Blessing of an altar

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  We recently received a lovely wooden, movable altar; it had been in storage with a community for some time, and will now be used in a recently renovated convent chapel. It is in overall very good condition and has a beautiful paschal lamb on the front. However, the altar has some damage to the finish of the wood in some places (including on the top of the mensa in one place) and also is a different wood finish than the rest of our chapel. For both reasons, we intend to strip, re-stain and re-finish the wood of the entire altar. Basic modes of reverent treatment come to mind (such as certainly not using the top of the altar as any sort of workbench while the work is in progress!), but is there anything else we need to be mindful of, or permission we would need to obtain, before refinishing a moveable altar like this? It’s stripping the top of the mensa that gives me pause, and I just want to be sure we’re not overlooking something we ought to do. I don’t know yet for certain whether it’s been blessed in the past, but if it has, would refinishing the top of the mensa call for a new blessing?

Thank you for your help!


A:  What a lovely altar you have obtained. God bless you all for wanting to refurbish it, respect it, and handle the process with reverence and dignity.

The church offers two separate ceremonies, the dedication of an altar and the blessing of an altar. Because this is a convent chapel, and because you describe it as a movable altar, it falls under the second category.

I recommend that you prepare the altar as you have planned. You need no special permission, but it would be prudent to let the bishop know what is happening. You may dispose of any parts of the altar that you do not need. No special ceremony needs to accompany that. The mensa was probably sanctified by its use, but not by any special anointing. It’s unlikely that relics are there, but, if there are, they should be preserved.

When the altar is ready, because of the extent of its refinishing, invite the bishop or the rector of the chapel to bless it. This involves holy water and incense, but not chrism. The entire altar is blessed; nothing special happens to the mensa. The ceremony is in Chapter IV of the Order of the Dedication of a Church and an Altar.

I have two books about that book. One is New Church, New Altar, a commentary, chapter by chapter. The other is Our Church, Our Altar, a book that members of the community may find helpful for spiritual reflection on the ritual that they will witness.