Under normal conditions a bishop consecrates each and every altar of Jesus Christ. Thus, a bishop would have consecrated the altar at our parish churches, including the one at my parish of Holy Rosary. This gives each altar a new quality, set aside only for the use of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Nobody can use it for any other purpose. We cannot use it as a desk; we cannot use it to store non-liturgical items, such as books, dishes, and knick-knacks; we cannot use it to sit on. Its sole purpose is for the confection of the Eucharist.

The above paragraph is true. Yet, it is quite impossible to consecrate all places where priests celebrate Mass. For instance, when I take groups out into the wilderness I often celebrate Mass on rocks, a camp table, or even on a snow altar. I did not have a spare bishop there to consecrate the space. And even if I did, I would not be able to leave a consecrated item behind lest someone use it for evil purposes.

For this trip up Kilimanjaro I am bringing an altar. I will consecrate it instead of the local Archbishop; I do so with his approval and power of delegation. A benefactor purchased a wilderness altar from a craftsman (http://stjosephsapprentice.com) who specializes in portable altars. After my trip I will be able to take this altar on future hikes with the knowledge that I’m celebrating Mass on a consecrated surface. How cool is that?

Portable altar in its collapsed state

Portable altars have two states, opened and closed. Closed they reduce to a minimum amount of space allowing them to be easily carried. Since this altar will travel with us up the mountain, it’s important that we make it as small as possible. Collapsing it, obviously, does not affect its weight, which is still 16 lbs.

Fixed altars typically have altar stones with relics of saints. While it is possible to place an altar stone in a portable altar, the last thing I need is the extra weight of a stone. Besides, because of their lack of permanence, I think they were frowned upon. Instead, a priest would carry a corporal with a relic of a saint sewn into it. This makes it more practical for a priest to celebrate Mass wherever and whenever churches were unavailable and his only option was a makeshift flat surface.

This “lightweight” wilderness altar doesn’t have space for an altar stone, but the artist put a hidden chamber in for me to place a relic or two. I’m putting in relics of both St. Catherine of Siena and St. Martin de Porres—both Dominicans, of course.

The hidden compartment with the relics of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Martin de Porres

For the purposes of air travel I’m going to have the relics on my person rather than in the altar. I don’t want to be separated from them in case they have to go into the luggage hold. Plus, I feel more comfortable having them on me. A third relic of St. Dominic will be placed on the altar at all the Masses. I want him to be present and visible, not hidden.

Lastly, I must bless the altar. I originally wanted to bless the altar using the old Roman Ritual because it would have been in Latin and probably would have been clearer as to how the blessing actually did its work (e.g., expel demons and other evils). Alas, the Office of Divine Worship actually gave me the rite from the current Pontifical. It’s approved and adequate. The altar is blessed. But, I secretly wish I could have used the other rite.

In the Ordinary Form, the blessing takes place within the context of Mass—no surprise there since the purpose of the altar is for Mass. I keep the altar bare until after the Creed. After that I perform the blessing and then celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist on the newly blessed mensa. It is not without its beauty.

The bare altar with the Lectionary on top


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