2 altars?


#1

Hi, has anyone ever seen two altars in a Catholic church? There's a fairly conservative parish in my city. The altar is a step or two above the platform where the ambo and presidential chair is. But now they have added a second altar, on the same level as the ambo and presidential chair.

I'm curious about what's up. In the Anglican cathedral in my city, they have high and low altars with a railing separting people from the high altar. They use both altars (they take turns every other week). Anyway, this is not something I've seen in Catholic churches.


#2

Are both the altars in your parish "table altars," or is the higher one set into the wall?


#3

Nope, the higher altar is not against the wall. It’s not my regular parish so I don’t know when they made this change. I noticed it this weekend. Before this weekend, the higher altar was the only altar but this weekend, they had lit candles on the higher altar but a white cloth with a green ordinary time cloth on the lower altar and the prayer book. The priest celebrated Mass just at the lower altar.


#4

I have seen Catholic churches with two altars. Usually, in this case, it has been in an older church where the original altar was an “against the back wall” variety, where it wasn’t possible for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people - the second altar was of the table-variety that allowed Mass facing the people.

Nope, the higher altar is not against the wall. It’s not my regular parish so I don’t know when they made this change. I noticed it this weekend. Before this weekend, the higher altar was the only altar but this weekend, they had lit candles on the higher altar but a white cloth with a green ordinary time cloth on the lower altar and the prayer book. The priest celebrated Mass just at the lower altar.

If the altar wasn’t against the wall, would it have been possible for the priest to stand behind it to celebrate Mass facing the people? The only reason I can imagine having 2 altars is if the original altar doesn’t permit Mass facing the people and there is some reason for not being able to move the altar.


#5

Interesting. If the high altar were the newer one, I’d say it was to allow for an EF (or ad orientem OF) Mass, and if the lower one had been there for 40+ years, I’d say it was added when the OF came out, and versus populum became the norm. But, a recent addition of the lower altar? :hmmm: Hard to say.


#6

It's quite common, in my area anyway, for churches to have retained an old high alter for its artistic merit and often still to hold the tabernacle, while adding a lower table-alter to actually use at mass. But it doesn't sound like that's what has been described here. Or perhaps it is, only the high alter had previously just been moved forward a bit to celebrate the newer form of the mass, until someone much more recently decided to finally get a new alter?


#7

There are churches (often times cathedral churches) that have traditionally had free-standing High Altars and yet have had a versus-polulum table installed in front (and blocking the view of) it. One example is St Patrick's in New York. Another is Notre-Dame in Paris. I think the upper church of the National Shrine is the same. Other examples abound. As much as I cannot abide versus populum tables for whatsoever reason, at this point in my life I've come to realize that they are, most unfortunately, inescapable. At the same time, though, the logic of this particular aberration has always eluded me.

NB: I'm not sparring for an argument here but simply stating my preference -- and I will **not **respond to criticism of that preference.


#8

I'm tryiing to remember and I'm thinking that maybe the higher altar was so close to the wall that the priest wouldn't fit behind it. I will check next time I go there. If it is close to the wall then that is new too because that was the altar they've been using for at least a couple of years that I've been visiting there.

The higher altar is the old altar and the lower one is new. I'm wondering if maybe the priest plans to start saying Latin Masses. Would that explain things? I know there are some pro-Latin mass people at that parish. Are Latin Masses said at a high altar?


#9

Latin Masses don’t have to be celebrated at a high altar, any altar is OK. There used to be a seminary near me that had many side-altars, and the priests who taught in the seminary used to celebrate their daily Low Masses at the side altars - one group of priests would say Mass at 7am, the other at 7:30am. Nearly every side-altar would be occupied by a priest celebrating Mass with one server.

I think the main requirement is that there should be enough room in front of the altar for a priest to celebrate Mass ad orientam, and have enough room to genuflect, etc. I used to have a book about the Latin Mass - whch I don’t have available at the moment to use as a reference- that said a priest should have enough room to genuflect without his feet going over the altar steps. I think that as long as that requirement is met then it doesn’t matter whether it is a high altar or not.


#10

[quote="SetonGirl, post:8, topic:304217"]
I'm tryiing to remember and I'm thinking that maybe the higher altar was so close to the wall that the priest wouldn't fit behind it. I will check next time I go there. If it is close to the wall then that is new too because that was the altar they've been using for at least a couple of years that I've been visiting there.

