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Altar Relics.
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Author:  C. Thomas J. M. Vick [ Tue May 30, 2006 11:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Altar Relics.

Good afternoon.

A recent experience has prompted me to ask for additional documentation regarding the use of relics in Altars in the Church. Our Priest recently came to town, to offer Mass for about four families here. He does this about once a month (a long journey for him). He has left many items here, for use during Mass (candle sticks, candles, patten, wine [to be refreshed periodically], Missal [we will purchase a missal stand, soon], vestments, etc.). He normally brings hosts (soon to be furnished, and maintained in our freezer), Chalice (etc.), and SOME Altar cloths. This last time he came to town, he forgot to bring the cloth containing the Relics (ours is a temporary Altar, at this time). Father ask me to check with some local novus ordo contacts, to see if they had such an Altar cloth (with relics), or an Altar Stone with Relics, and if we could borrow it for Mass. After a couple of calls, I talked with the local "priest" (I say "priest" respecfully), and he informed me that the "church" (respectfully) no longer requires Relics in the Altar. I checked further, with another, local novus ordo contact, and was informed that the "altar" at the local "parish" never contained relics, ever. I'm not sure when this "church" was "concecrated" ("dedicated"), but I assume it was after vii. I did some research, and discovered that this practice was to be "retained" (although there are MANY differing opinions as to whether or not the "church" has eliminated this practice). Some varying opinions/websites: <>, <>, <>, <>.....mentions that the reformed "roman pontifical" did away with the requirements of Altar Relics, and I haven't looked at that particular document. Anyway, I sometimes see the phrase "to be retained", and sometimes phrases like ""should be preserved, if possible". That brings up another question: When is it NOT possible, to have Altar Relics?

Forgive my long ranting, but I AM curious as to this practice, and as to whether the REFORMED "roman pontifical" actually "did away" with this requirement..

Anyway, as to our Mass, after finding out that the local "parish church" did NOT have ANY Relics, our Priest immediately turned around, drove for 6 hours (3 hours to and from), and returned with an Altar Stone WITH Relics, so that he could offer, for us, the Mass. What a WONDERFUL Priest we have!!!

lex orandi, lex credendi

Author:  Janel [ Wed May 31, 2006 5:22 am ]
Post subject: 

If I had to make an educated guess for now, I would say that this was done away with in the 1970's. I used to go to a novus ordo temple that was built in the 1970's. I have also visited other simliar novus ordo temples and found there were no relics in the "altars" there and they were roughly all built around this time. But I do know of a novus ordo "altar" in an old Catholic Church that has relics, and I am guessing this was one of the older "altars" of that religion-probably built in the 1960's. (I worked with the youth organization for my "diocese" and was able to travel to many churches and saw these first hand, if you were wondering)

Interesting question.


Author:  Pat Beck [ Wed May 31, 2006 4:39 pm ]
Post subject:  altar relics

Altar relics were always required, symbolizing Mass being offered over the graves of the early martyrs of Holy Mother Church in the catacombs. It is to remind us that men and women died to defend their faith. I don't think any of the N.O. "tables" contain relics. You will probably only find relics in the old altars of older Churches. I commend the priest who drove six hours round trip to get an altar stone with relics imbedded in it for him to say Mass over. We are fortunate to have have had two uncles who were priests, who had first class relics, and we were fortunate to inherit them. We took them with us to be placed on the altar at private Masses that we attended. Can you imagine all the altars that have been broken by sledgehammer to "update" Churches - I wonder what happened to the relics that were imbedded in those altars? How many sacrileges have been committed?

Pat Beck

Author:  Janel [ Wed May 31, 2006 4:51 pm ]
Post subject: 

Dear Pat,

I was reading your message on another thread. I was going to e-mail you but you have no e-mail address listed. We attend the CMRI Boston mission. Did we meet you a few weeks ago when we took the Sisters to Maine? We were really glad that now there is a mass in Maine, God has been so good to us this past year in New England.


Author:  Pat Beck [ Wed May 31, 2006 5:04 pm ]
Post subject:  altar relics


We were not able to attend the Sunday the sisters came up from Boston, but I heard from someone who attended that it was a wonderful session. We plan to be there for Bishop Pivarunas' Mass in June! Perhaps we will meet someday. We could hardly believe how fortunate we are to have CMRI coming to Maine!! Prayer and perseverance work!!

Pat Beck

Author:  Robert Bastaja [ Wed May 31, 2006 6:49 pm ]
Post subject: 

A quick look at Catholic Encyclopedia reveals the following...(my understanding was that the stone had a relic embedded in it but I find no reference to either an altar stone or altar cloth relic.)

