All about the Altar in a Catholic Church
By: Alex Stapleton, Sacristan at Holy Trinity Parish
Before we begin, I would like to clarify what we are talking about when we talk about an Altar. The Altar is the raised slab or table in the center of the Sanctuary in a Catholic Church (See Picture above)
In the Old Testament, an Altar is where people may offer sacrifices to God. This sacred place appears many times in the Old and New testaments as a place where the people of God offered burnt offerings to God.
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the Altar. – Genesis 8:20 NRSV-CI
Curious Catholics have asked me (often Altar Servers during their training) why we bow to the Altar during the Mass – Why is the Altar important?.
When they have arrived at the Sanctuary, the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers reverence the Altar with a profound bow. Moreover, as an expression of veneration, the Priest and Deacon then kiss the Altar itself; the Priest, if appropriate, also incenses the Cross and the Altar – GIRM 49
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (aka the General Instruction, or the GIRM) is the set of rubrics the church provides to celebrate the Holy Mass. This includes everything from how the Priest, Deacon, and ministers reverence the Altar, how the Priest holds his hands during the consecration, and how the church is
decorated and arranged for Mass. All around, it's a fantastic document.