Fr. Gavin - The Sacrifice of the Mass - Consecration of the Altar
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FOUR words are inseparably connected: Sacrifice, Priest, Victim, Altar.


Sacrifice as we have seen is a supreme act of worship offered to God alone by a lawful minister to show God s supreme dominion and to satisfy for sins. A priest by his ordination has the power of consecrating the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and of absolving from sin. A priest offers Sacrifice. The Victim is the thing offered in sacrifice.


The altar is the place where the Sacrifice is offered. "We call all that," says Bellarmine, "the altar where the Victim is sacrificed that has been made by the hands of the priest." (De Missa, vol. i. ch. xxvii.)


The altar is the most important object in the church. The church is erected for the sake of the altar and not the altar for the church. Remove the altar, and the raison d’etre of the church has gone.


The altar is for the Blessed Eucharist. "In the Blessed Eucharist," says St. Thomas, "there is contained the cause of all sanctity, therefore everything connected with the Blessed Eucharist is consecrated; the priests, ministers, vestments, the vessels appertaining to the Sacrifice, are consecrated." (5. Th. vi. Dist. q. i. a. 2.)


Blessings are divided into two classes: (benedictiones invocativa) blessings that invoke God’s favour and protection merely, and blessings that set things aside to the service of God alone (benedictiones constitutive). The first class belongs to those things which after being blessed are still retained for man s use and benefit, v.g., food blessed in the grace before meals. The second refers to the sacred vestments and such-like things, and in a much higher degree to the altar consecrated by chrism and the holy oils.


The altar may be of wood or stone. The latter being more durable is preferred. The altar on which our Lord is said to have instituted the Blessed Sacrament preserved in St. John Lateran at Rome, and the altar at which St. Peter is thought to have said Mass still existing in the same church, are of wood.


The horizontal slab of wood or stone forming the top of the altar is called the Table, on which the Sacred Body rests given to man as Food; while the whole altar, partly from its shape and partly from its connection with the Sacrifice, and because it holds the relics, is described as the tomb.


We speak of a fixed and of a portable altar, or altar stone. A fixed altar is one where the table is united to the base by the sacred unction in such a way that if separated it thereby loses its consecration.


The altar-stone or portable altar can be separated from its base without losing its consecration.


The portable altar, a square piece of stone let into the altar, is to all intents the altar. It should be large enough to hold on its surface the Chalice and Host.


On the altar fixed, as on the altar-stone, five crosses are engraved, one at each corner and one in the centre.


The altar is consecrated by a Bishop or by a priest specially delegated by the Pope.


The most essential parts of the rite consist in the anointing with chrism (to indicate according to Gavantus the richness of grace) and the placing of relics in the sepulchre or aperture made in the altar-stone and afterwards filled up. (Catholic Dictionary, p. 23.)


The Bishop makes five crosses on the altar-stone with his thumb, which he has dipped in a preparation of water, ashes, salt, and wine specially blessed.


An essential part of the consecration is depositing the relics of the martyrs in the altar : per merita sanctorum tiiorum quorum veliquia hie sunt "by the merits of Thy saints whose relics are here" relics properly so called, that is, portions of the bodies of martyrs, not merely the clothes they wore, or things they possessed, must be buried in the altar. Relics of martyrs, not confessors, are selected because there is a close connection between the martyr who dies for the faith and the Sacrifice of Calvary, where Christ, the King of Martyrs, shed His Blood for the Gospel which He taught, the faithful whom He redeemed, and the Church which He founded.


During the Anglo-Saxon times, instead of the relics of martyrs, the Sacred Host was buried and enclosed in the sepulchre of the altar. The reason of this practice was perhaps the great difficulty of communicating with Rome in those days and in obtaining portions of the saint’s bodies. (See Father Bridget’s History of the Blessed Eucharist in Great Britain.)  

  • CHAPTER THE FIRST. The Doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass 
  • CHAPTER THE SECOND. The Essence of the Mass 
  • CHAPTER THE THIRD. The Consecration of the Altar 
  • CHAPTER THE FOURTH. The Vestments 
  • CHAPTER THE FIFTH. The Asperges
  • CHAPTER THE SIXTH. The Ordinary of the Mass. Part the First: From the Beginning to the Offertory                                    
  • CHAPTER THE SEVENTH. The Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria in excelsis
  • CHAPTER THE EIGHTH. The Dominus vobiscum, Collect, Epistle                                   
  • CHAPTER THE NINTH. The Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, and Sequence   
  • CHAPTER THE TENTH. The Gospel and the Creed                               
  • CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH. Part the Second: The Offertory to the Canon                                   
  • CHAPTER THE TWELFTH. Part the Third: The Canon of the Mass                                   
  • CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH. Part the Fourth: From the Pater Noster to the end of Mass                                    
  • CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH. The Ceremonies of High Mass                                   
  • CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH. Mass for the Dead                                    
  • APPENDIX: The Language of the Mass