Understanding The Symbolism of Altar in a Christian Church

The altar is one of the most recognizable and important symbols in Christianity. It serves as the focal point of the church and is used for a variety of functions. But what does an altar symbolize in a Christian church? It is a place of worship, a symbol of sacrifice, and a reminder of the connection between God and his people.

As a place of worship, the altar is where the priest and congregation come together to honor God. It is a physical representation of the spiritual connection between man and the divine. The altar is also used for the sacraments, such as communion and confession. These ceremonies are an essential part of Christian worship, and the altar serves as a reminder of their importance.

But the altar is not just a place of worship. It is also a symbol of sacrifice. The idea of sacrifice is central to Christian theology, and the altar represents this sacrifice. It is where Christ gave his life for his people, and where the faithful offer their own sacrifices. The altar is a physical representation of the spiritual connection between sacrifice and redemption, and it reminds us of the importance of selflessness and service to others.

The Importance of Altars in Christian Worship

Altars are a significant part of the Christian faith as they carry great symbolism and meaning. They serve as a focal point for Christian worship and are used for a variety of religious ceremonies. The importance of altars in Christian worship can be seen in the religious significance they hold for believers.

  • Symbol of Sacrifice: Altars are commonly associated with sacrifice, as they were often used in ancient biblical times for animal sacrifices. Christians believe that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice that forgave the sins of humanity. As such, altars serve as a reminder of the sacrifice that was made and the forgiveness that was extended to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
  • Symbol of Communion: The communion table or altar is used in Christian worship to represent the Last Supper, which Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified. This sacrament is an important ceremony for Christians as they believe it symbolizes the body and blood of Christ, which he gave up for them. The altar represents the presence of Christ during the ceremony, and as such, it is treated with great reverence.
  • Symbol of Worship: Altars serve as a focal point for Christian worship. They are often placed in the center of the church and are decorated with candles, flowers, and other symbolic items. During worship, Christians come to the altar to pray, give thanks, and offer their worship to God. The altar serves as a physical reminder of God’s presence in their midst and helps to create a spiritual atmosphere during the ceremony.

The importance of altars in Christian worship goes beyond their symbolic significance. They also serve practical purposes such as storing the sacramental elements used in the communion ceremony, providing a place for sacred vessels to be kept, and facilitating the lighting of ceremonial candles.

Overall, the altar is a fundamental part of Christian worship and represents the spiritual connection between believers and God. It is a powerful symbol of sacrifice, communion, and worship that serves to unite Christians in their faith.

Historical Origins of Altars in Christian Churches

In many Christian churches, the altar is the center of the worship space and the focal point of the liturgy. It is a sacred table where the Eucharist or Communion is celebrated and the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The history of the altar dates back to ancient times, with roots in both Judaism and early Christianity.

  • In the Jewish tradition, altars were used for offering sacrifices to God in the Temple. These sacrifices were seen as a way to communicate with God and seek forgiveness for sins. Jews believed that the altar was the place where God would meet with His people and where His presence was most tangibly felt.
  • Early Christians adapted this idea of the altar, but instead of using it for animal sacrifices, they used it to celebrate the Eucharistic meal, which commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. As the Christian church grew and developed, the significance and meaning of the altar evolved along with it.
  • The use of altars in Christian worship became more formalized in the Middle Ages, with the construction of elaborate altars made out of stone or marble. These altars were often adorned with artwork and sculptures of saints, angels, and other religious figures.

Today, altars remain an important part of Christian worship, albeit in different forms and styles depending on the particular tradition or denomination. Often, the altar is placed at the front of the church, symbolizing its central importance to the worship service.

Altars are often designed with specific religious symbols or motifs, such as crosses, the Lamb of God, or the Holy Spirit. These symbols serve to remind worshippers of the sanctity of the altar and the holy significance of the Eucharistic meal that takes place there.

CrucifixRepresents the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross
ChaliceRepresents the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper
PatenaRepresents the plate that held the bread at the Last Supper
CiboriumRepresents the container that holds consecrated hosts for Communion

The use of the altar in Christian worship is a testament to the enduring importance of the Eucharist in the faith. It represents the spiritual connection between God and humanity, and serves as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for all of humanity.

Different Types of Altars used in Christian Churches

Altars are integral to the celebration of Christian rituals and ceremonies. They are physical structures which hold religious significance to the faith community and symbolize a sacred place of worship. Altars are often located at the center of the church and are made of various materials, shapes, and sizes. Here we outline the different types of altars used in Christian churches:

  • Stone Altars: These are the oldest and most traditional type of altars used in Christian worship. Stone altars are usually made from a single block of stone such as marble or granite and are often ornate with intricate carvings. They represent the permanence and steadfastness of God’s love, as well as the Church’s values of tradition and longevity.
  • Wooden Altars: Wooden altars are commonly used in Protestant churches and are often plain and unadorned, reflecting the simplicity of early Christian worship. They can also be elaborately decorated with intricate designs or carvings and are used to symbolize the cross on which Christ was crucified.
  • Portable Altars: These are commonly used in Roman Catholic worship, particularly during the celebration of Mass. Portable altars are made of wood or metal and are designed to be easily transported. They allow for the celebration of Mass in non-traditional settings such as outdoor events or in private homes.

