Mass at Side Altar

I was wondering if/when it is appropriate for a priest to Say Mass at a Side Altar. In either the Ordinary form or the Extraordinary form of Mass.

Thank you and God Bless.


Yes. Current legislation however, discourages this when another Mass is being celebrated at the main altar.

That said, I have assisted at Masses when this was done - in large pilgrim churches. I suppose in the minds of the sacristans that didn’t “count” because the Mass in the main church was for another pilgrim group.

I can only remember one time, in the early 60’s, when I was in grade school that a mass was being said at the side altar; St.Joseph side to be exact, while a mass was being celebrated at the main altar. It was an early morning mass before school started. :slight_smile:

Usually a pilgrim Mass and only when Mass is not being said from the High Altar.

I have had the privilege of serving Holy Mass at both side Altars where Blessed Francisco and Jacinta (and now Lucia) are buried in the Basilica at Fatima. That was an experience just the Priest and the two servers.

I will never forget it.

Normally according to current custom, there should be only one altar in a parish church.

Of course, there can be other chapels, but again, just one altar per worship area (for lack of a better term).

What the liturgical law actually says is that Mass cannot be said in the same church at another altar while a concelebrated Mass is occurring in the same place.

GIRM 199
An individual priest is, however, permitted to celebrate the Eucharist individually, though not at the same time as a concelebration is taking place in the same church or oratory. On Holy Thursday, however, and for Mass of the Easter Vigil, it is not permitted to celebrate individually.

A priest can celebrate a “private Mass” at a side altar while Mass is happening at the main altar, so long as that Mass is not a concelebration, although this practice has fallen into disuse.

The side altars can also be used for Masses anytime it would seem appropriate, if that’s the only Mass happening at the moment. Some examples of this are in a large church-building when only a few people are attending (say a weekday Mass). Using the main altar might seem a little akward if the sanctuary is very large, and so making use of a side altar allows for a more “personal” setting as opposed to a distant one. It depends upon the architecture.

There is a parish in downtown Detroit where they say Mass on a (covered) card table at a side altar. Sadly this isn’t even one of the spectacular side altars on either side of the main altar, it is on one of the side walls where a niche tabernacle is kept. It is so very sad to walk into this truly amazing Church for daily Mass, only to crowd around a little spot off to the side. :frowning: I guess they think it is more cozy when there are fewer people there for daily Mass. :rolleyes:


A card table at a side altar? I presume that means the table is set up in front of the fixed side altar. What some clergy won’t do to avoid ad orientem.:shrug:

Many Latin Rite parish churches included “side altars” but I seem to recall it was done that because the size and/or architecture did not allow for “niche chapels” (for wont of a better term). Those latter are common in cathedrals, basilicas, and even some larger churches, and where they exist, “side altars” are normally not present.

You got it - exactly. :rolleyes:


I think I’ve seen pictures of this church. Are there two levels to it? When one of my friends went to Detroit for the Stanley Cup Finals, he went to Mass there and said it was a beautiful church. In fact, we were just talking about it a couple days ago, and he couldn’t remember the name of the place for the life of him.

No - but I know that one does the card table routine as well. I just have not personally been to that one, I’ve just been told about it. It is supposed to be a spectacular Church inside, and yet they use a crummy card table for the Holy Sacrifice. How very sad. :frowning:


Amazing how many card tables get used for other than poker games, isn’t it?

But what is it with the card tables in Detroit??? Must be the influence of the “ghost of certain bishops past” or something. :eek:

I don’t know - just praying the current one chases the gamblers out this time! :wink:


In days gone by, during the Forty Hours Devotion, the Blessed Sacrament was left exposed in the monstrance on the Main Altar, while the “Missa Pro Pace” the Mass for Peace was celebrated at a Side Altar, usually on the second day of the devotion.

It is sad to see the side altars in some churches–left bare with not even an altar cloth covering them. Perhaps they are not used much anymore, but the Sacrifice of the Mass was once celebrated on them, and they should be kept in a dignified condition, with altar cloths and candles on them.

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