“However, in St. Peter’s during the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great (590–604), the altar was moved nearer to the bishop’s chair, probably for the simple reason that he was supposed to stand as much as possible above the tomb of St. Peter. This was an outward and visible expression of the truth that we celebrate the Sacrifice of the Lord in the communion of saints, a communion spanning all times and ages. The custom of erecting an altar above the tombs of the martyrs probably goes back a long way and is an outcome of the same motivation. Throughout history the martyrs continue Christ’s self-oblation; they are like the Church’s living altar, made not of stones but of men, who have become members of the Body of Christ and thus express a new kind of cultus: sacrifice is humanity becoming love with Christ.”
Thoughts: Having relics by and in altars, reminds people that God wants us to not only love Him, but love others as well. The fact that the altar reminds us of our membership in the communion of saints, helps us live out this love more deeply. It increases a feeling of kinship to think of those who have gone before us to God’s heavenly kingdom who are still helping us live our lives according to God’s will through prayer and intercession. Knowing that God loves others so much and wants us to love others too, gives insight into His love. This fact clarifies how all-consuming His love is for everyone, and it reaffirms how He is a community of love. His love for everyone helps to prove how He is Love. By giving us deeper insight into the love of God, altars and their relics help us worship God with more devotion and love.
Excerpt from Sacred Places: The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer from The Spirit of the Liturgy