The Liturgical Construction of the Altar - Part 2 of 2

We continue with the second part of "The Liturgical Construction of the Altar" written by Fr. Edwin Ryan and published in the Fall 1931 issue of Liturgical Arts Quarterly.

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The Altar Furnishings

The crucifix should be large and prominent. It may be of metal or wood, and harmonize in design and, when of wood, in color with the candlesticks. It must be a real crucifix, not a mere wall painting or mosaic. It may be placed in any one of the following positions: (1) on the mensa, in line with the candlesticks; (2) set in the reredos; (3) suspended from above; (4) forming an integral part of the tabernacle structure so as to seem to grow out of it. The fourth position is not recommended, since it is generally awkward and top-heavy. The third position is excellent for a small altar with a tabernacle. The first position is recommended or a plain altar (large or small) without a tabernacle. A flat-topped tabernacle serving as a pedestal for the crucifix is incorrect. The bottom of the Corpus must never be below the level of the tops of the candlesticks.

The candlesticks should be of fairly solid construction. In small parish churches, four candlesticks are sufficient, in addition to the Sanctus candle. 

The description of the required altar cloths in the Rubricae Generales, cited above [LAJ: See Part 1 of 2], is sufficiently clear. They must be of linen or hemp, and should be plain, without pleats, lace edging, or embroidery. 

A tabernacle should be placed on the altar only if reservation is intended. It should stand firmly on the mensa, and be free on all sides, so that the veil may cover it completely. The top should be shaped like a dome or a four-sided pyramid, with a little ball or cross (preferably not a crucifix) at the apex, about which the veil may be gathered. It would be well for the door to be of a height sufficient to permit its being opened without removing the card. While the tabernacle is housing the Blessed Sacrament, it must be covered by a veil...  The rules for the predominating color of the tabernacle veil are that it be (1) white, or (2) the color of the Mass actually being offered (except that a violet veil goes with a Requiem Mass), or (3) the color of the day. A white tabernacle veil is always correct. Gold thread counts for white, red, or green; silver, for white. A rose-colored veil may be used only on the Fourth Sunday of Lent or the Third Sunday in Advent. The inside of the tabernacle should be gilded or lined with white silk.

Altar Hangings, Carpets, Etc.

From the front edge of the mensa to the platform may hang a frontal (antependium), together with the frontlet. Both should be of rich cloth; a frontal must cover the greater part of the front fo the altar. The rules for the color of the frontal are the same as those for the tabernacle veil. When the liturgical color changes at Vespers, the veil and the frontal may, when Vespers is not sung, be changed about sunset... 

A carpet, preferably red or green, should cover the footpace and extend down the middle step or steps to about a foot beyond the lowest step. Strips of carpet along the steps are not desirable. The carpet used should be plain, or if figured, not with any Christian symbols, e.g. crosses, images of the Saints, or sacred emblems. 

Behind the altar may be (1) a cloth hanging (dossal), (2) an altar piece (for example, a triptych), (3) a reredos carved in wood or stone, with or without statues..

Over the altar is a covering or canopy (baldachin), made of cloth (tester), or of wood or stone based on four columns (ciborium). The test or ciborium may best be of a square shape, and should cover the altar and platform, extending about a foot beyond the platform. Many decisions of the Congregation of Sacred Rites absolutely require some such canopy, the purpose of which is to prevent dust falling from the ceiling, usually so high in a church that it cannot be kept clean, upon the altar. These decisions of the Congregation of Sacred Rites are by no means uniformly observed, even in Rome; and since there have been none on this subject recently, it may be presumed that a small and simple altar can dispense with a tester or ciborium. 

Cloth hangings (riddels) are often placed at the sides of the altar, coming out to the edge of the mensa. The posts supporting the forward riddel bars should bear each a candle at its top, which candles take the place of the Sanctus candle. 

The cloths used in the dossal, tester, and riddels should be rich, and of colors contrasting with or emphasizing the liturgical colors of the tabernacle veil and frontal 

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