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Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: "Dressing" of the Altar and Liturfical Dance

by Catherine Frakas 03 May 2001

Dressing of the Altar and Liturfical Dance QUESTION from Vincent April 21, 2001
I seem to be at a lost when I read Sue's question (Dec.4, 2000). I was able to read a book entitled The Mystery of Faith that explains the parts of the mass and gives the historical summary and documentation for each. I remembered it mentioning about a tradition dating back to the 7th century where during the start of the Liturgy of the Eucharist the altar is covered with cloth, (similar to preparing dinner as I understood it). Then in GIRM Chapter 3, the second paragraph of #49 reads: First the altar, the Lord's table, which is the center of the whole eucharistic liturgy, [41] is prepared: the corporal, purificator, missal, and chalice are placed on it (unless the chalice is prepared at a side table). If the dressing of the altar is done after the General Intercessions and before the Presentation of the Gifts then I believe it is proper - - - but maybe not if they give more emphasis than it should have or make a ceremony out of it, as Sue has pointed out. To me it's one of the ways to prepare the altar which is just a part(?) of the Preparation of the Gifts and should not overshadow the Presentation of the Gifts as one of the four basic structures of the Liturgy. So I'm puzzled when you said it is forbidden to dress the altar, I feel I may have missed something.
Concerning Liturgical Dance our Archdiocese is having some problems with it too. Sad to say that many of our liturgy planners have resorted to emotionalism and theatricalism to compensate for the lack of research. Your answers to Sue on Liturgical Dancing is has helped our liturgical movement. Thanks.
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on May 11, 2001
Dear Mr. Vincent,
I believe some of the confusion may be due to a miscommunication. On Dec. 4th, Sue asks when does this event occur, yet the context of the question suggests she is asking who dresses the altar. I will address the issue in detail.
First, we need to distinguish the difference between the altar cloth, and the corporal, purificator, chalice, and missal.
Both the GIRM and the rubrics require that the latter four items are placed on the altar after the general intercessions. The GIRM states that this is done by the servers, the rubrics say that it is done by the ministers.

100. After the general intercessions, the presentation song begins (see no. 50). The servers place the corporal, purificator, chalice, and missal on the altar. Now n.268 of the GIRM states that the ALTAR CLOTH should be placed on the altar: suitably decorated and keeping with the size of the altar. Neither the GIRM nor the rubrics say when it is to be placed. It is considered an altar furnishing, and is not to be placed on the altar during the Eucharistic Celebration, as it was at the Charismatic Mass that Sue had attended. For reference:

268. At least one cloth should be placed on the altar out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and the banquet that gives us his body and blood. The shape, size, and decoration of the altar cloth should be in keeping with the design of the altar. Do not confuse the altar cloth with the corporal, which MUST be placed on the altar, along with the purificator, chalice, and missal, by a minister after the general intercessions.
A related and interesting side note: the PATEN with the bread may only be placed on the corporal by a PRIEST, (GIRM, n.103)
I hope this clears the confusion. If not, please let me know and we'll work on this some more.
Mr. Slavek
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