Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/402

This page needs to be proofread.

ALTAR 360 ALTAR and sprinkled with hoi}- water while the appropriate Psalins are being chanted. After tills the church is then consecrated, or it is ready for consecration. Among the tireeks the altar is always consecrated on Holy Thursday or on a Thursday between Easter and the Feast of the Ascension. Renacdot. Coll. Liturg.Oruntaiium CFrankfort, 18471, I, 164 and passim, II, 52-50; Goar, Eucholoffion (Paris, 1G47 Andrew J. Shipman. Altar (in Scripture). — The English word altar, if the commonly accepted etymology be adopted— alta ara — does not describe as well as its Hebrew and Greek equialeiits, naiO )mzbid.h (from zabhdh, to sacrifice) and 6j(Ti.a<rTripiw (Irom Bioi, to immolate), the purpose of the tiling it stands for. I In the Old Test.^ment. — As soon as men con- ceived the idea of offering sacrifices to the Deity, they felt the need of places specially designed for this end. Tliese primeval specimens of altars were necessarily most simple, very hkely consisting of a heap of stones or eartli, suitable for the fire and the victims. Some of the megahthic monuments left by prehistoric man seem to have been erected for this purpose. Probably of this simple description were the altars which Cain and Abel used to ofler up their sacrifices, though Scripture does not mention in con- nection with their names any such monuments; such also were the altars built up by Noe after the flood (Gen., viii, 20); by Abraham in Sichem (Gen., xii, 7), Bethel (Gen., xii, 8; xiii, 4), Mambre (Gen., xiii, 18), and at the place where he had been about to sacrifice his son (Gen., xxii, 9); by Isaac and Jacob at Bersabee (Gen., xxvi, 25; xlvi, 1), and by the latter in Galaad (Gen., xxxi, 54). The same may be said of the altar erected in the desert of Sinai before the golden calf (Ex., xxxii, 5). During the period of the .Judges and of the Kings, the Israel- ites, owing to their propensity to idolatrous worship, raised up altars to Baal and Astaroth, even to Moloch and Chanios. No temple enclosed these altars or those erected to the one true God by the patriarchs; they were raised up in the open air, and preferably on the tops of the hills, whence their name, "high places". The Chanaanites' high places were com- monly located near large and shady trees, or in the woods, in the midst of which a consecrated precinct was marked out, affording good opportunities for the sacred debaucheries accompanying the Astaroth- worship which were so often alluded to by the Prophets. 1 .^LTAR OF Holocaust. — Modern critics affirm that there existed in Israel different legitimate places of worship before the time of Josias, an assertion, however, which is not to be examined here as only regulations concerning the altar come under con- sideration at present. The earliest ordinance on the subject is found in Ex., x.x, 24-26 as follows: "You shall make an altar of earth unto me, and you shall offer upon it your holocausts and peace offerings, your sheep and oxen, in every place where the meniorv of my name shall be: 1 will come to thee, and will lilcss thee. And if thou make an altar of stone unto me, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up a tool upon it, it shall be defiled. Thou shalt not go up by steps unto my altar, lost tliy nakednes,s be discovered." These regulations fairly correspond to the practice liitherto commonly followed, as may be concluded from the scanty indications furnished by the Iiistorics of the patri- arelis. The Deuteronomic Law, while enforcing the injunction of local unity of worship, repeats, on the occasion of the altar erected on Mount llobal, these primitive rules: "Thou shalt build ... an altar ... of stones . . . not fashioned nor polished" (Deut., xxvii, 5, 6; of. Jos., viii, 30, 31). The de- scription given in the places cited, as well as that of the altar erected near the Jordan by the Rubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasses (Jos., xxii), which was "the pattern of the altar of Yahweh", suggests that the altars there referred to were large constructions (Jos., x.xii, 10). It may well be sup- posed that they were built upon a mound and reached by a slope or even by steps. The motive, indeed, for the rule of Ex., xx, 26, had disappeared since the priests had been provided with breeches (Ex., xxviii, 42). There are reasons to suppose that the altars erected at Silo and the other places of worship before the translation of the .Ark to Jerusa- lem, though probably of smaller dimensions, were of the same general description. These were fi.ed altars, the splendour of which was to be surpas.sed in the memory of Israel by that of the altar erected by Solomon in front of the Temple. Before describ- ing it, and sketcliing its history, it is proper to gather the different references found in the Bible to the portable altar used during the wanderings of the Hebrews through the wilderness. (a.) Altar of Holocaust of the Tabernacle. — Accord- ing to the prescriptions of Ex., xxvii, 1-8, xxxviii, 1-7, this altar of holocaust, constructed of setim w^ood (a kind of acacia), foursquare in form, measured five cubits square and three in height; it was covered with plates of brass. At its four upper comers were four "horns", overlaid with brass, which probably served to hold the flesh of the victims heaped upon the altar. In the case of sin-offerings, the priest put some of the blood of the victim upon these horns; they were also a place of refuge, as is to be inferred from Ex., xxi, 14. A grate of brass, after the manner of a net, extended to the middle of the altar, and under it a hearth. At the four comers of the net rings had been cast; and through these rings ran two bars of setim wood covered with brass, to carry the altar. This indeed was not sohd, but empty and hollow on the inside. Such expressions as "to come down from the altar" (Lev., ix, 22) lead us to suppose that this altar which was placed at the door of the tabernacle (Lev., iv, IS) was usually set upon a hillock and reached by a slope. Some believe also that the above-described altar, which was merely a framework, had to be filled with earth or stones, in compliance with the regulations of Ex., XX, 24, and in order to prevent it from being injured by the flames of the sacrifices. The altar served not only for the holocausts, but also for all the other sacrifices in which a part of the victim was burnt. Fire was unceasingly kept in the hearth for the sacrifices. When this altar was built up, before serving for Di'ine worship, it was solemnly conse- crated by an unction with holy oil and by daily anointings and aspersions w'ith the blood of the sin- offerings for seven days. For twelve days this was followed by daily sacrifices offered by the princes of each tribe; thenceforth all bloody sacrifices were offered on this altar. Some independent critics, remarking that this altar is mentioned in the sacer- dotal code only (cf. Pentateuch), and arguing from the anomahes presented by the idea of the construc- tion in w-ood of a fireplace upon which a strong fire continually burned, regard this former altar of holocaust, not as the pattern, but as a projection back to early times and on a smaller scale, of the altar of Jerusalem. (b) Altar of Holocaust of the Temple of Solomon.— This is commonly known uniler the name of "brazen altar". It was located in the Temple court, to the east of the Temple proper. In form it resembled the altar of the tabernacle, but its dimensions were much larger: twenty cubits in length, twenty cubits in breadtTi, and ten cubits in height (ll Par., iv, 1). Ez., xliii, 17 suggests that it was erected upon a base enclosing, according to certain trailitions, the rock Sakkara which still can be seen in the llarani esh-