More honor to the Real Presence or the Altar?

Hi all,

I went to my first Good Friday service tonight. Tomorrow my RCIA group is “in” the Catholic Church, and I’m very excited!

One quick question. Tonight the service started with us kneeling, and our priests laying on the floor in utmost reverence in front of the altar. (The Real Presence was not there tonight.)

I’ve never seen them lay on the floor like this before, and was surprised that they did this in a service when the Real Presence wasn’t even there. Is the alter (which signifies Jesus) considered more important than the Real Presence (which is Jesus)? I can’t imagine that, but maybe I’m wrong.

Thanks for your help! :slight_smile:

The altar never signifies Jesus for starters.

I know in all the churches around here the Tabernacle is directly behind the altar. At this time of year the empty tabernacle represents the tomb of Christ, which certainly is due reverence as it held his body.

The altar does indeed signify Jesus. We read in #1383 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The altar, around which the Church is gathered in the celebration of the Eucharist, represents the two aspects of the same mystery: the altar of the sacrifice and the table of the Lord. This is all the more so since the Christian altar is the symbol of Christ himself, present in the midst of the assembly of his faithful, both as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from heaven who is giving himself to us. "For what is the altar of Christ if not the image of the Body of Christ?"214 asks St. Ambrose. He says elsewhere, "The altar represents the body [of Christ] and the Body of Christ is on the altar."215 The liturgy expresses this unity of sacrifice and communion in many prayers. Thus the Roman Church prays in its anaphora:

[INDENT]We entreat you, almighty God,
that by the hands of your holy Angel
this offering may be borne to your altar in heaven
in the sight of your divine majesty,
so that as we receive in communion at this altar
the most holy Body and Blood of your Son,
we may be filled with every heavenly blessing and grace.[/INDENT]

The Catholic bishops’ website usccb.org/liturgy/goodfriday.shtml gives this reason for prostration of the priest and deacon during the Good Friday liturgy:

“After making a reverence to the altar, they prostrate themselves or, according to circumstances humble themselves on their knees and pray for a while. All others humble themselves on their knees” (GF, no. 5). The “Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts” describes the significance of this action as “the abasement of ‘earthly man’ and also the grief and sorrow of the Church” (no. 65).

Ahhhh… I get it! Thanks so much for your reply! :slight_smile:

I think there is a lot of confusion out there on the significance of the altar and the reverence it’s due. Last night, since the tabernacle was empty, when walking to the ambo past the tabernacle and altar, the cantor/lector/priest all bowed to the crucificx (turning away from the altar to do so - i.e. - their backsides were toward the altar). I’ve routinely heard our priest say that we are to bow to the crucifix, not the altar. Unless there’s something I’m not aware of, I don’t think he’s correct?

On Good Friday, besides the Liturgy of the Word and Holy Communion, there is the Veneration of the Cross. Since the Tabernacle is empty, we offer veneration to the instrument that God chose for his Son to redeem us: The Cross. After the Service, it is to be left out, with candles burning, for the people to venerate.

I agree, he is wrong. But, from the 2002 General Introduction to the Roman Missal (GIRM) approved for the USA, which can be accessed from romanrite.com/girm.html :
“274. A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil. …”.

At other times of the year the altar is bowed to, but not the cross. From the Ceremonial of Bishops:
“70 Neither genuflection nor a deep bow is made by those who are carrying articles used in a celebration, for example the cross, candlesticks, the Book of the Gospels. …
Reverence toward the altar
72 A deep bow is made to the altar by all who enter the sanctuary (chancel), leave it, or pass before the altar.”
(Ceremonial of Bishops, Liturgical Press, 1989, ISBN 0-8146-1818-9, pages 36-37).

This also mentioned, in less detail, in the 2002 GIRM:
“275 … b. A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Almighty God, cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (Lord God, we ask you to receive); in the Creed at the words Et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . made man); …”.

Yes - this was done in our parish correctly on Good Friday. Well, except they didn’t leave the wooden cross we use for veneration in the sanctuary - they removed it from the Church after the last person vernerated it (we did this right after the homiliy).

I was talking more about during the rest of the liturgical year. Before our tabernacle was in the sanctuary, our priest would instruct altar servers, deacons, etc. to “bow to the crucifix” near the altar. He was very specific in (incorrectly) explaining that we don’t bow to the altar.

Now that our tabernacle is behind the altar, he has the cantors/lectors etc. walk between the tabernacle and altar and bow to the tabernacle during Mass - again, instead of the altar. My understanding is even though it is the altar that should be shown this reverence DURING Mass, it would be best if the people walked in FRONT of the altar and bowed, to avoid their backside being pointed toward the tabernacle when they bow to the altar. But his impression is that they should bow to the tabernacle during Mass.

Hopefully if John L. reads this he can confirm if my understanding is correct or not. I haven’t said anything to our priest because I’m not sure if I’m right, plus…I just don’t think I could find the words to tell him in a way that would come across well, without it looking like I’m correcting him - he has been a priest many, many years.

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