The Preparation of the Altar
The Preparation of the Altar takes place during the offering. During this time the paten is then filled with bread over which the priest prays, requesting God to accept this mundane bread as a spotless host. This reminds us that we ourselves are unworthy, just like the simple bread is unworthy, but that through the work of the Holy Spirit that which is unworthy and ordinary can be justified and made extraordinary.
The chalice is then filled with wine and water. The mixing of which reminds us that both blood and water flowed from the side of Christ. The priest prays over the chalice, requesting that God set it apart and accept it as a sweet smelling aroma.
After both the host and the chalice have been prepared, the priest acknowledges that we are approaching this sacramental act in humility and with contrite hearts. He then washes his hands so that, like the elements prepared on the altar, he himself can be sanctified and prepared to handle these holy elements.
The necessity of these prayers stems from the fact that when when an offering or sacrifice is given to God it should be given without spot or blemish. We, however, are not free of blemish and so we ask God to set us apart and reckon us as free from blemish; we request God, through the Holy Spirit, to sanctify us and these items in preparation for the consecration.
The priest and the oblations now prepared, the priest offers one more private prayer in which the communion of the saints is acknowledged, for we are participating in this sacrament with all the saints in both heaven and earth. This act of worship is an act of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church as a community. It is not just us in East Aurora at 9am on a Sunday; it’s the multitude of the citizens of the Divine Kingdom, both in heaven and on earth, who are mystically present together at the heavenly altar.
The milling about one sees at the altar, therefore, is not haphazard and utilitarian; it is theologically rich and sacramentally vital. We are not entering into a mundane act but a holy mystery. As a result, all the elements and people involved in this holy mystery need to be prepared for the role they play. This is therefore not simply the "preparation of the altar" but is actually the preparation of the altar, the celebrant, and the people. While many of the prayers that are said by the priest will not be audible to those sitting in the pew, this is an opportunity for all present to continue to reflect and prepare their own hearts to worthily receive the most precious body and blood of Jesus so that all are prepared for the privilege of receiving this holy mystery.
(As published in St. Luke's Sunday bulletin, 6/24/18)