Friday, 28 March 2014

What is wrong with this altar?

Well, for a start it's not an altar but a table.

Tables replaced altars during the Protestant Reformation as a means of indicating that the liturgy did not involve a sacrifice but was, instead, a re-enactment of a meal, The Last Supper to be precise.

Today, sadly, many Catholics are not aware of the 'unbloody sacrifice' that is the essence of our Mass and they focus, instead, upon the meal aspect.

And many Catholic churches now have tables in the place of an altar, so who can blame the sheep for being confused?

But the 'altar' in the above picture is also missing something.

Something most important.

It is missing life.
The life brought to the altar by the daily changing of bread and wine into the living Body and Blood of Christ.

If that is absent in a church, it shows.

The effect is one of sterility, abandonment, dereliction, even.

So, now is the time for me to come clean; the picture above shows the 'altar' in St David's Cathedral - a Protestant place of worship.

But, 450 odd years or so ago, it was Catholic.  Little remains now to show its Catholic heritage.

The frescoes have been chiselled off the walls, the statues removed and smashed to pieces.

Just a few defaced effigies from the tombs of Bishops and noblemen and women remain.

Should you stop to read any of the historical literature that is available, you will find no mention of the Catholic past of this Cathedral - a church that, in actual fact has a tally of more Catholic years over Protestant ones to its name.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the heart and soul of this once holy place was Protestant to the core and that clouds of incense, the chants of monks and the roar of the congregation at the elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ, had never been heard within the walls of this small place of worship.

Tragically, so many of our modern churches reflect the same atmosphere and the hard fact is that we need to re-learn the key element of the Mass - an unbloody sacrifice.

There's no salvation in a memorial meal; no salvation without the shedding of blood as Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say.



    Man won't kneel --
    Daily to pray
    But lift his hands,
    To applaud and play.

    Man won't kneel --
    Examine acts dead
    But perform for himself
    By bowing his head.

    Man won't kneel --
    Emotes bad behavior
    No matter reviews
    The director's his savior.

    Man won't kneel --
    He's the star, can't fail...
    So the prop-man struck
    The Communion rail.

  2. Well if they did away with the altar to replace it with a table and our Lord's Sacrifice for a meal, then lets go all the way and not call them priests but cooks.

  3. ...but what is an altar but a table?

    1. No, Father. An altar is not a table but a platform for offering a sacrifice. A table is where we seat to eat. The Holy Mass is a sacrifice, a re-enactment of Calvary, not a commemoration of the Last Supper.

    2. But almost every table is not an altar, and of course, the normal use of the words "altar" and "table" mean very different things - as the early protestants knew very well. And this altar seems to be dressed with - a tablecloth! (I see that a comment below - I suppose, from an Anglican cleric - describes it as a "Laudian pall", a term I had not heard before.) I suppose that what we have here is a table-not-an-altar (pace our Anglican friends). I suppose, too, that any altar stone it ever had was done away with long ago.

      I should be happy and interested to be corrected if any of my suppositions is mistaken.

      I had the opportunity at church on Friday, the altar having been stripped, of showing my youngest the stone - the altar proper - and the, er, mensa, and showing him where the celebrant kissed the altar, placed the corporal, etc., and why. Now that was unambiguously an altar!

  4. Actually Richard, it is according to the various western Rites of Consecration, 'the Holy Table', (hence 'mensa'), the place of Sacrifice, the very throne of Heaven/God/angels, the portal of Heaven, the Cross, the sepulchre, the body of Christ, the 'stone rejected, which has become the foundation stone', but above all it is an 'altar', as you say a place of sacrifice or at least of 'offering'.

    In post VII Rites it is essentially still an altar but with idea of the "the stone" to the fore, with the idea that it is the foundation stone of the Church, it is this which lies behind the rubric that it 'should' rather than 'must' be separate from the wall.
    However the use of the Laudian Pall as pictured seems impractical as in both Forms the priest has to pass around the altar to cense it, which is not possible without stepping back from the altar at its 'horns'.

    1. Surely that particular rubric (is it actually a rubric?) is to facilitate passing round the altar, rather than because of this business of the foundation stone (which I'm afraid I don't follow at all).

      And this business of the pall. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it in real life (not on an altar, at least); I think it must indicate a denial of the Real Presence, at least in any sense familiar to Catholics, and, presumably, a denial of Sacrifice, too.

      A pall is wholly unsuitable for an altar - but not because of the need to incense. Coffins and catafalques dressed so are easily incensed.

  5. I don't know who you are but an altar most definitely is a table not a 'platform'. Indeed one of the most venerable names for an altar is 'the table of the lord'. The altar table is where the sacred mysteries (the holy sacrifice) takes place. The holy sacrifice is a sacred meal and there is no dichotomy between sacrifice and sacred banquet - they are both integral aspects of the same mystery - and that is the teaching of the church contained in church doctrinal documents. You seem rather doctrinally confused!

    1. And I don't know who you are Father but does that matter? You will, of course, be aware that altars in Old Testament times were used to both slaughter animals and then immolate them. They were built of stone, naturally.
      In Christian Rome the tombs of martyrs were used as altars for the celebration of Mass, again reinforcing the fact that they were objects of 'sacrifice'.
      Yet again, Father, you would not eat at an altar but at a table. I don't think that doctrine comes into it.
      'A Real Priest' has a good comment above.

    2. Apropos not knowing who people are:

      I know who Richard Collins is. He's our host. He's been here a while. He's an outspoken (occasionally incorrectly so) catholic of traditional bent, exiled to Pembrokeshire, etc. I know all that because he told me so, on his blog.

      I find myself (I try not) wondering whether "Fr John" is Fr John A., or Fr John B., or Fr. John C, known to comment on blogs occasionally. (It's clear that you are not Fr John H.) It would help, Father, if you were either more thoroughly pseudonymous (I for one have no objections to pseudonyms) or else used your full name - just to stop us weaker souls wondering whether you might be someone we know, or of whom we know.

    3. Thank you Simon, a very good paraphrasing of who I am (apart from the 'occasionally incorrect' bit). I am still laughing over that. God bless.

  6. Please note that 'real priest' agrees with me that an altar IS a table. Are you denying that orthodox altars (freestanding square tables are not altars? I think you should issue an apology.

  7. The orthodox's eucharistic celebrations are valid, and their theological understanding is suitably sacrificial so why do you deny that their altars are not altars? Benedict would not agree with you, explain that?