American Ecclesiastical Review – Portable Altar

portable altarArticle

The portable altar consists of a solid piece of natural stone which must be sufficiently hard to resist easy fracture. It should be large enough to hold not only the Sacred Host and the greater part of the base of the chalice, but also the ciborium, if the altar is intended for the celebration of Masses at which Holy Communion is distributed. It may be square or oblong. Saint Charles required that it be about 14 inches long by 11 inches wide. Five square crosses are engraved on it, one near each corner and one in the centre, to indicate the places on which the unctions are made at the consecration. If, perchance, the cross in the centre is wanting, the unction must not be omitted, but the omission of this unction would not invalidate the consecration.

The Sepulchrum or receptacle for the relics is usually made on the top of the stone in the centre toward the front edge. The relics of at least two martyrs, and three grains of incense, are placed immediately, i.e., without a reliquary, into the sepulchrum, which is closed with a small piece of natural stone fitting exactly upon the opening. This cover must be fastened with cement, blessed by the rite prescribed for the consecration of a fixed altar.

If only one altar stone is consecrated, the bishop closes and cements the sepulchrum; if more than one are consecrated, the bishop closes and cements the first, and a priest may close and cement the others after the bishop has placed the relics and grains of incense within them. The episcopal seal is usually attached, but this is not necessary; whence it follows that the breaking or removal of this seal does not desecrate the altar stone.

This consecrated stone is inserted into the table of the altar about two inches from the front edge, in such a manner that by its slight elevation above the table the celebrant can trace its outlines with his hand and thus recognize its location beneath the linen altar covers. The table and supports on which the portable altar rests may be constructed of any suitable material, wood or stone, provided it have the proper dimensions.

MLA Citation

  • “Portable Altar”. American Ecclesiastical Review, 1904. CatholicSaints.Info. 29 December 2019. Web. 16 October 2021. <>