+L’s Little Liturgical Lesson: The preparation of the altar

You may have noticed that while you are happily singing the offertory hymn on a Sunday morning there’s quite a bit going on at the altar…

  • The table is already ‘dressed’ with a ‘fair linen cloth’ as befits such important a meal, and there are candles. It seems a natural thing to put candles on a table to make an ‘occasion’, but for the Christian community these lights are a reminder of the host at the meal – Christ our Light.
  • But there is a smaller cloth that is placed on top of the altar cloth – it’s known as a corporal. On it is placed the bread and wine that is to be consecrated, that is, set apart with prayer to be the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s the clue to the name ‘corporal’…it’s for the body…
  • There are some ‘silent’ prayers spoken sote voce by the priest called the Offertory prayers, spoken out loud during the daily masses. They find their roots in the ‘Berakah’ prayers, that is the thanksgiving prayers of the Jewish tradition: ’Blessed are you Lord God of all Creation, through your goodness we have the bread/wine to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us our spiritual food/drink’….
  • Notice what those prayers say:
    • The bread and wine are a gift, a sign of God’s bounty and produced by through and are dependent on the co operation of men and women.
    • The expectation is that something is going to happen that will bring about a change which will be for our good.
  • Then the gifts that are being offered are censed, and so are the ministers and congregation. Meanwhile the celebrant does the ‘Lavabo’ from the Latin for a wash bowl.
  • The fingers of the priest are washed before he handles the precious gift of Holy Communion, but he or she prays quietly for a spiritual cleansing, ‘Lord wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins…’
  • Then we are ready for the Sursum Corda (watch this space!)

+L