Both references from Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) at:

ALTAR STONE: A solid piece of natural stone, consecrated by a bishop, large enough to hold the Sacred Host and chalice. It is inserted into or placed on the surface of a structure which answers the purpose of an altar, when the whole altar is not consecrated. Sometimes the whole table (mensa) takes the place of the smaller altar-stone. It is called a portable altar.

EXCERPT FROM ALTAR CLOTH: The three altar-cloths must be blessed by the bishop or someone who has the faculty before they can be used for the celebration of Mass. In the United States the faculty is granted by the ordinary to priests in general (Facultates, Form. I, n. 13). The formula or this blessing is found in the "Rituale Romanum", tit viii, cap. xxi, and in the "Missale Romanum" among the "Benedictiones Diversae". Symbolically the altar-cloths signify the members of Christ, that is, God's faithful, by whom the Lord is encompassed (Pontificale Rom., De ordinat. subdiaconi); or the linens in which the body of Christ was wrapped, when it was laid in the sepulchre; or the purity and the devotion of the faithful: "For the fine linen are the justifications of saints" Revelation 19:8 Besides the three altar-cloths there is another linen cloth, waxed on one side, which is called the chrismale (cere-cloth), and with which the table of the consecrated altar (even if part of it be made of bricks or other material, and does not form a part of the consecrated altar) should be completely covered (Caerem. Episc., De altaris consecratione). It must be of the exact size of the table of the altar, and it is placed under the linen cloths, the waxed side being turned towards the table. Its purpose is not only to prevent the altar-cloths from being stained by the oil used at the consecration, but also to keep the cloths dry. Hence it is advisable to have such a wax cloth on all altars in churches which may be, accessible to dampness. According to the rubrics, this cloth is removed once a year, that is, during the stripping of the altars on Maundy Thursday; but it may be changed as often as the altar is washed. The cere-cloth is not blessed. It cannot take the place of one of the three rubrical linen cloths. To procure cere-cloths, melt the remnants of wax candles in a small vessel. When the wax is in a boiling condition, skim off the impurities that remain from the soiled stumps of candles. Dip into this wax the linen intended for the cere-cloth, and when well saturated hang it on a clothes-line, allowing the surplus wax to drop off. When the wax cloth has hardened place it between two unwaxed sheets of linen of like dimensions. Iron thoroughly with a well heated flat iron, thus securing three wax cloths. The table on which the cloths are ironed should be covered with an old cloth or thick paper to receive the superfluous wax when melted by the iron. It should be remembered that unwashed linen when dipped in wax shrinks considerably; hence before the cloths are waxed they should be much larger than the size of the altar for which they are intended.

Author:  John Daly [ Wed May 31, 2006 7:42 pm ]
Post subject: 

The Canons of the 1917 Code of canon Law concerning altars are numbered from 1197 to 1202. Canon 1198ยง4 states that all fixed altars and all altar-stones must contain relics of saints. Canon 1199 adds that altars/atar stones must be consecrated in accordance with the liturgical laws before being used for Mass.

I too applaud the priest who made a long journey rather than say Mass without an altar-stone, for the law of Canon 822 is formal - Mass must be said on a consecrated canonical altar or altar stone - and this law is held not to be subject to epikeia except perhaps for the very gravest reasons such as to confect the viaticum for a dying person.

However I question the reference that has been made to a cloth containing relics in place of the altar-stone. The technical term for this item is an antimensium. Its use is normal for Greek uniates, but in the Latin rite it is forbidden by Canon 823.

I happen to possess one which was left to me by the late Fr Philip Shelmerdine, a sedevacantist priest who died in 1987, but Fr Shelmerdine had a special indult from Rome (before the V2 revolution) to use it.

This thread reminds me of an incident in the lives of the early Fathers: a priest was condemned to die for the faith and lay chained in prison on his back. He was able to say Mass the night before his martyrdom by using his own chest as the altar-stone. I no longer remmeber who it was but perhaps seomeone else has a better mempry than I have.

John Daly

Author:  Robert Bastaja [ Wed May 31, 2006 8:09 pm ]
Post subject: 

John Daly:

Thank you for the 1917 Code references. Prior to the 1917 Code, was a consecrated altar or altar stone all that was required? Was the relic requirement always there? This same Catholic Encyclopedia also mentions the antimensium and the prohibition of its use in the Latin rite.

Author:  John Daly [ Wed May 31, 2006 8:53 pm ]
Post subject: 

Well the liturgy of the Tridentine Mass makes several allusions to the presence of relics in the altar, which is therefore presumed to be normal. And the writers of the time of the Council of Trent take for granted a gravely obligatory law to have an altar that is consecrated and contains relics. But they think that the consecration is a graver obligation than the relics. See Elizabethan Casuistry, Catholic Record Society, England 1981. The law is clearly very ancient, but when it first appears I do not know. I am currently reading Dom Gueranger's fascinating Liturgical Institutions which may well shed some light on this point and I shall publish any information that comes to light on this forum.


