CONSECRATION OF ALTAR
Anointing a new altar is the culmination of the ceremonial consecration of a new church. The elaborate service, rich in prayers and petitions, is a reflection of the reverence felt toward the holy table, the plaholy table, the place where, at every celebration ce wher, at every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the actual transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ takes place. The following is a brief account of this service.
Standing at the altar with the rest of the clergy, the bishop first offers incense and says the prayer of incense, followed by Psalms 22 and 23. Again he offers incense, and makes the sign of the cross over the altar, without using the chrism oil. Then Psalms 25, 26, 83, and 92 are read, followed by the Pauline Epistle (Heb. 13:10-16). The deacons sing the Trisagion and a priest recites the intercession of the Gospel. The Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 16:13-19, the last two verses of which are, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This is followed by the seven greater intercessions: for the sick, for travelers, for waters (or crops or vegetation according to the season of the year), for the ruler, for the dormant, for oblations, and for catechumens.
Then the bishop reads a number of petitions, each of which is concluded with the words, “We beseech Thee, God our Savior, hearken to us and have mercy upon us,” to which the congregation respond “Kyrie eleison.” In these prayers reference is made to the following points: (1) the creation of man in the image of God, his fall, and his reinstatement; (2) the incarnation of Jesus Christ; (3) the birth of the Only-begotten Son of God in the fullness of time; (4) the establishment of the holy church upon the immovable rock; (5) the blessing of the Patriarch Abraham by Melchizedek, with bread and wine according to the grace of the new covenant given to the church; (6) the manifestation of the promise of salvation to Isaac; (7) Jacob’s vision of the ladder reaching up to heaven, with the angels descending upon it and his setting up of a stone as a pillar and pouring of oil on its corner, calling the place the house of God; (8) the granting of the law to Moses upon Mount Sinai and his building of the tabernacle; (9) the command of God to Moses to place an ark in the tabernacle, and a golden pot with manna, representing the bread of life descending from heaven; (10) the adorning of the tabernacle by Belzaleel according to the pattern seen by Moses; (11) the making of a covenant with David for the building of the house that was later completed by his son Solomon; (12) the sanctification of the house by God, in answer to Solomon’s prayers; (13) the granting to the apostles the pattern of heavenly things and the hieratic orders and rituals; (14) the prayer to Jesus Christ, the lover of man, to have mercy upon the congregation; (15) the prayer to God to send down the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, as He had done to the apostles, to bless this new place and transform it into a holy church, a house of salvation, a place of forgiveness of sin, an assembling place of the angels, a haven of safety, a holy tabernacle, a heavenly altar, and a cleansing place of stained souls; (16) the prayer for the well-being of the patriarch and the bishops; and (17) the prayer for the clergy and the congregation, by the intercessions of the THEOTOKOS, the archangels, John the Baptist, Saint Mark, and all the saints.
The three greater intercessions follow—for peace, for the church fathers, and for the congregation—and then all recite the Creed. The bishop offers incense for the third time, makes the sign of the cross over the altar, also without using oil, and prays to the Almighty God to send His Holy Spirit upon this altar that He may purify it for a place on which to offer the bloodless sacrifice of the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
After some petitions said by the deacon, the bishop continues, saying, “Almighty God, receive this fervent supplication of Thy servants . . . Lord, God, receive this fervent supplication of Thy servants . . .
Lord, God of our salvation, who has substituted ecclesiastical ritual for symbolical types, who has released us from the vanity of material things . . . grant us the blessing of Christ who raised up the church and set up the altars, who gave us the baptism of regeneration. . . . Give help to those who offer sacrifices on our behalf. Complete the consecration of this altar with the oil of grace, the mystery of the Holy Spirit, to offer the bloodless sacrifice through the mystic unction, to partake of the Holy Body and the Precious Blood.”
The bishop concludes his prayers with these short petitions, “A pure altar; a harbor for troubled souls; a refuge from sin, both voluntary and involuntary; deliverance from unjudicious intentions; provision of heavenly graces; fulfillment of all righteousness,” after each of which the congregation responds “Amen”.
Finally the bishop takes the pot of myron oil, pours the oil upon the altar three times in the form of the cross, saying each time “Alleluia.” With his thumb he makes three crosses with the myron oil, saying, “With this holy myron, we consecrate this altar which has already been placed, for the name of [Saint] in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
He proceeds to anoint the entire altar, while reciting Psalms 84: 1-3, 4, 6-7, 8-10 and 26: 6-8, and says a prayer of thanksgiving. New coverings are laid on the altar, and the gospel book, the cross, and the altar vessels are placed on top. The Trisagion and the prayer of inclination follow. The bishop offers incense, says the prayer of incense, and goes around the altar three times, joined by the clergy. Then all go around the church carrying lighted candles and singing appropriate hymns. Then he says the prayer of thanksgiving, standing at the altar, and reads Psalm 26:8, 7: “O Lord, I love the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwells. Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all thy wondrous deeds.” The Gospel reading is taken from Luke 19:1-10.
A priest says the three intercessions (for church peace, the fathers, and the congregation), and finally the bishop says the absolution. Then they proceed to consecrate the baptismal font.
- Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar. Misbah al-Zulmah, Vol. 1, pp. 1-43. Cairo, 1971.
- Horner, G. W. The Service for the Consecration of a Church and Altar According to the Coptic Rite. London, 1902.