Liturgy Corner

Carmel Parish Bulletin articles from the Liturgy Committee

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Altars and Relics

Altar stone

Altar stone that was kept within the altar of our church from approx 1975 to 2017

Some people may remember a time when altars had set into the table an ‘altar stone’.  The stone often had set into it the relic of a saint.

In early times, churches were often built over the tombs of martyrs, whose sacrifice reflected and honoured Christ’s own sacrifice.  St Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, for example, are both built over the tombs of the respective saints.

From this practice, the Church has had a long tradition of placing relics of saints beneath altars.  Many other saints, even if they are not martyrs, came to be interred in crypts below the sanctuaries of churches and cathedrals.  In other churches, a reliquary has been placed beneath the table of the altar.  While there was a time where relics were set into the table in an altar stone, the altar itself is a symbol of Christ, the living stone.  Relics, if they are to be kept at an altar, are to be placed beneath the table, which better reflects the traditional custom.


Architect’s impression of the new stone altar to be installed in our church as part of our Church Renewal Process

Our new altar will include a compartment beneath the table for the relics of a saint, which will be placed there by Bishop Vincent when the altar is dedicated on Sunday 17 December.

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22/8/10 – The General Plan of the Church

At present, we are exploring the liturgical principles which underpin our work in the Church Renewal Process.  Having considered active participation, we now consider the sixth principle, namely:

The general plan of the church

Over the centuries, many Catholic churches have been built.  Very rarely is one church building identical to another, and the layout, design and style of the buildings has changed immensely over the period of almost two thousand years.  So what, then, are the basic requirements for the general plan of a church?

Firstly, the liturgical documents since Vatican II focus on the church being arranged so that “it in some way conveys the image of the gathered assembly” (Rite of Dedication of a Church and Altar, Ch 2, No 3; General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 294) It is a reminder to us once again that it is the whole Church, each of us gathered together that becomes one body in Christ and celebrates the liturgy.  There needs to be, therefore, spaces for each of the various ministries to be carried out.  Once again, the arrangement of the church should encourage full, conscious and active participation of everyone in the liturgy.

Considering the matter of participation further, the most recent General Instruction of the Roman Missal encourages the provision of seating for the assembly, as well as ensuring good lines of sight to focal points such as the ambo, altar and presidential chair.  It encourages us to provide adequate sound amplification, and space to allow us to move as necessary during the Mass – both to sit, stand and kneel as required, but also to move in procession to communion (GIRM, 311).

Also, while the church is a liturgical space, we are also challenged to think about how our place of worship also provides the usual comforts that people come to expect when they gather in public buildings.  This could include facilities such as toilets and parking, but also extend to other areas such as suitable climate control (GIRM, 293).

Finally, our Guiding Concepts Committee met last weekend to draw together the material and feedback gained from parishioners during our meeting with Fr Stephen Hackett MSC in June.  A draft of the guiding concepts has been prepared and is being reviewed by the committee before it is presented to all parishioners in due course.

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2/8/06 – The Table of the Lord

We have recently been discussing the concern within in the Church that people are losing a sense of the “real presence”, that is, the belief that Christ is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine we receive at Mass.

One factor contributing to a change in attitude is that whereas the attention of people at Mass in the past was drawn towards the tabernacle on a high altar, the liturgical focus is now rightly on the altar itself.

The problem with this has been that we have often failed to properly form people in understanding the true importance of the altar as the place where the Eucharistic sacrifice takes place.  Sometimes people have been under the impression that the tabernacle was what made the altar, even the sanctuary, holy.  This is not surprising given the attention directed towards the tabernacle in older churches.

We need to remember that the altar is holy not because of the Eucharist that may have been reserved on it, but because of the Eucharist which is formed upon it when we bring forth the gifts of bread and wine, and ask God to send the Holy Spirit to change them into the Body and Blood of Christ.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (no. 296), tells us that:

The altar on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs is also the table of the Lord to which the People of God is called together to participate in the Mass, as well as the centre of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist.

The General Instruction (no. 298) also reminds us of the dignity of the altar, and that it is not just a table where Mass is celebrated, but in itself a symbol of Christ:

It is appropriate to have a fixed altar in every church, since it more clearly and permanently signifies Christ Jesus, the living stone.

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19/7/09 – The Real Presence: Giving Due Reverence

Last time, I began to discuss the concern one correspondent raised of the seemingly diminishing sense of the “real presence”, that is, our belief that Christ is fully present in the bread and wine we consecrate at Mass, and thus consume as his body and blood. It is a belief that Catholics have held for many centuries, although different Christian Churches have different theological viewpoints and understandings. Some Christian Churches do not believe in Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic elements.

Bishop Manning has written on this topic many times, and has also noticed a change of attitude towards the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. A sense of the mystery of this great gift of Christ has been lost for many. As I said last time, I believe there are a number of factors that have contributed to this.

The first centres around the practices we teach our children from a young age around giving reverence to the Eucharist.

TabernacleWhenever we enter a church or a Blessed Sacrament Chapel where there is a tabernacle, we should genuflect towards it. We need to teach those learning about our faith about the lamp that burns alongside the tabernacle and its purpose of indicating the presence of Christ. During Mass, when we are next to receive communion, we should bow to acknowledge the presence of Christ in the Eucharist we are about to receive.

AltarWe also need to show appropriate reverence to the altar as the place where this mystery is realised. In churches where the tabernacle is in a separate Blessed Sacrament Chapel (as at Greystanes, Toongabbie, or Parramatta for example), the appropriate reverence upon entering the church is a bow to the altar. The altar should only be used for the celebration of the Eucharist, and only hold those things required for it. It is not merely a table where we rest things for the sake of convenience! When we celebrate the Eucharist, the altar is the centre around which we gather and is a key focal point, whereas the tabernacle would be a focal point at other times of personal prayer, devotion and adoration.

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8/2/09 – St. Paul Writes on the Eucharist

Altar of St. Patricks Cathedral, Parramatta

Altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-18)

St. Paul’s writings indicate that the sacramental life of the early Church was focused around initiation through baptism (as we discussed last week), and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Paul makes very clear to the Corinthians what he believes the Eucharistic celebration to be – our sharing in Christ himself.  Through the consecration of, and sharing in the bread and wine at the altar, we become one with Jesus who offered himself as a sacrifice.

Yet the Eucharist unites us not only with Christ, but with each other.  “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”  When we gather around the altar to celebrate the Mass, we become one body in Christ; through the very act of gathering for worship, through listening to the Word, through prayer, and especially through sharing in the Eucharist.

The altar is the focus of our Eucharistic celebration.  Through the sacrifice celebrated upon it, we become the Body and Blood of Christ.  We say “Amen” not just to Christ present in consecrated bread and wine, but “Amen” also to Christ present within each one of us.

The altar on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs is also the table of the Lord to which the People of God is called together to participate in the Mass, as well as the centre of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist… The altar, moreover, should be in the place where it is truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 296, 299)