Author:  Recusant [ Thu Jun 01, 2006 1:17 am ]
Post subject: 

John, according to the American Ecclesiastical Review, Pope Benedict XIV permitted the use of an antimension to be used by Greeks and Albanians inhabiting Italy, but forbid it to be employed by the Latins. However, in a later Constitution he made a special concession for its use to churches of the United Ruthenians of Russia-Poland, in case no portable altars could be had. He allowed Latin priests residing in Poland to offer the Holy Sacrifice, ex causa rationabili, on an antimension of the Ruthenians.

What I find very interesting is that the reason he forbade the Latins to consecrate on the antimension in a Greek church in Italy, even though the priests were living among Italo-Greeks, was that in Italy there were numerous Latin churches so, no reason existed for suspending the rule. Poland was an exception because, at that time, parts of the country were inhabited by Ruthenians and Latin churches were not readily available.

Due to the highly unusual circumstances today, do you think that one could argue that epikeia could be appealed to in light of this?

Author:  John Daly [ Thu Jun 01, 2006 6:56 am ]
Post subject: 

Hello Lance!

As I understand it the rule forbidding the antimensium in the Latin rite binds in normal circumatsances under grave sin. However the examples you mention and the indult given to Fr Shelmerdine and other mission priests indicates that the law is less grave than the fundamental requirement to use a consecrated altar-stone/antimensium of some sort.

Hence I would say that the circumstances in which Mass can be said with no stone and no antimensium are extrememly rare: e.g. urgent need to consecrate viaticum. But that other less extreme circumstances could suffice for using an antimensium. However, as we know, it is not impossible to obtain pre-Vatican 2 altar stones, though it is sometimes difficult. I have yet to meet a traditional priest who did not have one and if he had one he should obviously use it rather than an antimensium. I doubt whether the simple convenience of the antimensium when travelling is a good enough reason for not respecting the law. But genuine unavailability of anything better on a sunday or feast day might well be.

Would that be your view?


Author:  John Lane [ Thu Jun 01, 2006 9:03 am ]
Post subject: 

John Daly wrote:
I doubt whether the simple convenience of the antimensium when travelling is a good enough reason for not respecting the law. But genuine unavailability of anything better on a sunday or feast day might well be.

Dear John, and Lance,

I presume you both have access to the Canon Law Digest. Vol. III has pretty full information about this question, including a Latin form of consecration for an antimensium. It also details some of the indults granted, including for a diocese in, if I recall, Brazil, called Diamantina.

I was told by a priest once that there was a general indult granted at the very end of Pius XII's reign, but I don't have Vol. IV, which would confirm/refute that claim.

Author:  Recusant [ Thu Jun 01, 2006 11:34 am ]
Post subject: 

Dear John D.,

Yes, I agree completely. However, I believe that in the case above, the priest could make use of an antimension if one was available. It seems to me that a 6 hour drive would be a grave inconvenience. What are your thoughts?

Dear John L.,

I have to look that up in the Digest....intresting.



Author:  John Daly [ Thu Jun 01, 2006 12:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Antimensium

First, to John Lane: no, there was no general indult for the antimensium under Pius XII or indeed John XXIII. Vol IV of Bouscaren's Digest contains an indult (8th Feb 1955) in favour of certain missionary priests in the Philippines, Angola and Brazil. It was general in the sense that their superior could allow the individual priests to use the antimensium without each one having a separate indult, but it does not have any force for other priests. And even then it was for use only when necesssary.

To Lance, I agree that a six hour journey is a grave inconvenience, but the further question the moral theologians never forget to ask in these cases is whether the Mass was necessary. Priests are not obliged to say Mass every day. If saying Mass entails breach of certain canons, the answer is sometimes that they may breach them for a necessary Mass (e.g. Sunday, or for persons long deprived of the sacraments), but not for a Mass of devotion.

BTW in September 1944 the allied troops landing at Arnhem by parachute included Catholic military chaplains. The chaplains all had a small portable altar stone suspended from their necks - they did not have antimensia.

John D

Author:  abragers [ Thu Jun 01, 2006 4:03 pm ]
Post subject: 

I've found this discussion very interesting, but have a question with a different angle regarding the antimensium and its use. At the Traditional chapel I attend, this "cloth containing a relic" is used for only one purpose: when we have our Corpus Christi procession (coming up soon!), it is placed on the temporary altars that are setup outside. The Mass is not said at these altars; however the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance is placed upon it for adoration. Is this use correct? If not, do these temporary altars need altar stones with relics when only used for this purpose (i.e. no Mass)??

