Touching the altar

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  Fr. Paul, is there any rubric that you are aware of that maintains that only a priest or deacon may touch the altar during the celebration of the Mass?  A newly-ordained priest told me that such was his training; he wants extraordinary ministers to not set their vessels on the altar after distribution, but rather hand the vessels to a priest or deacon because, he maintains, the laity are not allowed to touch the altar at all. I know EMs are not allowed to take the vessels themselves from the altar, but is there a rubric that bars laity from touching the altar? This would be a problem for instituted acolytes and altar servers, I’d think. Thank you, as always–


A:  No, there is no such rubric forbidding the laity from touching the altar during the celebration at Mass. In practice, when communion is over, the priest or deacon purifies the vessels at the altar or the side table (GIRM 163, 182, and NDR 51), but an instituted acolyte, who is a layperson, may do the same (NDR 52, GIRM 279 and 284b). Also, at a wedding Mass, at the procession of the gifts, the bride and groom are permitted to bring the bread and wine directly to the altar (OCM 70).

The priest and deacon hand the filled vessels to lay ministers in an act of delegation (GIRM 162). After communion, there is no parallel requirement.

If the priest in question has knowledge of a rubric that forbids the laity from touching the altar, please let me know where it is.