Alter Christus, Altar Christus
Reflections on the Dedication of the New Daily Mass Altar of Saint Andrew’s
Published on April 20-21, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
A Christian is not meant to be conformed to any age; instead, he is to be transformed (cf. Rom. 12:2) to become more and more like Him who is ever ancient and ever new (cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, book x, chapter 27), for he “belongs no longer to himself, but to Him who died and rose for us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1269; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:15).
Thus, in the celebration of the Sacraments, he is reminded that his life, his destiny, and his purpose have been altered forever by God’s grace. In Baptism, he is washed with blessed water, clothed in white, and handed a candle lit with the flame of faith. In Confirmation, he is anointed with aromatic chrism. In the celebration of the Eucharist, he receives the food of eternal life. These Sacraments make it apparent that something is literally different in how he looks (e.g., in how he is dressed), in how he smells, in what he eats and drinks. He has become “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) and he can say with Saint Paul, “it is no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Or, in the words of the Fathers of the early Church, Christianus alter Christus: a Christian is another Christ.
This is the mystery of God’s grace: that He would deign to raise a creature to share in the dignity of its Creator, that He would elevate what is material to the summit of the spiritual.
Such graciousness is especially seen in the dedication of an altar, a rite in which God takes something made and turns it into something more.
Before it can be used to celebrate the sacred mysteries, an altar undergoes the same rituals experienced by a Christian in his initiation into the Church. The altar is washed with blessed water, clothed in white, and given candles that are lit with the flame of faith. It is anointed with aromatic chrism and receives the gifts that become the food of eternal life. By all appearances, the altar is baptized, confirmed, and receives its first Holy Communion! But, what these rituals actually make apparent is that something is literally different with this piece of furniture: it has been made by God’s grace to be a sign of altar Christus: Christ the living Altar.
What was before the mere handiwork of men has been made into the place where God’s hand is at work. At that altar Christi (the altar of Christ) the alteri Christi (the other Christs) are gathered into the Body of Christ to be fed with the Body of Christ so that they too might become like Christ “a living altar” (cf. Preface for the Dedication of an Altar).
Thus, not only everyone who is Christian, but more so, everything that is Christian is raised by grace to the dignity of the Divine. Because of this, none of them is meant to be conformed to this world (cf. Rom. 12:2). “Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11), and everything and everyone consecrated in His name become the visible and veritable signs not only of His presence but also of His power to make saints out of sinners and make holy for Heaven the things that even this world would dismiss as mundane.