I asked the aged pastor (he was ill and unable to say Mass) about these cloths and he called them a "Greek corporal". The new associate priest used them under his direction in this manner and has continued to do so after the pastor died. Note, the original pastor used to be a missionary priest.

Author:  John Daly [ Thu Jun 01, 2006 5:06 pm ]
Post subject: 

Indults have been given for Latin rite priests in certain special cases to use one or other of two different sorts of cloth substitutes for the altar stone, both containing relics and being consecrated by a bishop. One of these replaces the corporal as well as the ltar stone, but the other doesn't. The Greek practice is that the antimensium replaces the corporal. The antimensium I possess is placed beneath the three altar cloths on top of which is placed the corporal. That makes five sheets of linen altogether for each Mass, including the antimensium itself.

The stational altars or altars of repose where the Corpus Christi procession stops must be adorned as any other altar would be for Mass, in terms of cloths but I have not managed to find an answer to the question whether they require an altar stone.

John Daly

Author:  Mike [ Fri Jun 02, 2006 4:16 am ]
Post subject: 

To all interested in this topic, this may be of some use in trying to decide whether epikeia can be applied to this situation. A three year indult was given for the use of the blessed linen cloth rather than an altar stone for a specific situation. I give the full text below:

Use of Blessed Linen Cloth Instead of Altar Stone, Permitted by Indult (S.C. Rel., 8 Feb., 1955) Private

An indult of the Sacred Congregation of Religious of 8 February, 1955 (Prot. N. 14703), is as follows:

The Petition: The Superior General N.N., humbly prostrate at the feet of Your Holiness, asks for the faculty to permit the missionary priests subject to him in the Philippine Islands, Angola, and Brazil, to substitute a cloth made of linen or hemp for the portable altar or sacred stone in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Rescript In virtue of special faculties granted by His Holiness, the Sacred Congregation of Religious graciously allows the petitioner to grant to the missionary priests who are subject to him, in those countries where roads and vehicles are insufficent, the faculty to use , instead of a portably altar or altar stone, a cloth made of linen or hemp and blessed by a Bishop, in which are enclosed Relics of the Saints inspected by the same Bishop. On this cloth the said missionary priests may celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with an obligation in conscience to use this faculty only in cases where, either there is no church nor public or private oratory available, or it is very inconvenient to carry an altar stone with them on the journey, or to have one. Observing the other provisions of the Rubrics, especially as to the altar cloths and the corporal.

The present indult is to be good for three years. All things to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given at Rome, 8 Feb., 1955.

(Private); S.C. Rel., 8 Feb., 1955. Reported in Commentarium pro Religiosis, 1955, p. 289, with annotations by Gutierrez.

Note: This indult may be obtained from the S.C. of Religious for places not under the jurisdiction of the S.C. of Propaganda Fide. The cloth should be about the size of a corporal, or at least as large as the altar stone which it replaces. It must contain some relics of the Martyrs (not necessarily of any other Saints) enclosed in a linen sac to be sewed into the right hand corner. This cloth is similar to the Oriental antimensium, yet substantially different from it, since it replaces only the altar stone, not the corporal nor the altar cloths.

The faculty is given directly to the Superior General for his priests, without the need of any execution by the local Ordinary. (The S.C. of Propaganda, on the other hand, commits the execution of the rescript to the local Ordinary.) The inspection of the relics and the blessing of the cloth can be done by any Bishop.

(the full text of the the blessing follows)

(Bouscaran, The Canon Law Digest, Officially Published Documents Affecting the Code of Canon Law 1953-1957, Vol IV, pgs 266-267).

Author:  AJinstl [ Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Altar Relic- Altar Sone

I just wanted to inform you that you can purchase Altar Stones w/relic from King Richards this link will take you directly to the page that has the Altar Stones ... ry_uid=201
My parish has used King Richards and we have found them to be quite reliable and good.

Author:  John Daly [ Sun Jun 04, 2006 10:59 am ]
Post subject: 

Correction. Relying on a misleading footnote in Haeghy's Manuel de Liturgie (II, n. 513) I indicated that altars of repose during processions of the Blessed Sacrament should be covered as for Mass. This is incorrect. According to the Dictionnaire Pratique de la Liturgie, article "reposoir", a single corporal seems to suffice. However all agree that such altars should be adorned as sumptuously as possible, which to my mind suggests at least one full length altar-cloth before the corporal. There is definitely no need for an altar stone or antimensium.


Author:  abragers [ Sun Jun 04, 2006 7:37 pm ]
Post subject: 


Thank you for checking up on this.

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