Standing on the Altar


Hi all,

I recently was shocked by an experience I had at a local Catholic university. They have a beautiful church with a high altar in a Benedictine arrangement, baldachin, and crucifix. This entire arrangement is obscured from view with a purple drape. What shocked me is that I learned from a friend there that the staff directs students to put up the drape by standing on the altar! This altar is no longer used, but I presume that it still contains relics, and still would be disrespectful even if they were removed. They also had some papers and pens scattered on the altar as if it was just some table. On seeing this (I was there outside of Mass time) I simply removed the papers and pens to a pew and did nothing else. I immediately regretted not writing a note about it.

My question is this: since I have just about no connection to the university, what can I do? Obviously I’m praying, but I feel as though I should do something more direct so that something so simple and awful can be avoided. Any ideas?


If the altar relic was removed, which I’m assuming it was because they no longer use it and keep it covered, then altar has been de-consecrated and is no longer an altar. In essence, it is just a table, so there is no disrespect. :shrug:


Before you do anything and interfere in something that does not concern you, find out if this altar still has the relics or is no longer consecrated. Don’t be so hasty in passing judgment. I don’t mean to be harsh, and I know you mean well, but you should always find out the facts of a situation before you take any action.


How big of a difference does it make if the relics are removed? Shouldn’t the fact that it was used for Masses mean that it should still be treated reverently?


If it is deconsecrated, it is no longer a holy object. When they destroy old churches, these old altars and objects often end up in junkyards or are bought by people and repurposed. At my daughter’s church, when they remodeled, the Pastor bought an old wall altar that a friend had found being used in a bar and an old tabernacle that was used to keep cigars in. He put them, refurbished, in his remodeled church.

When they sell churches, they deconsecrate them and whoever buys them can use them for whatever purpose they desire. That’s just the way it is.


I know it’s not an official source, but I rather like the view that Fr. Z has on the subject.

In talking about lay people owning monstrances he says: “So, it is not “bad” for people to own these vessels, but great care must be exercised in their regard that they be treated with due reverence.”


I know that there is a justifiable element of practicality :coolinoff: in this argument, but, setting that aside, I have to think about how the Nazis would turn synagogues in Berlin into adult theaters. They could have been quickly desanctified but that isn’t the point.

The famous irreverent art shows in New York during the 90s were just paintings, but outrageous all the same. Desanctified and repurposed religious buildings and fixtures should be treated with some level of reverence, or they should be destroyed. Never desecrated, even though their purpose is at an end.

I have no doctrine or law to back this up. Just my own personal reverence. That certainly does not mean that others should adhere to my opinion, or are wrong if they do not.


Standing on the altar is okay for dong physical work or even during the liturgy in certain Churches. But, of course, we must always show respect and dignity. Allow me to explain why it is okay in this case.

In some places, there is a monstrance throne above the altar. To get the Priest to put it up there, sometimes, he has to stand on the altar. This has always been the case, even during the Sacred Liturgy (they used to have Masses with the Blessed Sacrament exposed)

Also, in many parishes, people need to stand on the altar to put up Purple Veils over statues and sacred art during Passiontide, which is what I think you mean when you say “purple drapes”. I would assume they are veils.

Moreover, in some Churches, we have to stand on the altar to change candles because they are so high. For example, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Altar Boys have to stand on the Papal Altar to decorate it properly like so;

So, in terms of what they were doing, it’s okay. They were doing something to decorate, or to change the Church. Relics or no relics, they were only doing practical physical work. However, such work should be carried out with dignity.

I wouldn’t worry about it, they were probably just getting the Church ready for Holy Week. :slight_smile:

God bless!


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