A question from a reader:
I am wondering if there was once a "law" about the Altar Rail in a Catholic Church. Did, or does, Canon Law, GIRM, or The Ritus Servandus speak to this piece of Church architecture?
I am away from my library at the moment, but I am not sure there was a specific law on the books. Spaces and architecture vary so much. Maybe someone can chime in on that. Trimeloni might speak to this.
But the important thing is that there is no law that says that Communion rails were to be torn out!
The mania of eliminating the distinction between the priesthood of the ordained and the priesthood of the baptized, the obsession with "empowering" the laity by bringing them into the sanctuary, the insanity of thinking that modern man is all grown up now and doesn’t have to kneel as if before a feudal lord, resulted in architectural devastation. It also undermined our identity as Catholics and our faith in the Real Presence.
Communion rails were among the things torn out, but the hearts of Catholic people were the real victims.
The altar rail serves to delineate the place of the the congregation in a church.
Lay people and the ordained have different roles in the liturgy. They have their own particular places. When you blur those places by making them less distinct, you undermine something important in the hearts and minds of the clergy and congregation.
When you constantly tell people that they are being empowered by being given things to do and places to sit or stand that cannot be distinguished from what the clergy do, you are really telling them that on their own they aren’t good enough. They are really not good enough unless they do things priests do, or sit where they sit.
Within the Hebrew temple, a sacred space, there was the Holy of Holies into which the High Priest would enter. In our churches there must also be such a space marked off as the proper place of expiation and sacrifice, the priestly place. This takes nothing away from lay people.
Some will say that Communion rails and kneeling and all that was just a later, Medieval accretion. For those of that ilk, "Medieval" is always "bad". On the other hand, these things developed as our understanding of what the Eucharist is deepened.
Things like altar rails are not just "encrustations" to be scraped off our churches. They are concrete signs that we came to understand the Blessed Sacrament more and more over time and that that understanding drove people more and more humbly to their knees.
Also, there is a practical use of the Communion rail. It helps those who are old or injured to kneel and rise again. Sure conferences have said they prefer people to stand for Communion, but Holy Church guarantees that they can kneel. Furthermore, mark my words that kneeling for Communion will make a come back. It remains, after all, the norm.
I suppose a priest could say that he must put the rails in to help keep his insurance costs down.
I heard recently that Dominus Est, by Anthanasius Schneider and with a forward by Archbp. Ranjith is coming out in English. This little book contains a strong argument for a return to kneeling for Communion on the tongue. The Holy Father now only gives Communion on the tongue to those kneeling.
We must have a return to kneeling, people. That means that we will need Communion rails.
There is nothing, as far as I know, directing us against them, other than wacko liturgists and those who have been duped by them over the years.
More Kneeling Now!