“The central and dominating object of Christian church is the altar …” [Sir Ninian Comper, Of the Christian Altar and the Building Which Contains It, S.P.C.K.)
It is the primary symbol of Christ’s presence in his Church – massive, unmoveable, “the rock that followed them”, as St Paul explains (1 Cor 10:4, c.f. Numbers 20:11), “was Christ”. Its surface is marked with five incised crosses, the five wounds; it was anointed with the Oil of Chrism at its consecration; it is shrouded in white linen. The priest kisses it.
It is, as the late Fr Jovian P. Lang OFM put it, “the cynosure of all eyes”. [Dictionary of Liturgy, The Catholic Book Publishing Company.]
“The fact is … that the altar has an important place in the church and its dignity must be accorded in such a way that it does not play second-fiddle to any other” symbol. …. “The single altar represents the place where Christ himself steps into time and space among us. It thus represents him, himself, and deserves utmost reverence even outside the liturgy.” [The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, The Liturgical Press.]