Cite
 

altar

altar, table or platform for the performance of religious sacrifice. In its simplest form the altar is a small pile, with a square or circular surface, made of stone or wood. Its features vary according to its purpose. The altar of libation usually has a drain for the liquid, and so does the altar of bloody sacrifice the altar of burnt offering (including incense) often has a depressed hollow for a fire. Altars in Egypt, in Mesopotamia, in Greece, in Rome, and among the Aztec and the Maya were highly adorned with friezes, cornices, elaborate platforms, and canopies. At Pergamum there was a huge monumental altar 40 ft (12.2 m) high. Altars as a rule were out of doors in the ancient world and in Central America. The Christian altar is the place to celebrate the Eucharist , a sacrifice in the traditional view. In the Western Church the altar is a long, narrow table of stone or wood, often reminiscent of a tomb at its back is a reredos , which often bears a canopy. In the Roman rite there are in the middle of the altar a crucifix and a tabernacle to contain the reserved Host, although recent legislation of Roman liturgical reform suggests that the tabernacle be placed elsewhere in the church. There is a recess in each altar containing bones of martyrs this is even true of tiny portable altars carried by chaplains. In Eastern rites the altar is square and has no backing or reredos it is away from the wall. Most Protestant denominations have no altar a typical practice is to have a permanent communion table below and in front of the pulpit.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.