St. Stanislaus Oratory in Milwaukee celebrated its 150th parish anniversary and celebrated it with a consecration of the newly restored altar by His Excellency Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. The Rite of Consecrating a Fixed Altar according to the 1962 liturgy contains several beautiful elements including Gregorian Water, relics of saints, and even fire on the altar.1
The first part of the rite is the purification of the altar. The rite begins with the Litany of Saints and the bishop goes around the altar sprinkling it with Gregorian Water. While wearing violet vestments, the bishop prays that God will sanctify the altar and bless it to be a place worthy of the Blood of Christ.
The second part of the rite is the translation of the relics. The bishop changes from violet vestments into white vestments and there is a procession of the relics into the Church where they are entombed in the altar. The saints who were cemented in the altar at St. Stanislaus are St. Lucidianus, St. Eutrophia, and St. Laurentia. This tradition goes back to when the ancient Roman Christians would celebrate Mass on the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs. This also refers to the liturgy as it is presented in Sacred Scripture:
I [John] saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.2
The consecration of the altar with the relics is the third part of the rite. The bishop anoints the altar with Sacred Chrism in the five crosses engraved in the corners and center of the altar praying, “May this altar be sealed and sanctified in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: to God’s honor and in Saint Stanislaus’s memory. Amen.”3 After the anointing, the bishop incenses the altar while the choir sings antiphons from the book of Revelation:
Ant. There stood an angel at the altar of the temple, having a golden censer in his hand.
Ant. There was given him much incense, that he may offer it upon the golden altar which is before the eyes of the Lord.
Ant. The smoke of the incense went up before the Lord from the angel’s hand.4
After incensing the altar, the bishop prays:
May our prayer, we beseech Thee, O Lord, go up like incense before Thee, and may the Christian people obtain plenteous blessings, that whosoever shall devoutly lay on this altar gifts to be consecrated, or receive them when consecrated, may obtain all that is needed for the present life, together with pardon of his sins, and the grace of everlasting redemption. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Once the prayer has concluded, incense is placed on the altar in the corners and in the center of the altar in the shape of crosses. The incense is then burned on the altar symbolizing our prayers and offerings to God.5
This burning on the altar also symbolizes the burning that should occur in the hearts of the faithful for the antiphon said during this time is, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.”6 The prayer of consecration by the bishop follows and this is one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever witnessed:
Almighty God, in whose honor, Thy unworthy servants, do consecrate this altar, graciously and mercifully give ear to our humble prayers, and grant that all offerings made upon this altar may be agreeable, acceptable, favorably received, and penetrated with the dew of Thy Holy Ghost: that at all times, Thous mayest be moved to relieve the anxieties of Thy people who shall call upon Thee in this place, to heal their diseases, to hear their prayers, to accept their vows, to strengthen their good purposes, to grant whatsoever they ask. Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, God.
The concluding prayer rehearses the importance of the altar in salvation history and asks God look with favor on it as He did with our venerable ancestors in the faith. If you ever have a chance to witness the consecration of an atlar, I highly recommend it! Here are a couple photos from the liturgy:
1. Explanation of Gregorian Water will be in a future post. ↩
2. Rev 6:9–11. ↩
3. Translation from St. Stanislaus program booklet with slight modifications. ↩
4. cf. Rev 8:3–4. ↩
5. cf. Psa 141:2. ↩
6. cf. Psa 104:30. ↩