Recently, my husband, Mark,
and I were discussing renovations
we wanted to do in
our dining room when he
suddenly said, ďI want to get a new
table.Ē It seemed like a reasonable
request, especially since we were making
a laundry list of things to change
about the room. But for some reason
getting rid of our table bothered me.
Maybe it was because it was the first
table we bought together. We had
scraped together funds for the small
rectangular table with a leaf in the middle
and four matching chairs. In those
days, there was no need for the leaf
and only two chairs regularly got used.
But as our family has grown, so has
our table. We now keep the leaf in permanently,
and one mismatched chair
has joined the other four to accommodate
our family of five.
The tabletop is covered with paint,
marker and gouges from various kidsí
projects, stains and burn marks and a
seemingly endless spattering of crumbs.
That table is where we gather almost
every night to have dinner and catch
up with each other. Itís where we hung
out and talked nearly every weekend
with my brother-in-law after his wife
died. It is also where we came to know
his second wife through shared food
So the thought of getting rid of our
table was difficult because to me it was
more than just a table. It had in many
ways become our familyís altar, our
gathering place for nourishment,
prayer, comfort and conversation.
A Brief History
Each Sunday at Mass we gather at the
altar in church to celebrate the Eucharist.
We come to the altar in the spirit of
the Last Supper. It is a reminder of bread
broken and shared and sacrifices made.
In so many ways, this mirrors what
happens each day in our own family
homes, down to the altar cloths changing according to the liturgical seasons.
Altars vary in size, shape and style,
much like our own family tables, but
they are absolutely essential in the celebration
of the Mass.
The earliest altars were made of
wood, very much in the style of tables
in the homes of the time. Later, altars
were made out of stone to resemble
the stones that rested atop the tombs of
martyrs in the Roman catacombs. Eventually,
this practice was moved out of
the catacombs and into basilicas and
chapels, where some altars were built
over the tombs.
For those altars that did not rest atop
a tomb, relics of saints were placed
under the altar. And five crosses were
incorporated into the altarís design to
represent the five wounds of Christ.
Today, altars are still preferably constructed
of stone, but in the United
States, wood may be used as long as the
altar is structurally immobile. And it is
no longer necessary to include relics
or the five crosses on an altar, although
it is still seen as fitting.
Altars have a long and storied history
in the life of the Church. But our family
versions also play an important role
in family life. Here are ways to make
your table a family focal point:
Gather at the table. My kids are
always trying to get Mark and me to let
them eat dinner in the family room so
they can watch TV. Every once in a
while we will relent, but most evenings
we require that everyone gather at the
table for dinner. Itís one of the few
times when we can regroup and catch
up with each other.
Studies have shown that kids who
eat dinner with their family are more
likely to feel connected to their family
and less likely to get into trouble. What
parent doesnít want that?
Broaden your tableís horizons. Recently my son, Alex, and I started
putting together a puzzle on the kitchen
table. Before long, the whole family
had joined in. It was a good reminder
that the table can be a great place to
gather for things other than eating.
Keep it clear. Iím guilty of cluttering
our table up with mail and papers
the kids bring home from school. And
when itís cluttered, itís certainly a less
desirable place to use. Make an effort to
keep the table clear and welcoming.
Make it enticing. Decorate your
table throughout the year. Add tablecloths,
vases of flowers or homemade
place mats. There are a lot of cute place
mats on the Internet to print out and
color, but one of my kidsí favorites is a
place mat of things to be thankful for
I think I have convinced Mark to
hang on to our tableóat least for now.
It does, after all, bear the many marks of
our family. It is our very own altar.