One of my pet hates is to see extra things placed on the altar. I strongly believe that the altar should not be cluttered. While the altar is one of the principal symbols in a church, before being a symbol or a sacred object, it is a functional piece of furniture. It is meant to hold some things during the liturgy, but also there is a limit to what should be placed on it. As I do not have a regular parish assignment, I find myself celebrating in many different churches. My practice is to arrive before the start of the celebration and go down to the altar and clean as much stuff off it as I can before the celebration begins (missalettes, bulletins, sermon notes, glasses cases, huge unnecessary missal stands and my personal favorite, the pyx or canister containing the “priest’s hosts” that some sacristans leave on the altar so that they can easily put out a new priest’s host between Masses. As this is a container of bread usually lives on the altar during Mass, I imagine that the thin metal lid must be made of kryptonite to prevent the Consecration penetrating the pyx, and that although the bread inside has been on the altar for up to 20 Masses, it has remained unconsecrated until it has been put on the priest’s paten. Being the iconoclast that I am, I also take away the private priest’s paten for his special host, because God forbid that we follow number 321 of the GIRM which mandates that “the Eucharistic Bread … be fashioned in such a way that the priest … truly able to break it into parts and distribute these to at least some of the faithful” and add the host to the individual pre-cut ones in a ciborium if one is being consecrated. Needless to say, if I was permanently in one parish I would lobby to buy bigger breads.)
Pedro Farnés, my mentor in things liturgical once wrote how on a theological level we can distinguish between three categories of objects placed on the altar: sacramental elements (bread and wine); festive elements (altar cloth and candles) and finally the functional elements microphone, corporals and missal.
Pedro Farnés Scherer, Construir y Adaptar las Iglesias: Orientaciones Doctrinales y Sugerencias Prácticas Sobre el Espacio Celebrativo, Según el Espíritu del Concilio VaticanoII (Barcelona: Editorial Regina, 1989), 54–60.
Lately, two photographs of solemn eucharistic celebrations caught my eye. Both had trays being used on the altar to hold chalices. One was here on PrayTell in an account of the dedication of Christ Cathedral in Orange, CA. The other was an account of a eucharistic liturgy celebrated by Cardinal Nichols during a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
I know the practice is fairly widespread and have seen it on a number of occasions, although I don’t remember ever presiding over a celebration with trays on the altar. Obviously, the chalices have to be brought to the altar somehow or other. And in no way am I in favor of not allowing people to receive from the chalice because it is awkward or requires some extra logistical work. There are precious few details on how the Eucharist should be celebrated in the Bible, but it is fairly clear that Jesus said that all should take and drink. I agree with the theological definition of the real presence and concomitance whereby Jesus is fully present (Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity) in either the eucharistic bread or cup, yet I believe that Communion under both Species is the way to go.
However, I am not sure whether I particularly like the practice of placing trays on the altar. Why are they there? Would it not be possible to bring them from the credence table on the tray and then place them on the surface of the altar cloth or corporal? Is this a case of falling into the old trap of minimizing work and destroying symbols?
I can find no mention of liturgical trays in the different liturgical documents. The word “tray” does not appear in the current English translation of the Roman Missal, in the Normsfor the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of Americaor in either volume 1 or 2 of LTP’s The Liturgy Documents collection. A Google Search for “liturgical tray” gives results either for patens, trays for the wine and water cruets or collection plates. Meyer•Vogelpohl Church Supply Store in Cincinnati, OH, my go-to destination for exotic liturgical supplies, does stock a few of these trays. But I cannot see them as being widely accepted.
My question for discussion is whether I am exaggerating (a tendency that many tell me I have), or is this a new liturgical abuse that is creeping in to our liturgies?