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David Gersten

Father, while I wouldn't limit the altar to symbolism as much as you have here, I agree and applaud you for explaining how important treatment of the altar is.


From an architectural standpoint, the canopy over the altar helps to bring the table of the Lord into focus, especially in a church with high ceilings. Maybe a tent-like tester suspended from the ceiling would do the same thing. Both are also rich in traditional imagery right out of the Old Testament.

Since Christ is also, priest, prophet,king, and Pantocrator, it is also appropriate to vest the altar in rich paraments expressing these attributes.

All too many churches keep the altar in a state of permanent undress. In doing this, the altar would lose it's special function of providing a changing iconic value. We end up perpetually celebrating Holy Thursday and keeping the altar bare. As is the case following the stripping of the cloths.

In my parish, we always keep a beautiful book of the gospels permanently resting on the altar to show the union of Christ's presence in the altar of sacrifice with his ever-present Word. A hanging pyx in the form of a dove suspended over the altar illustrates the linkage of the three most important Christ-centered icons in the Church: Christ' body preserved in the hanging dove, the place of sacrifice, the altar, from which the sacrament flows, and the eternal Word, Christ, in the Church.

These three icons should be de riguer for all Catholic churches. It simply doesn't get any clearer to the visitor than that.

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