Expert Answer Forum

Shape of the Altar QUESTION from Mr. Nick Burn October 3, 1999
Hi: Is there any significance attached to the shape of the altar, square vs. rectangular? The reason I ask is that I have noticed that the altar-table in older churches is rectangular, while in newer churches, it is square. I am also aware that documents like Environment & Art in Catholic Worship recommend a square altar. Given the dubious theology in this document, I am wondering whether the change I have noticed in the shape of the altar is another liturgical change for the sake of change, or whether there is some valid reason behind it. Thank you for your time. Yours in Christ, Nick. ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on Sunday, October 3, 1999
Dear Nick, Thanks for your question. I don't know of any symbolic significance placed upon one shape or the other. I've seen square altars, usually in small chapels used for daily Mass. For the most part the ones I've seen were usually tasteful and were the appropriate size for the chapel, allowing the priest freedom of movement. One occasion I saw a cheap looking, square, wooden (ply-wood) altar in a remodeled church in La Porte, Indiana. This was once a beautiful church. The pastor had ripped out the old pre-Vatican 2 altar and side altars, and stripped the sanctuary of all decorum. The end result leaves it looking barren and bare -- how sad. I chatted with the pastor after Mass and he claimed he made all the changes on his own initiative (including a number of liturgical oddities) in the Spirit of Vatican II. I assured him that Vatican II never had that in mind and I'm sure he was very happy that I was just visiting relatives and soon would be leaving. In Christ, John Miskell Back to Index Page

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