The higher altar is the old altar and the lower one is new. I'm wondering if maybe the priest plans to start saying Latin Masses. Would that explain things? I know there are some pro-Latin mass people at that parish. Are Latin Masses said at a high altar?

[/quote]

In most Roman Catholic churches before Vatican II, the altars were built right into the wall because the priest didn't need to be able to walk around it (technically, he did when incensing but they just did the best they could).

A wall altar isn't necessarily a "high altar" though. My parish was built in 1893 and has three altars, a "high altar" in the middle with marble angels and a canopy over the tabernacles for Sunday and Holy Day Masses, and two smaller, simpler "side altars" for daily Mass.

I have seen EF Masses celebrated on table altars, however, when no wall altar existed.


#11

Just for the curiousity of readers, the 1962 Missale Romanum doesn’t automatically assume altars will be against the wall, as shown by this description of how to incense a free-standing altar: newliturgicalmovement.org/2008/10/how-to-incense-freestanding-altar.html#0_undefined,0_

I can’t reference it at the moment, but I have a memory of reading somewhere that the EF Pontificale Romanum, in its rite for the consecration of an altar, may allow for it to be free-standing. And when my parish church was built in 1957, the high altar was a large, wooden portable altar that was placed near, but not against, the back wall. As part of the 1960’s “changes”, our Pastor simply moved the altar a few feet further forwards to allow for Mass facing the people.


#12

In my chapel church they have two altars,their is the main altar,they use for Latin Mass, than for Mass during the week, they put a altar that they carry in front of the Main Altar,for reg mass during,for the week,and than put it in a room when Latin Mass is in service…


#13

There are two altars at the church I work at. One is in the chapel where daily mass is held and one in the larger sanctuary where Sunday mass is held. The chapel and sanctuary are open to each other. It’s still confusing to me why we have two alters, why we have a chapel and a larger sanctuary, and why none of the pews in the sanctuary face the chapel where the tabernacle is kept. :shrug:


#14

Unfortunately, there is this setup at the national shrine in DC. The original altar was freestanding, but they decided to set up a little altar in the front of the sanctuary for whatever reason.


#15

I respectfully ask, why does this matter?


#16

Probably just curiosity?


#17

Well, … According to the writings of Jerome, there was originally only one altar in early church history. However, By the late 7th century there was evidence of church’s having 4-13 altars! This was sometimes due to the number of relics that any church had. Today there is still churches with multiple altars but the ones I have noticed in some catholic churches dedicate one altar specifically to the Eucharist. This may not be true for every church however.

On a side note…

God, in exodus 20:23-26 gives His people some specifics of what altars should look like… Why is the altar so simple in the Bible? Because God wants our attention on the sacrifice, not the beautiful artistic altar underneath it… All the OT sacrifices are illustrations of Jesus…therefore, the attention should be on Him. Simply put, The biblical message about altars is KISS!:slight_smile:

So what about the altar at the temple? What about the temple?.. God let David and Solomon build a temple but God didn’t ask for one and didn’t provide specifics on what should be in it… He asked for a tent…again He declares to us the KISS principle:).


#18

I’m not too sure that God commands the altar to be simple because of he has a principal that things should be simple.

I’m sure he did so because the altar is basically a 45’ x 45’ pit barbecue upon which three piles of wood and dozens or hundreds of animals were burned daily. All the blood of those animals was drained into bowls and thrown at the altar. How fancy are you going to make a pit barbecue at which you throw bowls of blood all day long?

The rest of the Temple was highly ornate, and actually included a second altar - the Altar of Incense - which was covered with gold.

The wikipedia article on “Altar (Bible)” actually does a good job.

-Tim-


#19

I don’t think it’s quite fair to call it simple because God “wants” simple stuff in worship. The rest of the temple, as well as the vestments that the priests war were extremely ornate.


#20

Hi, Please note that I am referring to the structure and complexity of the altar. I am not referring to it’s purpose and prophetic meaning. Would you agree that the focus should be on Jesus? Well, that’s what God thinks too!:)… And dictates to us as well. Just a nice to know fact… I’m not attempting to argue.

Thank you very much for your response:)


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