Discussing what may be placed on the altar and the appropriateness of blessing chainsaws.


About John Lilburne



1123 K Thu 27 Jun 2002

The front page of The Age newspaper always has an "Odd Spot". Yesterday it was:

A church in the New Zealand forestry town of Tapawera has held a special service to celebrate God's gift of chainsaws. The pastor placed chainsaws on the altar and conducted a "chainsaw orchestra" outside. One child drew a picture of Jesus holding a chainsaw.

Chainsaws should not be placed on the altar in the Catholic Church. According to the Roman Missal:

306. On the mensa of the altar should be placed only those things required for the celebration of the Mass, that is, from the beginning of the celebration until the proclamation of the Gospel, only the Book of the Gospels, while from the presentation of the gifts until the cleansing of the vessels, only the chalice with the paten, the pyx as necessary, and finally, the corporal, purificator and missal. (2000 Institutio Generalis, Study Translation, of the USCCB BCL Secretariat).

The 2002 Institutio Generalis added to the list of items that may be placed on the altar the pall, the square board that is placed on the chalice.

There should be at least one white cloth on the altar (2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) 304). Flowers are to be placed around the altar, not on it according to the 2002 GIRM 305. Candles may be placed on the altar or around it (2002 GIRM 307).

As well as the Roman Missal, I think it is reasonable to include the stand for this book. I also think it is reasonable to have microphones on the altar, although a less obtrusive "clip on" microphone would seem better.

For the dedication of an altar chrism (i.e. oil) is poured onto it.

I don't think the liturgical books ever instruct that documents should be signed on the altar.

Is it OK to bless chainsaws? According to the Book of Blesssings:

919 It is appropriate to bless tools or even larger implements or equipment (for example, trucks, tractors, fishing boats) that people use in their work. ...

In the Latin "editio typica" of this book, called De Benedictionibus, this section is at n 698 in the chapter "Ordo Benedictionis Instrumentorum Laboris".

But another section of the Book of Blessings has:

1985 The present order is in no sense meant to violate principles concerning blessings; it is not fitting to turn every object or situation into an occasion for celebrating a blessing (for example, every monument erected no matter what its theme, the installation of military weapons, frivolous events). Rather every celebration must be considered with balanced pastoral judgment, particularly when there is any foreseeable danger of shocking the faithful or other people.

In the Catholic Church the rite provided for the blessing of tools does not take place in Mass and the tools should not be placed on the altar. But I see the blessing of chainsaws as appropriate.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 27 June 2002.

Other sites:

Congregation gives thanks for chainsaws

Church service for chainsaws in New Zealand