Like Living Stones
"I will go up to the Altar of God, to God my exceeding joy." (Psalm 43:4)
What’s the Altar For?
Christ the King will have a large, fixed marble Altar.
Did you ever wonder why the Biblical patriarchs always built stone altars to mark where they had an encounter with God? It’s because of what the altar stood for—and what it still does for us.
Altar of Passover
For Christians, the Altar represents the table of the Last Supper, where Jesus "earnestly desired to celebrate this Passover" with His disciples (Luke 22:14). And at every Liturgy, the priest recalls the events of that meal in the words of Consecration.
As a religious meal, Passover meant more than a formal family holiday feast. It was a way of reliving the night of their personal deliverance: "This is what God did for me when He brought me out of Egypt" (Passover Seder).
Passover re-presented to the Israelite people the blood of the lamb, which saved them from death. Eating the lamb made real the union of the Chosen People with God.
Likewise, the Altar is where we re-present daily the blood of the Lamb of God, and eat His Flesh to have Communion with Him and with His Church.
Altar of Sacrifice
When Malachi speaks of "the table of the Lord" (Mal 1:7), he is thinking of more than a dinner table, even a Passover meal table. He is thinking of the Altar of sacrifice, and of the respect due it.
In Scripture, blood is the life of the victim offered to God. Blood splashed on the Altar gives the victim’s life to God—and the same blood splashed on the people joins them to God through that victim. The stain of blood also purifies from the stain of sin.
Jesus is the Victim whose sacrifice is an eternal event, always present. In the Mass, we bring that eternal sacrifice down to earth and time. We join the saints in heaven who worship the Lamb that was slain but is alive.
Because it is where the Victim is sacrificed to the Father, the Altar represents both God Himself, as well as the Cross on which Jesus died
Altar of Incense
Ever notice how much praying goes on at the Altar? Prayer goes along with everything that happens there.
The Rite of Dedication explains the meaning of what the bishop does to dedicate the Altar.
First, the bishop anoints the Altar with the same Chrism that you received at Baptism and Confirmation. "The anointing with Chrism makes the Altar a symbol of Christ… the Anointed One." And because you are likewise anointed, you are an Altar of Christ to the world.
Next, the bishop places a grill with lit charcoal on the Altar and heaps incense on it. Clouds of smoke billow up toward the ceiling.
"Incense is burned on the Altar to signify that Christ’s sacrifice, there perpetuated in mystery, ascends to God as an odor of sweetness and light, and also to signify that the people’s prayers rise up pleasing and acceptable [to] the throne of God."
Afterward, the Altar is covered with fine linen cloths. "The covering of the Altar indicates that the Christian Altar is the Altar of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the table of the Lord."
And last, the Altar is lit with candles, to remind us "that Christ is a ‘light to the nations’; His brightness shines out in the Church and through it in the whole human family."
In prayer, the bishop asks the Holy Spirit "to make this Altar a ready table for the sacrifice of Christ" where we will be fed with His Body and Blood.
St. John of the Cross, one of the Saints whose relics will be enclosed in the Altar, was a Discalced Carmelite priest who understood the call of every Christian to live a life of praise, adoration, and love of God. Through his prayers, may our lives become Altars at which we—and those around us—may encounter the living God.
"The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the ‘domestic church’ where God’s children learn to pray ‘as the Church’ and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit." CCC 2685
O Jesus, through the Immaculate heart of Mary I offer you all my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all our associates, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father.