Chapel Altar / Communion Table

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Photo: of a lit candle.

Image: portion of illuminated manuscript page from "The Book of Kells."Photo: Altar/Communion Table.  Copyright 2011 S.G.P. All Rights Reserved. Chapel Altar / Communion Table in our Monastery Chapel.

"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers."  -Acts 2:42

What exactly is on our Chapel altar? (technically, it's a wooden Communion Table)...and what exactly do we use all of the things that are on it for...both in our Worship Service, and in our Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours?

Some General Information in Answer to your Questions:

Communion Table

What is referred to by many as the "Altar" in our Monastery Chapel, was made by Monk Preston out of Monk Linda's parent's former family Dining Room table (composed of solid oak), and which he cut down to a much smaller size, to be the Monastery Chapel's "Communion Table."

We have been told that it shouldn't be called an "altar" because no sacrifice is made on it, Christ's once and for all sacrifice and atonement being all sufficient for all of our sins.  How true!  Yet, we should not forget that there was more than one altar in the ancient Jewish Temple.  

Outside, in the courtyard was the altar of animal sacrifice, where blood was shed for atonement for sin.  Inside, in the Holy of Holies, was the gold-covered altar of incense, incense being a symbol for the prayers of God's people.

Monk Preston was talking with a Greek Orthodox priest recently, and asked him if his Church's altar was made of wood or stone.  He had heard that they were usually made of wood.  The priest said that there was no rule concerning what it should be made out of, that he had served at ones made of stone, of wood, and even of other materials.  

"But you know", he continued, "in the Orthodox Church the Greek name for it is not actually 'altar'.  It is referred to as the 'Holy Table'".

Altar Cloth & Paraments

Our Communion Table (or Holy Table, or Altar) is covered with a white linen "Altar Cloth" with a white lace piece embroidered with leaves and flowers over the upper front portion of it (shown in photo).  Historically, Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches use white linen as being symbolic of Christ's burial shroud.  Linen was the material prescribed in the Old Testament for the priests, including the High Priest.  As Christians, Christ is our High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 6:20; 8:1; 9:11).  Eastern Orthodox use differently colored fabrics as coverings for their Holy Tables.

The cloth pieces that change colors with the Church Seasons and are usually embroidered, often in gold, with different Christian symbols, are called "paraments." These change from Green (Ordinary Time and Epiphany) to Purple (Lent and Advent) to Red (Holy Week and Pentecost) to White (Christmas and Easter) with the changing Church Seasons (some Protestant Churches do not use Red colored paraments).

Holy Scriptures

The Bible is placed in the center of our Communion Table because God's Word is central to our faith.  It is God's Revelation, Inerrant and Infallible; our ultimate and final authority in all matters of faith and practice.

Celtic Christian Cross

Also centrally located is the Christian Cross.  In this case it is a Celtic Cross, as we draw so much inspiration for our own Christian lives from the lives of the ancient Celtic Monks.  The cross of Christ has become the symbol of Christianity.  

The Cross continually reminds us of our Lord's death for our sins, followed by his Resurrection and His offering of His blood in Heaven as our one Mediator and Intercessor, by whom only we can enter into God's presence.  It reminds us that Christ now "sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end."  It reminds us that our Lord said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23).

Truly it has been said, "Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is a person: Christ.  You either have Him as your personal Lord and Saviour, or you don't."

The Cross also reminds us that we who have received Christ, now must die daily, taking up our own cross and following Him.

Beeswax Candles & Hanging Olive Oil Lamps

All candles used in our Chapel are made of 100% pure beeswax, which have a slight "honey" smell (modern candles are made from petroleum by-products with chemicals providing their various "smell flavors"---they can give off harmful fumes, and are more prone to gradually stain walls and ceilings with soot).  

Lighted candles symbolize Christ, "the light of the world".  The purity of beeswax symbolizes Christ's perfect purity and sinless-ness.  White, "natural", or ivory colored candles have historically been used to symbolize Christ's purity.  The two large candlesticks are replicas of ones found in Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de Cité in Paris, France.  The candles in them are pure beeswax pillars (3"x 6"), wrapped in sheets of unaltered honeycomb.  Having two candles on the Altar/Communion Table symbolizes Christ's two natures: His perfect humanity and His perfect divinity. 

Behind the Altar on a higher stand with the Celtic Cross, are two small Byzantine-style (from Greece) tea candle holders with red glass inserts.  The color "red" has in historical Church usage been understood as the color of fire, and symbolizes the Holy Spirit.  Our tea candles are of course made of pure beeswax, also.  In front of the Celtic Cross is a green votive glass with a Scottish thistle on it, also representing our Celtic Christian heritage.

We light 12" long beeswax tapers and insert them in a green pottery bowl filled with sand, while we are praying or attending our worship services.  Almost all of the beeswax candles that we use have been  hand-molded by Eastern Orthodox Nuns.