Altar Cloths and Vestments

Altar cloths and vestments are an important part of Christian liturgy and can add to the symbolism of the altar. Altar cloths come in different colors and patterns depending on the liturgical season and are used to cover the altar space. Vestments are clothing worn by the priests who lead the ceremony and also vary according to the liturgical season. They are usually made of white, green, red or purple material, each color representing a different season or celebration.

Altar Accessories

In addition to altars and cloths, various accessories are used to decorate and enhance the meaning of the altar. These include candlesticks, crosses, religious statues, and flower arrangements. The emphasis is often on creating a beautiful and meaningful atmosphere which will enhance the worship experience and remind the congregation of the significance of the ceremony.


Type of AltarSymbols and Meanings
Stone AltarsTradition, longevity, steadfastness
Wooden AltarsSimlicity, sacrifice, cross of Jesus Christ
Portable AltarsConvenience, adaptability, flexibility

The different types of altars used in Christian churches carry specific meanings and are integral to worship. They can be made of different materials and be adorned with various accessories, but the significance remains the same. Understanding the symbolism behind the altar adds to the worship experience and can deepen and enrich the spiritual connection between the congregation and God.

Significance of Altar Cloths used in Christian Churches

In many Christian churches, an altar cloth is used to cover the altar, which is one of the holiest places in the church. The cloth is not just a decorative item; it holds a great deal of significance in the Christian faith. Here are some aspects of the significance of altar cloths:

  • Color: The color of the altar cloth usually changes according to the liturgical calendar. Red is used on celebratory occasions while purple is used during the season of Lent and Advent. White is used on joyful days like Christmas and Easter, while green is used during ordinary times of the year.
  • Cleansing: The altar cloth is cleansed regularly. It is believed that cleansing the altar cloth symbolizes the cleansing of the soul. As the cloth is washed and cleaned, the worshiper becomes more pure.
  • Sanctity: The altar cloth symbolizes the sanctity of the altar. As it is placed on the altar, it signifies that the altar is a sacred place where Christ himself resides.

Besides, altar cloths are often adorned with intricate designs and patterns. These designs may include religious symbols and images, representing different aspects of the Christian faith. Additionally, the material that the altar cloth is made of is also significant. Silk, linen, and wool are the most commonly used materials, as they are durable and of high quality.

Overall, altar cloths are a crucial part of Christian worship and play a significant role in symbolizing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They not only add beauty and reverence to the celebration but also remind the worshiper of the sacredness of the altar and the holiness of God.

Role of Candles and Crosses on Altars in Christian Worship

Altars are significant tools in Christian worship where symbolic elements are placed to facilitate a profound spiritual reflection and to invite a deeper connection with God. Candles and crosses are two of the common symbols on altars in Christian churches.

  • Candles: Candles have multiple meanings in Christian worship, representing both the light of Christ and the offering of prayer. The flames symbolize Christ as the light of the world, bringing hope, peace, and guidance to the faithful. Lighting candles can also be a visual reminder of prayer and the offering of oneself to God. Candles are traditionally placed in pairs, representing the dual nature of Christ as both human and divine.
  • Crosses: The cross is the most significant symbol in Christianity, representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for humanity’s sins. The cross on the altar reminds worshippers of the power, love, and grace of God who demonstrated His immense love for humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross also serves as a reminder of the commitment Christians make to follow Christ, taking up their own crosses to walk in His footsteps.

Both candles and crosses can be used in various liturgical practices, such as during Christmas, Easter, or other important celebrations. Together with other symbolic elements such as bread, wine, and water, they create a powerful and intimate connection between the believer and God.

The position of candles and crosses on the altar may also have symbolic meaning. The central position of the cross signifies its importance in the Christian faith, while the placement of candles on each side represents the dual nature of Christ. Additionally, the number of candles and their colors may indicate specific meanings. For example, six candles may represent the six days of creation, and the colors used may reflect different seasons or themes.

Number of candlesSymbolic meaning
1Unity, presence of God
2Relationship between God and man
3Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit
4Four gospels or Four Evangelists
5Five wounds of Christ on the cross
6Six days of creation
7Seven gifts/Seven virtues of the Holy Spirit

The use of candles and crosses on altars in Christian worship is not only aesthetically pleasing but also contributes to the profound spiritual experience of the faithful. These symbols remind worshippers of the powerful and transformative love of God and His son, Jesus Christ.

