From a reader…
It recently came up in conversation that a consecrated altar should have a relic on it, or perhaps built into it. A friend insisted that the Mass would be illicit (but not invalid) without such a relic present. My question is: What are the requirements for altars in regards to relics? Are they needed for the Mass to be licit and how ought they to be incorporated into the altar?
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal in 302, that the tradition of depositing relics of the saints under a dedicated altar is to be retained. The clear preference is for the depositions of significant and decent sized relics which can be identified and certified.
It is no longer a requirement for the liceity of the Holy Mass that it be offered on a dedicated altar with a relic deposited in it. For a good reason, a priest is permitted to offer Mass elsewhere. However, it is reasonable for a church to have a dedicated (and relic-enclosing) altar, unless the church is temporary or there is some delay in the construction of the permanent, fixed altar.
And no, when the General Instruction speaks about “relics” it’s not talking about old paperback copies of Glory and Praise Volume 1, Sr. Cindi’s autoharp (or Sr. Cindi), or the polyester “chasubalb” worn by Fr. Sideburns.