Thursday, 15 March 2012

Get your Hands off that Altar



One of the challenges is educating boys not only in academic subjects, but also in their response to the divine, is the central tenet of our faith – that God became man in Jesus Christ.

I have spoken about this before, here, here and here.

This means that the world has been sanctified not only because it was made by God, but also that God entered into His creation. Created things were joined to the one who had created them. This is the reason why the Sacraments work – the created things (external signs) are vehicles of supernatural things (inward invisible grace).

But it also means that the Holy Things (externals used as vehicles of supernatural grace) must be preserved and guarded.

Introibo ad altare Dei

Why? Because we are human and thus a bit stupid. There must be a relationship between what we say and what we believe. If I say that I love you and yet spend all my time with my friends and ignore you, not answering pour telephone calls and avoiding your company, then you can very well question my love. My words and my deeds must match up.

If I say that this is the most precious book that I possess because it was given to me by my father,  and that I would never part with it then, then you can quite correctly call me a liar if I then exchange it for a the price of a hamburger, simply because I have forgotten my wallet.

Again, words and actions must add up. If not then people will quite rightly not believe what I say.


I think of this for two reasons.

First I have had to remind one of my altar servers this week that when they genuflect close to the Altar, then they are not to put their hands on it as a way of hoisting themselves up. I know that at various points during the Mass the Priest is allowed to touch the Altar in such a manner, but not an altar server.

Why? Because this is the Altar of God where the divine sacrifice of God to God takes place. This is Calvary where the Precious Blood of the Lord is spilled for our redemption. This is not a shelf or a table to put things on. It is consecrated and set apart for a supernatural purpose.  If I allow him to use it as a table then how can I tell him that it is the Altar of God? If I reduce it to the status of his desk then I cannot expect him not to treat it like a desk? If he treats it as a normal table then soon he will think of it as a normal table – and further, normal things happen on normal tables, not supernatural things.

Our limited humanity will make it difficult to believe that profane things carry sacred significance.


Will Holy Mass ‘work’ using a dirty coffee cup and the dregs of last night’s wine glass? Well, yes. But it is not suitable, it is not fitting. In an emergency, no problem, but if that becomes normal then when I say to you that this is the most precious thing in the world – the Holy Blood of God made Man – then I cannot blame you if you say “I do not believe that you would treat something so precious with such little respect”. It is important that my altar-server does not slouch on the Altar in the Chapel.

So what about this…


…what does this say? Boys and girls slouching on the Altar as part of a play in Clifton Cathedral.

This is not the Holy Place where Heaven and Earth are joined.
This is not the place where the Priest in mournful silence mounts the Hill of Calvary to be crucified for the sins of the world.
This is a stage set for a play. It may be a holy play, but it remains a play. So then what is the Priest doing in his fancy clothes on a Sunday? A play like this one?

And even this is offensive. This is supposed to be the Last Supper, with women taking the place of the disciples. When will people get it into their skulls? It is at best confusing, at worst offensive to portray the Disciples as women. It is de fide – thus to be definitively believed by all Christ’s faithful – that the words ‘do this in memory of me’ were the moment of the first ordinations to the Sacred Priesthood (the role and power fulfilled on the Cross). So here we have boys and girls slouched on an Altar re-enacting the Last Supper, with girls playing the parts of men, receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

From this do you believe that the Altar is the place of sacrifice?
Do you believe that this holy place containing the relics of the saints is precious, cherished and loved?
Do you see the intimate moment between Christ and the men He had chosen to be His first Bishops – a sacred act of Ordination, example and sacrifice?

If you do, then your faith is stronger than mine. If this happened in the morning, then I could not expect an altar server to treat this table with any more respect than a counter of a shop in the afternoon. And this same altar server will have seen, in my Cathedral, a representation of the Disciples as women receiving the Sacrament of Ordination.

Thanks very much. Teaching the faith is hard enough without this kind of ‘help’.
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