Use of Incense and Flowers on Altars in Christian Worship

An altar is one of the most important parts of a Christian church. It is a sacred space where worshippers come to offer prayers, make offerings and receive blessings. An altar symbolizes the presence of God and marks the transition from the mundane to the spiritual world. In Christian worship, altars are typically adorned with various items such as candles, crosses, holy water, and incense, among others. However, two of the most common adornments on an altar are flowers and incense.

  • Flowers: Flowers symbolize the beauty and transience of life. They represent the fleeting nature of human existence and remind us of the eternal life that awaits us in heaven. In Christian worship, flowers are used to decorate the altar to create a sense of beauty, peace, and tranquility. Different flowers are used to celebrate different occasions in the church calendar. For example, lilies are commonly used during the Easter season, while roses are used during the feast of St. Valentine.
  • Incense: Incense is used in Christian worship to represent the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven. It is derived from aromatic substances such as frankincense, myrrh, and benzoin, and is usually burned in a thurible. Incense represents the purification of the worshipper’s heart and soul, as well as the cleansing of the church and its surroundings. It also symbolizes the presence of God, as well as the Holy Spirit, who is represented in the smoke that rises from the thurible.

Both flowers and incense are used to enhance the beauty and spiritual significance of the altar in Christian worship. They create a sacred atmosphere that helps worshippers to focus on their prayers and connect with God.

In addition to the use of flowers and incense, altars in Christian worship are also adorned with other items such as the bible, candles, chalices, and patens, among others. The overall design and decoration of the altar varies depending on the church denomination and its traditions.

RosesMary, mother of Jesus
TulipsNew beginnings, resurrection
DaisiesInnocence, purity, love

The use of flowers and incense on altars in Christian worship is a powerful symbol of the presence of God and the beauty of spiritual life. They help to create a sacred atmosphere that encourages worshippers to connect with their inner selves and with God.

Function of Tabernacles on Altars in Christian Churches

Altars are an important part of Christian churches, symbolizing the central focus of worship in the assembly. These structures are typically made of wood or stone and are situated towards the front of the church near the sanctuary area. Altars often include specific items that are designed to enhance the worship experience, such as candles, crosses, and tabernacles.

  • A tabernacle is a small cabinet or box placed on or near the altar that holds the Eucharist or consecrated bread and wine.
  • The purpose of the tabernacle is to provide a safe and secure place to store the Eucharist when it is not being used in a service.
  • The tabernacle is often made of precious metals or adorned with elaborate designs to highlight the importance and sanctity of the Eucharist.

In many Christian traditions, the tabernacle is placed in a central location on the altar or in a separate chapel or room known as the Blessed Sacrament chapel. The location of the tabernacle and the way in which it is displayed can vary depending on the specific Christian denomination or church.

The placement and design of the tabernacle should not be taken lightly, as it is considered a sacred space and a symbol of the presence of God. The tabernacle helps to establish a sense of reverence and respect during worship services and serves as a reminder of the central importance of the Eucharist in Christian faith and practice.

The number eightThe number eight holds special significance in Christianity, representing new beginnings and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also linked to the completion of the Seven Holy Sacraments, with the eighth sacrament being the Eucharist itself, which is stored in the tabernacle.

The tabernacle is a powerful symbol in Christian churches, representing both the presence of God and the importance of the Eucharist in Christian faith. By understanding the symbolism and function of the tabernacle, we can gain a deeper appreciation and reverence for this important aspect of Christian worship.

Relation of Altars to Sacraments in Christian Worship

Christian worship is full of symbols and rituals that help worshippers meditate and focus on God. The altar is one such symbol that has great significance in Christian worship. The altar is a table-like structure placed at the center of a church. Altars have been used in Christian worship since the earliest days of the Church. In this article, we will discuss the significance of altars in Christian worship, specifically in relation to the sacraments.

  • The Altar Symbolizes Sacrifice: One of the primary functions of the altar is to symbolize sacrifice. In the Old Testament, altars were used to offer animal sacrifices to God. In the New Testament, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, and the altar represents the sacrifice of Christ. During the celebration of the Eucharist, the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, which are then offered as a sacrifice to God.
  • The Altar Represents the Cross: The altar also represents the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The altar is usually placed in the sanctuary, behind the communion table, and is elevated to draw attention to its significance. Worshippers are reminded of the sacrifice of Christ and are encouraged to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God.
  • The Altar Symbolizes Unity: Another function of the altar is to symbolize unity. The altar is the center of the worship space and is the place where all members of the congregation gather to receive the Eucharist. The altar is a reminder that all Christians are united in Christ and that the Eucharist is a sign of this unity.

