While the tabernacle is the most important item in a church, the altar is no less important during Mass. Because upon the altar the Perfect Sacrifice is renewed and Jesus Christ is made present and offered to the Father for His Glory and for the expiation of our sins. For that reason, when the priest enters and leaves the Mass, he bows profoundly and kisses the altar, which is a sign and instrument of our salvation.
The altar in a Catholic Church is a direct descendant of the Altar of Sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah, and the other altars of sacrifice of the Old Testament. It is typically made of stone, immovable and truly noble in appearance. The altar is adorned with an altar cloth of linen, for Jesus was wrapped in linen after He died; it is also adorned with a crucifix and up to six candles for feast days, or even seven candles when the bishop is present. The candles remind us that Christ is the Light of the World, and the crucifix reminds us that Jesus so loved us that He died for us on the cross to redeem us from our sins. In solemn liturgies, the altar may be incensed and decorated with flowers, which can be truly abundant and spectacular in the churches found in the Philippines, Mexico, Spain and Latin America.
(Above is a picture of the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, marking the spot where St. Peter was buried, and covered with the glorious ‘Baldacchino’ by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.)