Meanings of Altar

By | December 9, 2019

Altar is known as a stone that sacrifices to divinity. The word altar is of Latin origin “altare” , of “altus ” which means “elevation”.

In pagan religions, altar was a kind of table for sacrifices. On the other hand, in the Christian religion, altar is the table where the mass is celebrated and next to which the prayers to the divinity are directed. From the Old Testament, altars were built for the sacrifices to Yahweh.

Over the years, the altars underwent changes in their structure, in principle, they were made of mound of earth or stone. Then, in the first centuries of Christianity they were made of a kind of wooden furniture where offerings were deposited or sacrifices were offered to the divinity. Later, approximately in the twelfth century, immovable altars, made of stones such as marble or other distinguished materials, were used, as is currently known.

In its internal structure, every church is made up of several altars, including:

  • High major, is the main altar of each church, located in the main apse or head.
  • Lateral altar, located on each side of the main altar.

On the other hand, there is the possibility of celebrating Mass outside a sacred place, but never without the presence of an altar, that is why, through the special license of the respective ecclesiastical authority, a momentary altar is installed in a place determined, and is what is known as portable altar.

However, the altar has various accessories, among which are: tablecloth, candlestick, crucifix, glasses and sacred utensils, chryslers, vinegars, trays, bells, acetre or calderilla with holy water, among others.

In the area of ​​architecture, the altar represents the symbolic sacrifice of Christ, at the same time an atoning stone, burial mound and Eucharistic table. Hence the shape of the tumulus (used in the catatumbas), where the relics of a saint or the body of a martyr were established, and the table of communion that the journey of time took several aspects.

On the other hand, there are colloquial expressions with the word under study as:

  • Take to the altar, it translates into marriage.
  • Raise the altars,the declaration made by the Pope on the beatification of a saint and authorizes his worship in the Catholic Church.
  • Put or have someone on an altar, a phrase that expresses a feeling of admiration, excessive veneration towards a person, such as: “she has her mother on an altar.”

Altar of the Dead

The altar of the dead, is a fundamental element in Mexico, in the celebration of the Day of the Dead. It consists of the installation of an altar at home with the belief that the spirit of the dead returns from the world of the dead to live with the family that day, and comfort them for the loss.

The altar of the dead is the result of the combination of pre-Hispanic ideologies, Mesoamerican cultures and European religious beliefs of a Abrahamic nature carried by the Spanish conquerors and missionaries to the Mexican territory.

There are different types of altars: two-level altar (represents heaven and earth), three-level altar (symbolizes heaven, earth and the underworld), and seven-level altar (constitutes the 7 levels that must cross the soul to reach peace or spiritual rest). In reference to this point, representative elements and symbols that call the deceased to live with their relatives are placed on the chosen altar, such as: image of the deceased, food, the cross, copal and incense, image of the souls of purgatory, water, flowers , alcoholic beverages, skulls, candles, confetti, among others.

Finally, this tradition is the most important of Mexican culture, and one of the best known internationally, even considered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Family altar

The family altar can be seen as family time dedicated daily to pray and thank the Lord Jesus Christ for everything lived and obtained in the day. It is also a special time to strengthen family ties, and in the case of having children at home, it helps instruct them in God’s ways.

“Altar of earth you will do for me, and you will sacrifice on him your burnt offerings and your pacific ones, your sheep and your cows: in any place where I make that the memory of my name is, I will come to you, and I will bless you”. (Exodus 20:24)

Altar and ambo

The ambon is a kind of tribune or pulpit, where the book containing the biblical readings that are proclaimed in the celebration for reading or singing is placed.