The seven windows that remind us of the seven sacraments illuminate the altar and the sacrifice that happens there. From this sacrifice, we can understand and gain the wisdom of God that good can come from such suffering. This is made more evident by the graces we receive in the sacraments because of the suffering of the cross that Jesus endured for us.
This Church was built in 1872, long before the Second Vatican Council and the installation of the altar in front. All the symbolism in the altar up front comes from the understanding of the High Altar, which is towards the back and behind the front altar. So what is the symbolism of the High Altar? First, we must look at what it is. An altar, any altar, is a place where a sacrifice is made to God or a god. This is the essence of worship. All the pagan religions had altars, as did the Jewish faith in Jerusalem at the temple. In some religions they would sacrifice the produce of the fields. Sometimes part of the livestock would be offered. Some religions would sacrifice other human beings. The Aztecs offered human sacrifices, as described by Cortez while he was being held captive by Montezuma in what is now Mexico City. The human sacrifice required the pagan priests to cut out the heart and begin eating it before it stopped beating. People thought they had to offer human sacrifices in order to appease the gods and avoid their curses. I suppose this is why Jesus had the Spaniards discover the New Land with their bloody crucifixes with the wide-open pierced side of Jesus. They would look upon the crucifix and understand automatically that the man on the cross was sacrificed to the higher being in the heavens. They saw the open side for real many times in the human sacrifices. All the Spaniards had to tell them is that the man on the cross was God, Jesus, God made man to die on the cross for us. Human sacrifices were no longer needed.
God said that the sacrifice of the lamb dictated in Exodus Chapter 12 said that it must be done perpetually (v 14, 17 & 24). This sacrifice is made of wheat bread. This bread is unleavened, even today (v 15, 17 through 20), but it is to become the sacrifice of the lamb (v 21 &23). This lamb is now Jesus (Jn 1:29 & Rev 12:11) perpetually sacrificed in an unbloody manner in the form of bread and wine. That is why Jesus would say, “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:15&19). He was making a connection to the perpetual sacrifice of the lamb and the bread offered at the Last Supper, which is the first Mass ever celebrated. Every altar in the Catholic Church has this connection to Jesus and His testament of love when He was willing to die for us. All symbolism revolves around this sacrifice to serve our resurrection in His.
Unlike any other religion, the place of the altar in the Catholic Church does not end in death, but in the hope of the resurrection, eternal life. By offering the work of human hands, God offers His very self. It is an exchange of love from God to us and us to God. The very purpose of the altar is life that has never been available to us before. Therefore, as St Augustine has been quoted often, the sacrifice of love “is ever ancient, ever new” (Confessions of Saint Augustine). The sacrifice may be an ancient practice, but the life it offers always replenishes us, welling up to eternity (Jn 4:14 &
Jn 6: 51&54).
The altar is a sacred place. In our church, the main altar is marked by a slain lamb under the “mensa,” or flat surface where the sacrifice is made. Truly, God has supplied for the sacrifice (Gen 22:8). Let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps 118:24).