely very good for us as a reminder to pray,” said Rossi.

Many Catholics adorn their home with religious art as a visible sign of their faith and a way to call to mind favorite saints or Bible stories. Some even create a church-like atmosphere in a dedicated prayer corner, which may have sacramentals such as holy water. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacramentals are “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments (and) signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the church.” Both those who dwell in the home and the guests they welcome are able to learn more about God and his church through the symbols and images hung on a wall or placed on a coffee table.

What might take pages in a book to explain can be conveyed at a glance through religious images, and sometimes more powerfully, said Carrie Gress, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg. “Our homes are meant to be kind of a foreshadowing of heaven,” she said.

Gress and her friend Noelle Mering are the creators of Theology of the Home, a website, newsletter and online store where they “curate and publish content and create and source carefully crafted products that help women at any stage of life live out their vocations with beauty and meaning.” They have written two books on the theology of home.

“The concept is really just to see how God works and moves through our homes,” said Gress. “They’re not just meant to be long-term hotels. (They’re) meant to help us ultimately get ourselves home.”

Though the church teaches Catholics to reject consumerism and materialism, tangible things such as stained glass and rosaries have been used for centuries to impart the faith. “As Catholics we believe that the material is very important,” said Gress. “We’re not Puritans (who) shun the material but in fact we know these things actually have the capacity to evangelize others.”

The Catholic Church has a long tradition supporting the creation of beautiful and enduring art and architecture, and Catholics today can continue that tradition in their homes, said Gress. “What we’re trying to do is get back to that (history of excellence). Instead of saying you need to be happy with this poorly made Catholic product — no, you need to raise the bar and feel some connection with this (product), either because it’s blessed or because it’s made so beautifully or it’s compelling because of the craftsmanship and the quality.”

Gress has religious art scattered throughout her home, but her family gathers around one piece in particular to pray the rosary at night. “It’s a crucifix and then it’s got two candles on the sides of it and then a little area for a holy water font. I just look at it and imagine if it could talk what would it say, because it was from the 1870s in Poland,” she said, recalling the partition of Poland, then the invasion by German forces during World War II, the horrible deeds committed at Auschwitz and more recently the impact St. John Paul II had on his home country. “I know there’s just some incredible history that this crucifix has journeyed through already,” said Gress.

Rossi appreciates all the religious items that make up her home shrine because they remind her of the people who brought her to the faith. She was raised Hindu and became interested in Catholicism while studying at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “One of the most beautiful parts of being a convert is everyone showers you with sacramentals,” said Rossi. “So whenever my husband and I pray at our home altar, we’re reminded of how many people brought me into the church. It’s very meaningful to pray in front of these but also to pray for (each gift giver) by name.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021