ASK FATHER: Relics, consecrated altars, and liceity of Mass

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Fr. W says:

    Regarding relics ‘under’ the altar: some new altars recently dedicated in my diocese have had the relics placed in the marble FLOOR beneath the altar, in one case, the priest stands on the relic when he says Mass. One of the priests who oversaw this is a normal, traditional priest. I asked what is the deal with this and was told that this is how it is supposed to be done. Could someone help me understand if this is correct, has the Church implemented such a policy or is someone confused…..?

  2. ChesterFrank says:

    One priest (priest A) commented that since another priest (priest B) was a relative of a saint, that made the other priest(B) a second class relic. Does that meet the relic requirement if (B) either says the mass, or co-celebrates the mass with (A)?

  3. APX says:

    Glory & Praise vol. 1 isn’t all that bad. Its songs, for the most part, are based on the psalms, generally speaking (not too sure about “Friends are Like Flowers” and “His Banner Over Me is Love”, the one title is from the Song of Songs). I sort of miss that hymnal, actually.

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