Catholic Church


  • 18-Oct-2022, 19:20
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WHY Is MASS SAID ON AN ALTAR?,The altar has a prominent place in the temples especially of religions that have



The altar has a prominent place in the temples especially of religions that have sacrifice, such as the religion of the Hindus (Brahmanas), of the Jews, and of the Aztecs. It is generally on the altar that objects to be offered to the gods, especially slain animals, are placed. The altar is as it were a place of spiritual contact between gods and men.

In Christian worship there is no physical slaying or shedding of blood. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is unbloody. The breaking of bread took place on a table. It was when he was at table with his disciples that Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. ”When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples” (Matthew 26:20).

Similarly it was at table that in the early Church the religious rite of ‘the breaking of bread’ was performed. In the course of time the table used for the Holy Sacrifice began to be regarded as ‘the table of the Lord’ and therefore as something sacred. ”You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:22).

During the early persecutions, the Christians used to assemble in the catacombs, where lights were needed and where the Holy Sacrifice was offered close to or over the tombs of martyrs. The requirement in the Roman Liturgy that Mass be said with lighted candles on or near the altar, and over martyrs’ relics, is a conscious reminiscence of worship in the catacombs.

When the persecutions were over, churches began to be built for worship. If the church was looked upon as "the house of God and gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17), the altar became a symbol of Christ himself, through whom we offer sacrifice to God. ”We have our own altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat” (Heb.13:10).

By association with the Eucharist the altar has assumed other spiritual meanings apart from its being a symbol of Christ. Being the place where sacrifice and communion take place, the altar is the place of meeting between God and humanity. It is the place where the Christian experiences Christ as did the disciples at Emmaus. ”Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31).

Kissing the altar by the celebrants and incensing it are ways of showing it reverence on account of its particular use.

A modern change is the free—standing of the altar to enable the priest to face the congregation. Even before Vatican II, this has been a practice in some places in Spain, France and Germany. The papal altar in St Peter's Basilica was so constructed (16th century) that the Pope has the congregation all round him. The advantages of a free-standing altar are that it brings the priest closer to the people, he can face the congregation, it can be completely circled for incensing, and it becomes more visible to the people.

Because of its practical use as a table for the Holy Sacrifice and the rich symbolism it has acquired over the centuries, the Church continues to use the altar with the reverence clue to it. "The Eucharistic Sacrifice must be carried out at an altar that is dedicated or blessed. Outside a sacred place an appropriate table may be used, but always with an altar cloth and a corporal” (Can.932, sec.2).

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