Here or there?

Here or there, that is the liturgical question. High altar or altar amongst us? Do you dress the altar you are using, or the altar you used to use? Do you light candles up there or down here?

These are not trivial questions and decisions have to be made. Nothing more precisely states the problem facing the modern soul as these dilemmas. God’s transcendence – is it to do with up there or to do with what’s happening deep within?


  1. Up there. High altar. No doubt.

  2. I am very much with Richard Giles on this one – there should liturgically only be one main altar – ideally this is achieved by romoving the former High altar and dedicating that space to some other purpose – where that is not possible as in historic cathedrals then it should be left dormant (covered in a simple cloth perhaps) and only the altar which is being used for worship should be dressed since this is in fact THE altar.

    Despite all the reservations about removing former altars in the end it solves long-term problems, and provides a single visual focus for Eucharistic worship. At times when a high altar is needed then the new altar can moved there.

    This kind of fuzziness illustrates that our liturgical practice has become dominated by hertiage criteria.

    I am about to replace our main altar with something moveable and aesthetically more appropriate, but am facing a Registrars ruling that the current altar (and former eastward facing number more recently provided with wheels and moved to the chancel!) must be burnt, and that the wood frontal cannot be used for a screen.

    Dont’ we get ourselves tied up in knots!

  3. A thought came to my mind this afternoon. At the Creed we all face east. This results in the choir turning their back on the Nave Altar and in most cases put the High Altar in their sight.

    Considering Tom’s comments, another thought thinking about some English Cathedrals which have multiple altars around the building, it is not usually possible to see more than one at a time. Some have a chapel behind the High Altar – behind a screen.

    Turning back to St Mary’s – all the action at the 10:30 service is centred and focused around the Nave Altar. However there is still the High Altar, the Pheobe Traquair Reredos and Gwyneth Leach mural of Our Lady at the East End. To my mind their presence enhances the worship around the Nave Altar and does not detract from it.

  4. Andrew says

    The Altar is a table, where we commemorate a meal together. Clearly (to my mind) we should all be sitting round it, as we do (more or less) at present. The table reminds me that Jesus instituted the Last Supper when he was among us (HERE), not somewhere else (THERE).

    I very much hope that the Altar in St. Mary’s can be left where it is.

  5. kelvin says

    It seems to me curious that the practice that I inherited was to light and dress the high altar whilst using the nave altar. It makes no sense, except perhaps to highlight St Mary’s puzzling parallel worlds of deep conservatism mingled with radical liberalism.

    Whist tending to agree with Andrew’s sentiments, it is worth remembering that the nave altar could hardly be said to have stayed in one place these last 20 years.

  6. Elizabeth says

    Here. Both. Loving the paradox.

    But maybe I only say that beccause the only church I’ve regularly worshiped in where there are clearly two visible altars is St Mary’s and that’s what I’m used to. I’ve never found it distracting that the high altar is dressed and lit, even though the nave altar is where the action is, so to speak. But then, would I notice if the high altar wasn’t dressed and lit? Probably not.

    I do love the nave altar, peripatetic as it is!

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