The Catholic Altar

The altar where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered is the focal point of every Catholic church. This is where the gifts to God are brought, prayers are offered, and the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.

In the Bible, an altar was a high structure where sacrifices were performed.

St. Peter wrote that Jesus is the “living stone”. When an altar is consecrated for use in a Catholic church it becomes a living stone that represents Christ at Mass. The 5 crosses carved into it represent the wounds in his feet, hands, and side.

Once built over the tombs of martyrs, most altars today have a stone built into them which contains a relic from a martyr or saint.

The altar is to be used for no other purpose besides the celebration of the Eucharist. It is surrounded by candles and, except for Good Friday when it is bare, it is always dressed in white linens along with colored altar cloths which represent the liturgical season.

Catholics reverence the presence of Jesus in the altar with a full bow at the waist. Priests and deacons also kiss the altar to acknowledge the sacrifice that takes place there and the relic of the saint placed within it.

Where Heaven meets Earth:

The center of all liturgical action:

The altar is not a table:

When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God.

Revelation 6: 9

Only to be used for the celebration of the Eucharist.:

The linens that cover the altar add to its dignity:

In the Roman liturgy, when the priest has made the offering of the bread and the wine, he bows to the altar and prays quietly: “Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts”. In this way, together with the whole assembly of the faithful, he prepares to enter into the heart of the Eucharistic Mystery, into the heart of that heavenly liturgy to which the Second Reading from Revelation refers. St John presents an Angel who offers “much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne” of God. The altar of the sacrifice becomes in a certain way the meeting point between Heaven and Earth; the centre, we might say, of the One Church that is heavenly yet at the same time a pilgrim on this earth where, amidst the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, disciples of the Lord proclaim his Passion and his death until He comes in glory.

Pope Benedict XVI, Eucharistoc Celebration and Dedication of the New Altar in the Cathedral of Albano, 21 September 2008

Bowing to show reverence to Jesus:

Attention should be directed to the altar during Mass:

The altar, around which the Church is gathered in the celebration of the Eucharist, represents the two aspects of the same mystery: the altar of the sacrifice and the table of the Lord. This is all the more so since the Christian altar is the symbol of Christ Himself, present in the midst of the assembly of his faithful, both as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from Heaven who is giving Himself to us. “For what is the altar of Christ if not the image of the Body of Christ?” asks St. Ambrose. He says elsewhere, “The altar represents the body [of Christ] and the Body of Christ is on the altar.” The liturgy expresses this unity of sacrifice and communion in many prayers. Thus the Roman Church prays in its anaphora: We entreat you, almighty God, that by the hands of your holy Angel this offering may be borne to your altar in Heaven in the sight of your divine majesty, so that as we receive in communion at this altar the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, we may be filled with every heavenly blessing and grace.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1383

Celebrating Mass with saints and martyrs:

Revering Jesus and venerating the saints with a kiss:

The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of the Catholic Church

Turn to Jesus and lift up your heart:

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