Why Do We Need An Altar?

My father and I had a talk on Catholicism not too long ago and told me that Christians no longer have a need for a physical altar. Where does this come from, and how can I gently refute this notion?

What denomination is your father?

Someone who would say “we no longer have need for a physical altar” is going to be someone who doesn’t see the relevance of the Sacrifice of the Eucharist as a re-presentation of the original Sacrifice on Calvary.


Non-denominational. He doesn’t see the need for anything that resembles the Old Testament. I should clarify. He believes in “the altar within our hearts”.

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St. Leo the Great believed in the altar within our hearts as well. :slight_smile:

The sign of the cross makes kings of all those reborn in Christ and the anointing of the Holy Spirit consecrates them as priests, so that, apart from the particular service of our ministry, all spiritual and rational Christians are recognized as members of this royal race and sharers in Christ’s priestly office. What, indeed, is as royal for a soul as to govern the body in obedience to God? And what is as priestly as to dedicate a pure conscience to the Lord and to offer the spotless offerings of devotion on the altar of the heart?

But we also believe in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist as something even greater, because it comes from Jesus, not from within our imperfect selves.


Thank you! This thread is partly about the Eucharist as well. He believes, from what I understand, that it is impossible for one to receive of Communion unworthily, partly because he doesn’t buy the Real Presence. I don’t know how to prove to him the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and why receiving unworthily is a bad thing.

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It probably comes from an overgeneralization of Hebrews, chapter 10. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for sin, which made the bloody, Old Testament animal sacrifices for sin obsolete, has been overgeneralized to mean that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has made all physical offerings for any purpose whatsoever obsolete and, so, there is no longer a need for a physical altar (or ministerial priests).

This can be refuted by Hebrews 13:10, which says, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent (or tabernacle) have no right to eat.”

Also, in 1 Corinthians 10:14-21, St Paul compares the Eucharist, which he describes as “the cup of blessing which we bless … the bread which we break” and as “the cup of the Lord … the table of the Lord,” to the altar sacrifices of food and drink by ancient Israel to the Lord and to the altar sacrifices of food and drink by pagans to their idols, the latter which he describes as “the cup of demons … the table of demons.” Remember that, in the Bible, the table of the Lord is a synonym for the altar of the Lord. (Malachi 1:7,12)

It sounds as if he believes it is impossible to recieve Holy Communion at all. He doesn’t believe it is what the Apostles believed it is.

He obviously knows that Roman Catholics have a very well-defined belief about what receiving Holy Communion means as a public act. When you do it, you are saying something to those assembled. If you are communicating something falsely to those who assembled because they have come together to say something with a particular action and you are acting with them even though you don’t believe the message your actions communicate to them, you are lying to them. Even if they were utterly delusional, your act would be a lie!! How is that not unworthy of the trust of the assembly, if nothing else?

Therefore, if you do not believe what those who are assembled believe about the meaning of the ritual the group is performing together, integrity requires that you not join in with doing it. That would not be an action worthy of an honest person. (In other words, the assembly DOES “buy” a certain concept about what they’re doing that they are very clear about, so if you recieve when you don’t believe what your actions communicate, that is a lie told to those assembled for the ritual, regardless of what the ritual is. Even if the assembly’s beliefs about the ritual were in fact false, the action would still be wrong because it would still be a lie told to those assembled.)

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Technically speaking

Mass can be said/offered on the hood of a Jeep on the battle field or …

The Mass is the once for all sacrifice of Jesus to His Father Re presented in an unbloody manner. Altars are where sacrifices are offered by the priest. Can other objects perform as temporary altars? Yes

But Altars are where sacrifices take place.

Protestants for example, don’t have ordained ministerial priests, nor as a result, the ability to offer the sacrifice we’re talking about. So to THEM for example, altars aren’t necessary. Although I find it interesting they have altar calls with no altar, no priest, no sacrifice.


Since everyone else has stated things well already, I’ll just keep it short.

Mass can be offered anywhere if needed. However, the blessed sacrament is very holy, and the offering of thanks and the change in substance is very holy. We have a place marked and fitting for such a holy occurrence.


As others have said, altars are for sacrifice. Now all Christians correctly believe that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all of our sins. So many (most) protestant denominations do not believe in any further sacrifice, ergo Christians have no need for an altar. Catholics also believe in no more sacrifices, HOWEVER, we believe that the Eucharist is a representation, across time, of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is the same sacrifice as Christ’s. Hence, we need an altar to present this sacrifice.


Remember, the Mass is the Living Sacrifice offered to the Father.

It’s not the same as the blood of animals sacrificed as in the OT


Jesus certainly believed in using an altar, so much so that He consented to be sacrificed on the altar of His cross.

You could direct him to 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself. This is why many of you are weak and ill, and many have died.”
You’re probably already familiar with the John 6 discourse.


Thank you all! God bless! This will be very helpful. :smiley:

For a detailed (very detailed) description of why we need an alter and why the Eucharist is a sacrifice, read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Petre. There are so many Ah Ha moments in this it will astound you.

Also,ignoring the Old Testament is a heresy called Marcianism. Jesus can only be understood properly in a 1st century Jewish setting. When the Bible, Old and New Testament refer to scripture, they are referring to the Jewish Old Testament.


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As the Lord spoke through the prophet Malachi, “For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 1:11).

We need altars to offer that perfect sacrifice.

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The Eucharist is a subject that theologians have been arguing about since the days of Ambrose and Augustine, if not earlier. This book is recommended, I think, for cases like yours, where people from different churches are trying to find out what their beliefs have in common and what points they have been unable to agree about, and why. I ought to add that I haven’t read it myself, so this isn’t a personal recommendation. I’m just passing on what seems to be a widely held assessment. Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, by a team of four authors, one Catholic, one Lutheran, one Reformed, and one Baptist.


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You’ve had excellent answers to your question. I don’t want to contradict anyone, I want to add something that I didn’t see mentioned.

Perhaps your father believes that Jesus is killed on the Catholic Altar every time the Mass is offered. I am under the impression that this is a very common Protestant misunderstanding.

Christ died once for all, on Calvary. He sacrificed Himself on that day.

But we OFFER the self same sacrifice. In order to accomplish this, we must eat the Sacrifice. In order to understand this, please remember that Jesus is called the Lamb of God. And St. Paul calls Him, “our Passover”.

1 Corinthians 5:7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

This ties the Mass and the Altar directly back to the Old Testament Passover. Where the lambs were slaughtered (sacrificed) and then taken home and eaten.

Anyway, I hope that helps, somehow.

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Once again, thank you all!

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