From a reader:
A few years ago some modifications were made at our church including raising the floor level of the sanctuary. As a consequence the three steps that used to lead up to the high altar are now just two steps. You can still see the outline of the old bottom step but there is no rise. I have been told that this means it is no longer possible to have a valid TLM. Is this true?
Number of altar steps… valid Mass? O dear O dear O dear.
No, friend. The number of altar steps in now way affects validity of Mass. The number of the priest’s gray cells, on the other hand….
That said, traditionally the number of steps going up to the main altar will be uneven, usually three, five, or seven, including the predella or footpace (the flat platform at the top of the steps). The steps for an altar against the apse or wall should embrace the altar on three sides. Side altars usually have at least one step. Customarily, steps are covered with a carpet.
Here is a shot from my phone of an illustration in Trimeloni.
The reason for the odd number of steps … well… it’s supposed to be symbolic. I suppose 3 for the repetition of Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus or for the Trinity, 5 for the wounds of the Lord, and 7 for the virtues. Practically speaking the steps allow the altar to be more visible and for the deacon and subdeacon to arrange themselves in an aesthetically pleasing way.
But, in the final analysis, be there steps or no steps, even or unevenness of number, the validity of Mass is not affected.