This Is The Biblical Reason Why The Priest Kisses The Altar At Mass

The act of a priest kissing the altar during the Mass might seem like a small gesture, but it holds profound significance. This rite is rooted in both tradition and Scripture and serves as a meaningful expression of devotion, sacrifice, and unity. In this article, we’ll delve into the biblical background of why the priest kisses the altar at Mass, unpack its theological implications, and shed light on its relevance in the contemporary Catholic Church.

The Act: A Ritual Expression of Devotion

During the Mass, after approaching the altar, the priest kisses it as a sign of veneration and respect. This practice isn’t merely a ritualistic detail but has deep theological significance. While this act of kissing the altar has been carried out for centuries, the roots of this custom can be traced back to the teachings and practices laid out in the Bible.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the altar as the symbol of Christ, stating, “The altar of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Cross […] It is the center of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1383). Though not a direct quote, this summary captures the essence of the Catechism’s teaching that emphasizes the symbolic relationship between the altar and Christ.

The Biblical Foundation: Old Testament Roots

The Altar in the Old Testament

The altar in the Old Testament served as the place where sacrifices were offered to God. When God made a covenant with Abraham, an altar was built for the sacrifice (Genesis 12:7). The Israelites also built an altar at Mount Sinai, as instructed by God, to offer sacrifices (Exodus 24:4). The sacrifices offered on these altars were the Old Testament’s way of seeking unity and communion with God.

The Kiss: A Biblical Gesture of Reverence

The act of kissing, too, finds its roots in the Bible as a gesture of reverence and submission. For instance, the Psalmist says, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled” (Psalm 2:12). Though not a direct reference to the Mass, this verse indicates how kissing can serve as an acknowledgment of submission and devotion.

The New Covenant: Christ as the Altar

In the New Testament, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross replaces the Old Testament sacrifices, fulfilling their purpose once and for all. He serves as both the priest and the altar of the New Covenant. Hebrews 13:10 asserts, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” This New Testament passage speaks to the unique significance of the altar in Christian worship, linking it to Christ’s unique sacrifice.

Theological Implications: Union with Christ and the Church

Union with Christ

When the priest kisses the altar, he’s not merely following a ritual but is expressing a theological reality. In doing so, he is acknowledging the altar as the symbol of Christ and His sacrifice. This simple act serves as a powerful reminder that the Mass is a continuation of the Sacrifice of Calvary.

Union with the Church

The act also symbolizes the priest’s role as acting ‘in persona Christi,’ in the person of Christ. He is there to lead the congregation in offering their prayers and sacrifices in unity with the sacrifice of Christ.

Communion of Saints

The kiss further reflects the unity between the Church on earth and the heavenly Church. It serves as a reminder that the Mass is a celebration attended not only by the congregation present but also by the communion of saints, including all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.

A Universal Teaching, Not Just An Opinion

It’s important to emphasize that the ritual of the priest kissing the altar is not just a matter of personal or cultural preference. This practice is part of the universal liturgical norms of the Church, rooted in the continuous teaching and tradition that stretches back to the apostolic age. As a universal teaching, its observance is not optional but integral to the celebration of the Mass according to the Roman Rite.

Conclusion: A Rich Symbolism Rooted in Tradition and Scripture

The simple act of the priest kissing the altar is steeped in layers of biblical and theological significance. It draws from Old Testament practices, aligns with New Testament revelations, and brings out the richness of Catholic theology. This act, deeply embedded in the Catholic Mass, serves as a constant reminder of the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice, our unity with Him, and our communion with the saints in heavenly glory. As attendees of the Mass, understanding the depth of this ritual enriches our participation and appreciation of the Eucharistic celebration, which is, after all, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324).

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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