GIRM 302-303: Relics and Multiple Altars

GIRM shoulders the issue of relics:

302. The practice of the deposition of relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. However, care should be taken to ensure the authenticity of such relics.

My parish has relics in fitting displays, but the altar was not constructed for their deposition there. If relics were deposited there, we would not have them available for devotion.

As for the matter of multiplcation of altars …

303. In building new churches, it is preferable for a single altar to be erected, one that in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church.

Side altars are not expressly forbidden. However, a display for devotion can have other carefully constructed aspects.

In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is so positioned that it makes the people’s participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to artistic value, another fixed altar, skillfully made and properly dedicated, should be erected and the sacred rites celebrated on it alone. In order that the attention of the faithful not be distracted from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any special way.

This is what happened in a lot of churches. Visibility is clearly considered part of the people’s participation. And when this is difficult (note: not impossible) a change is appropriate.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to GIRM 302-303: Relics and Multiple Altars

  1. David D. says:

    Don’t really understand the visibility issue. Unless one is lounging in the center aisle, the priest’s orientation is immaterial. More important than mere visibility would seem to be the overall visual intelligibility of the rite and the sacred space in which that rite takes place.

  2. Todd says:

    Visibility has always been important to Catholics. It’s the foundation of Eucharistic exposition. Otherwise, why not just kneel near a tabernacle? It’s the basis for the acts of elevation. Otherwise, why not just take it on faith? Something of Thomas in our tradition, perhaps.

  3. David D. says:

    Obviously, adoration can take place with or without exposition. The reality of the Most Blessed Sacrament does not change whether hidden in a tabernacle or displayed in a monstrance though each instance perhaps illuminates a particular aspect of that reality. There’s a reason why tabernacles are not made of plexiglass.

  4. Todd says:

    Oh sure. I’ve always felt that way myself. But my experience is that more Catholics come out for adoration than they do ordinarily for an open church just to pray in the Eucharistic Chapel. My parish has no problem filling a weekly adoration list. But there is not always somebody praying at the tabernacle, nor has anyone developed a prayer schedule for it.

    I’m just observing that for many people, seeing is believing. Or seeing reinforces believing. Personally, I feel I can also pray to God in nature; I don’t even need to be in a church. But some Catholics think that sounds rather pantheistic or something.

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