Q: We are looking at consecrating a new altar that the bishop has approved. Your book New Church, New Altar has been very helpful to answer my questions about getting it consecrated. Here are a few questions for you.
1) Can the altar be used before consecration?
2). The old altar has an altar stone but no relic. The new altar has a marble top. Should the altar stone be inserted into the new altar?
3) Does the bishop have to consecrate the altar or can it be delegated?
A: The new title for this ceremony is the “Dedication of an Altar,” rather than its “consecration”. See chapter IV of my book.
1. An altar may be used before dedication, but it is not recommended. It’s best to wait if you can.
2. There is no requirement that any new altar have relics, and if it does, the relics go at the bottom of the altar, not inside the mensa. This is a change from past practice to emphasize that the altar is dedicated to Christ, not to a saint. When you kiss the altar at the beginning of Mass, you show reverence to Christ, just like when kissing the book of the gospels. If you want to incorporate the old stone, it could go in the bottom someplace either before or during the ceremony.
3. The bishop may delegate, but most bishops prefer to dedicate new altars.