Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: Altar

Altar QUESTION from A. Basto October 21, 2001
Dear Mr. Slavek,
Could you please describe the rite for the consacration of a new Altar?
The Catholic Encyclopaedia's articles are still a valid source of information regarding the consacration of an Altar and of a Church?
And lastly, I have heard the terms, blessing of the Altar, dedication of the Altar and consacration of the Altar. What is the difference, if any, between these terms and beetween the rites necessary for the benediction, the dedication and the consacration?
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on October 16, 2001
Dear Mr. Basto,
The dedication of an altar takes place during the Mass for the dedication of the altar. It is found in chapter IV of the 1977 document, Dedication of a Church and Altar.
The introductory rites are the same except that the penitential rite is replaced the blessing of water, which is then sprinkled on the people and new altar.
The readings may be taken either from the Liturgy of the day, or from the rite of the dedication of an altar found in the lectionary.
The bishop gives the homily, explaining the readings and the meaning of the dedication.
The Credo is said. The general intercessions are replaced by the singing of the litany of the saints, with the people having been invited to pray by the bishop, and kneeling (except on Sundays).
If there are relics, the deacon or priest brings them to the bishop, who approaches the altar and places them in a suitably prepared aperture.
Then the bishop, at the chair or near the altar, prays the lengthy prayer of dedication.
When he is finished, the bishop anoints the altar with chrism. He pours chrism on the middle and the four corners.
After the anointing, a brazier is placed on the altar. The bishop puts incense in the brazier, prays, then puts incense in a censer and incenses the altar.
After the incensation, ministers wipe the altar with cloths and cover it with a cloth. The may decorate it with flowers. The arrange candles suitable for Mass. The bishop gives the deacon a lighted candle, prays, and the deacon lights the candles.
The rest of Mass continues as usual, except that only Eucharistic Prayer I or III may be used, and the preface for the dedication of an altar must be used.
There are some liturgical elements found in the Catholic Encyclopedia which are no longer used in the new rite. Remember that Teaching found in the Encyclopedia can never change, but much liturgy found there HAS changed because it was published prior to the reforms. When using the Catholic Encyclopedia to research a current liturgical practice, I would always do so along with the current rite. Of course all the history of liturgical rites found in the encyclopedia is still good, and often very using in helping explain and understand current rites.
Dedication and consecration are often used interchangeably today. They don't exactly mean the same thing, but they are close enough. Basically the idea is that the altar is set aside permanently as a sacred place used for sacred activity. The current document uses the word consecration only once or twice.
Fixed altars must be dedicated, moveable altars, if not dedicated, may be simply blessed by a bishop.
Thank you for your question.
Mr. Slavek
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