When the Lord Jesus referred to “the altar” in the Sermon on the Mount, He meant the altar of the Old Covenant, since He had not yet inaugurated the New Covenant in His Blood.
The altar of the Old Covenant, though, and that of the New, have this in common:
We approach it as the place of peace and communion with Almighty God.
Approaching the altar pertains to the practice of religion per se, to the basic life of a human being. The altar stands as the point where we meet God, having stepped up, out of the ordinary into the grand and everlasting.
And the point the Lord makes about coming to the altar in peace and harmony with my fellowman: this point binds us all at all times.
The priest has the special privilege of physically kissing the altar with his own lips. But this represents what we all do when we assist at Holy Mass with faith and devotion. The priest’s kiss symbolizes our emergence together from the confusing rough and tumble of ordinary life into the realm of permanence and truth.
To kiss another human being with anything less than pure intentions is to disrespect and demean that person. How much more, then, must our hearts rest tranquilly in the truth when we approach the altar? How could we kiss the altar honestly if we walked into the church having lied, cheated, taken advantage of someone, torn someone down? How could we give such a kiss if we had so much as honked the car horn impatiently at anyone?
I hate to put it this way, but don’t we run the terrifying risk of kissing the altar like Judases? He kissed Christ with his lips, but not his heart.
The altar does not stand to cater to our convenience. We stand to serve the Master to Whom we offer our service at the altar. He reigns as Lord; we beg as desperate suitors. May we beg His favor with honest words and humble hearts.