Photo: Chapel Pulpit, Altar/Communion Table, and individuals candle bowl and stand.  Copyright 2011 S.G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Shown in the above photo, are some of our hanging Byzantine-style oil lamps.  We have seven of these hanging on the walls, and the chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the center of the Chapel.  Our lamps burn olive oil and use Greek-style floating corks with replaceable wicks (or instead, sand and a tea candle may be placed in them, which is what we originally did the first year we had them).  In the right rear corner of our Chapel, the red-glass Sanctuary Lamp, symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit (which the oil also symbolizes), remains lit all day.

Pulpit (Ambo: Combined Pulpit & Lectern)

Also seen at the left in the photo directly above, is our Pulpit.  It is a Thomas Aquinas style bookshelf with an adjustable sloping top.  It had no "front", but this is formed by the purple cloth "parament" covering.  It holds the large Family-size Bible which we read aloud from the Gospel during services. 

 In a traditional church arrangement, the lectern would be located on the opposite side of the Chapel from the pulpit (on the right).  When both are combined, as ours are, they are known as an  "Ambo" (the word "ambo" coming from a Greek word meaning "both").  However, an "Ambo" is normally placed in the center, something which we feel we do not have the room to do, with our limited space. 

     Censer & Incense "Boats" With Incense

In the center of the large photo seen at the top of this page, in front of the Bible, stands our censer (incense burner).  Swinging by hand, causes clouds of sweet-smelling smoke to puff out.  It is suspended from three chains (symbolizing the Trinity), and is swung to cense everything and everyone in the entire Chapel.  This represents everyone and everything being sanctified ("set aside") to God for His worship.   

Our incense is made by Eastern Orthodox Monks.  It does not burn and smoke by itself, you must first light a small piece of charcoal and then place the incense on top of that.  Our charcoal is made by Roman Catholic Monks (Prinknash Abbey in the U.K.).  We use a small golden pair of tongs to adjust the lit charcoal.  In the Bible, incense symbolizes the prayers of God's people.

"Let my prayer be set forth as incense before thee; The lifting up of my    hands as the evening sacrifice."  -Psalm 141:2

“And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.”                           -Revelation 8:4

Between the two red Byzantine votive lamps and the green thistle votive lamp are two incense "boats" (the small covered jars).  They contain the incense that we use.  We alternate using pure frankincense, and several different fragrances of frankincense-base incense made by Eastern Orthodox monks.

The beautiful green porcelain containers were handmade by a potter we know, as was the chalice (two different potters).  The golden spoon to its right is used to spoon out the incense grains and place them on the charcoal coal in the incense censer.  

Historically, everything, as an offering to God, is censed with incense.  Especially we ourselves who are "in Christ" and offer ourselves as a "living sacrifice" after Our Lord's own example, by which he also taught us that we should "walk in love".

"And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour".     -Ephesians 5:2  


On the left and right side of the Communion Table are two bells.  The larger brass and wood bell at the left is rung three times, to announce the commencement of the service, and also to signal the end of the worship and prayer services.  This has been the practice throughout history in Christian monastic communities.  

In some Islamic countries, where for centuries the laws have forbidden ringing Christian bells, Christians instead will knock on a long board with a hammer, for the same purpose.  

The smaller bell to the right, consisting of three bells on one wooden handle, is rung during the Sanctus portion of the service ("Holy, Holy, Holy": Isaiah 6:3; Luke 13:35).

Communion Cup Tray, Communion Bread Plate, Bread, Fruit of the Vine

The covered golden Communion Cup Tray on the right, holds the small communion cups used today in most Protestant Churches.  Because we are an Interdenominational Christian Ministry, cups containing wine are found in the outer rings of the tray, and cups containing grape juice are found on the inner rings of the tray.  

Our Communion bread is the round, unleavened wafer type, historically used in both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches (in the 1970's some Protestant churches began using different forms of Communion bread).  

Ours are made out of whole wheat flour and water only, and are stamped with three different designs: the Early Church's Lamb of God & Cross, the Maltese Cross, and the Jerusalem Cross.  

Our Communion Bread Plate with its cross-topped cover is made of Myrtlewood and was crafted in a woodworking shop on the Oregon Coast.  

Myrtlewood is a very beautiful wood with a striking grain.  It was originally native only to IsraelIt has since been planted in various places around the world.  The Oregon Coast is one of the places where it now grows.

The golden tongs to its right are used for serving the individual Communion wafers to those receiving Communion.

 Photo: of our actual Celtic Cross Shield (TM).  The Prayer Foundation Logo and Trademark.  Phot Copyright 2007 S.G.P.  All Rights Reserved. ____________________________________________________________

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Copyright © 2008 S.G.P. All rights reserved.

Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours   PRAYER Category