This subject may be foreign to many weaned on the Novus Ordo Missae - the New Order of the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI and concocted by a known modernist, mason and admitted marxist - the Holy Father's chief henchman who had been condemned by Pope Pius XII. The architect of the New Mass was noneother than Annibale Cardinal Bugnini, Paul's Secretary of State. For those who are content with the auto-demolition of the Church which began with changing the liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which Pope Saint Pius V commanded could not be altered in any way, you may choose to not read any further. For those who are truly concerned with the welfare of Holy Mother Church and care that their Faith be preserved, you'll want to read further for today's topic deals with something that is fast being phased out: the Altar.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass perpetuated by Pius V, the altar cards contain some of the Mass prayers for the priest's convenience. Flowers may be used on the altar except during the penitential seasons, and at Masses for the dead. Along the whole front of the altar, when ready for Mass, is hung a rich and ornamental cloth called the antependium, with color, varying according to the liturgical color used for the Mass, in vestments, etc. In the building and furnishing of the altar everything is laid down by law. The greatest exactness is observed. At least it was until after Vatican II.
The sacrifice of the Mass is offered on a consecrated altar, not a table.
In the New Testament, there are references to meeting places of worship; churches are as old as the Church. For perhaps the first three centuries, Christians who were constantly persecuted used private homes for their meeting-laces for worship. A table was used for an altar because it was on a table that Jesus Christ instituted the Mass on Holy Thursday. Another reason was that a table could be easily hidden in times of persecution; also because Mass was generally offered in private homes. Therefore the Apostles offered the holy sacrifice on a table in a dwelling-house because they did not have the stability of celebrating Holy Mass in one place. Indeed this did not come to fruition until Constantine the Great declared Christianity the state religion and built cathedrals, basilicas and churches for permancy.
In Rome, during the great persecutions, Mass was celebrated on the tombs of martyrs in the catacombs beneath the city, where the Christians fled for safety. The catacombs were underground galleries, of which it is said Rome had about 400 miles.
This is the origin of the rule of having Mass said over relics of saints. At the beginning of the Mass the priest kisses the altar. By this, too, we, the Church Militant profess our communion with the saints in Heaven - the Church Triumphant.
The lights which today we burn on the altar during Mass also had their origin during the times of persecution, when the Christians had to hear Mass in dark passages underground. They may be taken to symbolize divine grace.
When the persecutions were over, the Holy Sacrifice was offered in churches upon altars of stone. Stone altars date from the sixth century.
The altar, then until shortly after Vatican II, was often erected so that the priest and the faithful faced east, the source of light, as God is the Source. In those days the baptistry used to be a separate building. Today the baptistry has become the main focal point in so many of the modern architectural abberations that pass as churches. Yea, in many the small baptismal font has been replaced by a pool that can even be dangerous to little kids if they wander from their pews. In place of the great altars and sacred communion rails are now organs, banners and what-not with make-shift tables or "platforms" out in the middle and the Tabernacle hidden from view as if they are ashamed of the Holy of Holies.
Despite the new liturgical norms created after Vatican II, the altar must be made of stone, marble, or wood, and spread with three linen cloths that have been blessed by bishop or priest.
The three cloths remind us of the linen cloth in which Our Lord was wrapped for the sepulcher. They are placed on the altar also to absorb any drops of the Precious Blood that may accidentally be spilled from the chalice. The uppermost one must reach to the predella or platform.
When the altar is of wood, an oblong slab of stone is set into the top, large enough to hold the chalice and the paten. This alter stone is set in the center of the altar, so that Mass is always offered on stone or marble.
Unfortunately you won't find that today in too many churches. You won't find three linen cloths anymore for they feel one is sufficient. And if the sacred blood is accidentally spilled or crumbs from the sacred hosts spread on the cloth they'll just be thrown into a regular washer. The practice of pouring water down a drain that soaks into the earth has been abandoned as well in most dioceses. No big thing they surmise. Before Vatican II if a drop of the Sacred Blood was spilled or a host dropped, the priest immediately covered it with a linen cloth called the purificator and then blotted three times, washed three times for it was not just any spill but the remains of the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Soul and Divinity. Today that is so trivialized. The preponderance of Eucharistic Ministers of both sexes has also diminished the awe and reverence for the Real Presence.
The stone is marked by crosses at the corners and the center; in it relics of saints are cemented. It signifies that Christ is the foundation and cornerstone on which the Church rests. The altar or altar-stone is consecrated by the bishop, with special ceremonies. In cases when permission to have Mass said outside by the church is obtained, a portable altar blessed by the bishop, is used. It is a square stone slab, large enough for chalice and paten. Note this is an exception to the rule, not the rule. Yet today, so often the exception has become the rule.
Every altar must have a crucifix, to symbolize the cross on which Our Lord died. Of the candles on the altar, two must be of pure wax. At a high Mass, at least six candles must be used. A sanctuary lamp of oil is kept burning day and night whenever the Blessed Sacrament is in the Tabernacle.
The credence table is a table or shelf at the Epistle side of the sanctuary, holding the materials for Mass. On it are the cruets (one with wine and another with water), the basin, and the finger towel for the priest's hands.
The Tabernacle (or "tent"), is a kind of safe, made of wood, marble, or metal, having a door with lock and key, in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. Early tabernacles took various forms, such as a silver dove suspended over the altar. Never, ever can it be made of glass or anything transparent. Yet we have seen several of this variety. So much for laws and rules.
The Tabernacle should be above and behind the center of the altar, and covered with a curtain when the Blessed Sacrament is inside. It recalls the tent of the Ark of the Covenant. A veil envelops the Tabernacle, and is a sign of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Its color is either white or matches the vestments.
Christians who live their Faith realize that the Tabernacle is the heart of the church, for day and night it houses Jesus Himself, the Incarnate Son of God. If we are so eager to give the best we can to our earthly guests, how much more concerned should we be to furnish a suitable dwelling place for our Divine Redeemer, Who comes to live in our midst! The Tabernacle should be as rich as we can afford to furnish, and of an artistic design that focuses all reverence and awe of the Holy of Holies.