An altar, in religion, a raised structure or place that is used for sacrifice, worship, or prayer. The altar is the table that the community gather around under the leadership of the Priest to remember God’s love for us and give thanks for the living memory of Jesus who show us the way to the Father in heaven.
In old literature the table on which the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. One or more relics of martyrs are commonly set into the altar. In the primitive church and in the catacombs, the altar was usually a niche covered with a slab over the tomb of a martyr. Altar in the Greek Rite is synonymous with sanctuary in the Latin Rite. It may also refer to a secondary side space or section in the transept of the church dedicated to a saint.
With the liturgical changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council, the Holy See has issued detailed directives on the construction and adornment of the altar:
“In a consecrated building the altar on which the Eucharist is celebrated may be fixed or movable; in any other place, especially if Mass is not normally celebrated there, a convenient table may be used, but it must be covered with a cloth and a corporal.
“The main altar should be freestanding, away from any wall, so that the priest can walk all around it and can celebrate facing the people. It should be in a position such that the entire congregation will naturally focus their attention on it. Normally the main altar should be both fixed and consecrated.
“A movable altar may be made from any material which is solid and dignified, suitable for liturgical use and acceptable to local traditions and culture.
“The custom of putting relics of saints, whether martyrs or not, into or underneath consecrated altars is to be commended. But it is very important to verify the authenticity of the relics.
In all liturgical celebrations candles are required to express reverence and to indicate the various degrees of solemnity. These may be put on the altar or placed near it as may best suit the structure of the altar and the character of the sanctuary. The candles must not impede the people’s view of the altar or anything placed on it.