The High Altar and Other Altars around Traditional Catholic Churches

On entering into a traditional Domus Dei, the House of God, ones eyes and mind are immediately drawn to the elevated High Altar of sacrifice.  Its bold beauty and Sacredness stand out in the center of the church.  It is a worthy altar for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where Jesus’ death on the cross will be made re-present for the reparation and propitiation of all of the sins of the world; past, present and future.

St Cuthbert's Chapel High Altar - reducedAll around the church there are other beautifully adorned altars, usually dedicated to either the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mary or one of the saints.  While the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was being offered on the High Altar, other priests were also able to offer their own Holy Latin Mass there on one of these lower altars.

Every priest would daily say his own Holy Mass for the expiation of sins and the salvation of souls.  The powerful efficacy of the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus in the Sacrifice of the Mass is not subject to having people present.  That is a totally new idea that states that the mass is a communal thing and to be validly celebrated must have people attending.  Ordinarily, there was an Altar boy responding for us, the people of God.  But the awesome salvation of one Holy Mass does not depend on anyone except Jesus Christ working through the person of the priest in Persona Christi.

12_06_06_concelebration 2Every priest wanted to offer his own daily Holy Mass for the intentions that were requested.  The idea of concelebration, where other priests celebrate the mass with one priest presiding, is totally a new idea.

The only similar action in the 1962 Missal was when new priests are ordained.  The bishop, after ordaining and anointing their hands, offers the sacrifice of the Mass standing at the high altar.  Meanwhile the Ordinandi (new priests) kneeling a distance from the altar and offer the Holy Mass in union with the bishop.  The bishop, and only in this case, prays the Canon in Vox Clara (out loud) while the Ordinandi recite the Canon in Vox Secreta (whispered) along with him.

Franciscans of the Immaculate_deaconate ordinationOnly the bishop receives both the Holy Body of Christ and His Precious Blood at the altar (like the priest usually does at his Holy Mass).  The Ordinandi then receive Holy Body of Christ from the bishop kneeling down and on the tongue.  They do not receive the Precious Blood.  After, they drink unconsecrated wine at the credence table as an ablution (purification).

Over the High Altar there is usually a Baldacchino or Ciborium.  This is to represent the tent that covered the Arc of the Covenant and where Moises would go in to commune with God.  It also represents the enclosure of the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem.  On this Baldacchino there is usually a representation of the Holy Spirit which comes down upon the gifts of bread and wine to transform them into the Real Body and Blood of Jesus at the words of the priest at the consecration;  Hoc est enim Corpus meum (For this is My Body) and Hic est enim Calix Sanguinis mei, (For this is the Chalice of My Blood).

St Mary's Across the Timber_baldacchinoThe High Altar is facing God and towards the east.  The priest offers the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to God the Father facing Him, not to the people.  And to remind us of this reality, there has to be a large crucifix hanging on the wall directly in front of the Altar.  The priest raises his eyes to this crucifix at the offertory and after each consecration.

Even now in the new Revised Roman Missal is states; “turning toward the people” say this…  It is assumed that the priest his offering the mass toward God.  But the reality is that almost every Novus Ordo (New Order) mass is celebrated toward the people so that they can see the priest and what he does.  In this way the sacrifice seems to be offered to the people.  One person said that they would not like to ride in a bus where the driver is seated facing them.

The High Altar was always made of stone or if by any chance of wood, it would have an Altar Stone in it.  Before this altar could be used, it had to be consecrated by the bishop with solemn prayers and the anointing with the Oil of Chrism.  In this altar or altar stone was placed relics of martyrs.  No priest was able to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass without a relic in the Altar Stone or Altar.

Most new table/altars are made of wood and to look like a table.  Most do not have relics or altar stones in them.  They are easily moved around.  They are very similar to the tables of remembrance of heretical protestants.  One good thing about this is that once the Latin Mass becomes the norm again, all you have to do is move the table out and you have the sacred stone altar again as the Altar of Sacrifice.

Saint Stephen, high altarIn the center of the High Altar was almost always the ornate tabernacle where the Body of Christ was reserved for adoration and to be taken to the sick and dying.  Near to this altar was always burning a red Vigil Lamp to remind everyone that God was truly present in this tabernacle.

Besides the Crucifix, near the Altar were statues of Mary and Joseph or the patron saint.  There were also beautiful paintings of martyrs and saints going to heaven.  Angels were around the Altar too.  All this was to remind us that at the Sacrifice of the Mass are present the members of the Mystical body of Christ.  The Church Triumphant in heaven, the Church Suffering in Purgatory and Church Militant, us the living who are still fighting the devil, the world and the flesh.

We are so fortunate to be part of the true Church of God and be able to go into these awesome House of God and offer the fitting sacrifice of Jesus Christ to God the Father in the Holy Spirit.  It is so wonderful to be a traditional Catholic.