In addition to the above, the altar has a significant role to play in the sacraments of the Church. The sacraments are visible signs of God’s grace, and the altar is the place where many of these sacraments are celebrated. In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the sacraments of the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick are celebrated on or near the altar.

The table below summarizes the relationship between altars and the sacraments.

SacramentFunction of the Altar
EucharistThe altar represents the sacrifice of Christ and is the place where the bread and wine are consecrated and offered to God.
ReconciliationThe altar is the place where the priest hears confessions and absolves sins in the name of God.
Anointing of the SickThe altar is used for the sacrament of anointing of the sick in the Catholic Church.

Altars have a deep and rich history in Christian worship. They symbolize sacrifice, unity, and the cross. In addition, they play a vital role in the celebration of the sacraments. Through the altar, worshippers are reminded of the great sacrifice of Christ and of their unity in Him.

Contemporary Interpretation of Altars in Christian Churches

As the Christian Church evolves and adapts to modern times, so does the interpretation of its symbols and practices. Altars, once strictly used for sacrifice and offerings, have taken on new meanings in contemporary Christian churches.

One modern interpretation of altars is that they represent the table of the Lord, where the community gathers to share in His presence and in fellowship with one another. The altar is then seen as a place of unity, where all are welcomed and included in the celebration of faith.

Another contemporary interpretation is that the altar symbolizes the presence of Christ among His people. As such, the altar is considered a sacred space where believers can come to experience the presence of God in a tangible way. This interpretation emphasizes the importance of reverence and respect for the altar and the spiritual power it represents.

Some Christian denominations have also adopted the use of multiple altars in their church buildings. These altars can be used for a variety of purposes, such as daily devotions, healing services, or special ceremonies. This practice serves to deepen the connection between the physical space of the church and the spiritual practices of the community.

Some Possible Meanings Behind the Number 10

  • In the Bible, the number 10 is often associated with completeness and divine order. It is the number of the Ten Commandments, which serve as a guide for moral living.
  • Another possible meaning behind the number 10 is that it represents the number of fingers on both hands, symbolizing the work of the hands as a means of serving God.
  • The number 10 can also be seen as a symbol of unity and community, as it takes at least ten people to form a minyan, or the quorum needed for communal prayer in Judaism.

The Role of Altars in Fostered Worship Practices and Beliefs

Altars play a significant role in the worship practices and beliefs of many Christian denominations. They serve as a focal point for prayer and reflection, as well as a symbol of the presence of God among believers. The physical presence of an altar in a church building can help to create a sense of sacred space and reverence, inviting believers to enter into a deeper relationship with the divine.

Altar Symbolism:Meaning:
Bread and WineCommunion or the Eucharist
CandlesThe light of Christ
The CrossSymbol of sacrifice and redemption
The BibleWord of God

The symbolism of altars can also vary depending on the specific items present on or near the altar. For example, candles may represent the light of Christ, or the cross may symbolize His sacrifice and redemption. The bible may be present as a reminder of the Word of God, and bread and wine may indicate the importance of communion or the Eucharist.

Ultimately, the meaning behind an altar in a Christian church is deeply personal and can vary depending on one’s religious beliefs and spiritual connection to the divine. However, it is clear that altars serve as powerful symbols of the presence of God and the importance of faith and community in the lives of believers.

FAQs About What Does An Altar Symbolize in a Christian Church

Q: What is an altar in a Christian church?

An altar is a table or platform used in worship services in a Christian church. It is typically located at the front of the sanctuary.

Q: What does an altar symbolize in a Christian church?

An altar symbolizes the presence of God and serves as a focal point for worship during church services. It is often used for sacraments such as communion and baptism.

Q: What is the purpose of an altar in a Christian church?

The purpose of an altar is to provide a sacred space for worship and to create a sense of reverence and awe in the presence of God.

Q: Who can approach the altar in a Christian church?

In most Christian churches, anyone can approach the altar during certain parts of the service such as receiving communion or making a prayer request.

Q: Why is the altar an important part of Christian worship?

The altar is an important part of Christian worship because it helps to create a sense of sacred space and provides a focal point for worship, helping worshippers to focus on God.

Q: What are some common symbols found on an altar in a Christian church?

Some common symbols found on an altar in a Christian church include a cross, a bible, candles, and a chalice.

Q: How is the altar used in different types of Christian churches?

The use of the altar varies between different types of Christian churches. In some churches, it is used primarily for sacraments such as communion, while in others it is used for other forms of worship and prayer.

Closing Paragraph

Thank you for taking the time to learn about what an altar symbolizes in a Christian church. Whether you are a long-time Christian or simply interested in learning more about faith and worship, we hope this article has been informative and helpful. Be sure to check back later for more articles and information on Christian worship and spirituality.