Friday 9 March 2012

Sacrificial Altar or Altar Table?

I went to an EF (traditional Latin) Mass today at a Church I had never previously visited. (It was actually the funeral Mass for Christine Ackers: May she rest in peace).

The Mass was celebrated at the Church’s original stone altar, facing East.  In the sanctuary was also the modern wooden altar at which Mass is, presumably, normally celebrated.

Perhaps because of the style of the two altars, I was struck more strongly than ever before by the different symbolism.  The new altar looked like a table.  The old altar, while it clearly could serve as a table, did not look like one.  It was partly the stone, and partly the orientation of the altar, the reredos, and the orientation of the priest, but it seemed to me so much more clearly to suggest sacrifice.

That difference, between the stone altar (primarily a place of sacrifice and only secondarily a table) and the wooden altar (looking primarily like a table) seemed to me to sum up a lot that has gone wrong with Catholic worship and catechesis. 

Of course, the Mass is a sacred banquet; but first and foremost it is a sacrificial offering.

Wondering if I was completely wrong (again) I looked in the Catechism.  To my delight I found in §1181 ‘sacrificial altar’ and in §1182 On the altar [...] the sacrifice of the Cross is made present [...] the altar is also the table of the Lord.

Please can we have our sacrificial altars back?


Ttony said...

How did we come to such a pass? Well ...

"Buggles" speaks about the new Rite for the Dedication of a Church:

"This takes place during the first Eucharist celebrated in the new church. It takes the form of rites and prayers expressing the intention to dedicate the building to God as the home of the Christian community. The community is understood as the people of God assembled around its pastors and as the body of Christ that draws its nourishment from the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist and that celebrates herein the praises of God and the sacraments of salvation."

And just in case you haven't understood the awfulness of the principle, here's an example of the practice:

"The relics of the saints are placed beneath the altar and not in the table; the latter is not to be incised. Furthermore, the relics are not to be in the form of small "fragments" but are to be "meaningful", that is, of sufficient size; otherwise the rite is to be omitted."

Both quotes from Bugnini The reform of the Liturgy. This is the point I usually want to go and take up arms.

Is that really an expression of what we believe?

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks, Ttony, and the answer to your question is No!

What has size got to do with meaning. for Heaven's sake?

And what distinction is he making between altar and table?

And who put the lunatic in charge of the Consilium asylum...?



(BT was found lying in apoplexy on his study floor by his wife, who is now soothing him with doses of Chant administered aurally)

Sixupman said...

A small town in the South of Scotland had a retirement home run by an order of nuns. Mass was Celebrated in their chapel. Upon the nuns leaving the Diocese acquired an ex Non-Conformist chapel. Having an interest in improvements to another church in the Diocese, out of curiosity I went to Mass in that small town.

The ex-chapel had been improved at some expense, but to a Knoxian plan.

The "altar" was no such thing, but a series of tables adjacent to one another with the "Celebrant" at the head and the congregation seated around the other three sides.

The priest responsible was an ex Church of Scotland, or Presbyterian, cleric and is a priest no longer I suspect. The bishop who added his imprimatur to the chapel "improvements" now an Emeritus, but had little faith in the Ordained Priesthood and he a one-time seminary rector.