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Ask Dear Old Dad: Stone Altars?


I had a priest once tell me that in order for a table to become an altar it must have some stone in it. Otherwise, it's just a table. Is that true? And if so, why does it need a piece of stone to become an altar?



Dear Anonymous,

It seems to me that your priest acquaintance is correct in a pre-Vatican II world. In the Judeo-Christian

tradition, altars evolved from the Exodus prohibition, from using hewn stones for an altar to the splendid, massive altar stone at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Pre-Vatican II wooden altars were required to include stone in their construction. Some of the stones, inlaid in wooden altars, included niches for relics and incense.

Vatican II has eased the rules requiring altars to be fabricated of stone, or at least include stone in them.

During the 1550s, the English reformers required that altar stones be removed from churches in Britain. A table for “The Lord’s Supper” replaced Mass at the “High Altar.” The “Catholic revival” of the Oxford Movement in the later 19th century renewed interest in Catholic architecture, liturgy, and practices.

The 1979 edition of the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer delegates the blessing of an altar to a bishop. (cf. page 577) There is no mention of requiring the use of stone to make it an altar. A table blessed by a bishop for holy use as an altar is no longer a table but an altar.

Hope this helps,

Dear Old Dad (DOD)

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