QUAERITUR: Communion rails – Fr. Z rants

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!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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70 Responses to QUAERITUR: Communion rails – Fr. Z rants

  1. Midwest St. Michael says:

    And THIS is why I love this blog so much! Thank you, Father Z. for posting this.

    Wherever you find a Catholic parish WITH Communion rails you will generally find a greater appreciation and love for the Holy Eucharist. (ahem! generally. I know there are exceptions)

    Our family visited Mother Angelica’s shrine last year for our summer vacation. Even in the crypt below the main shrine — there is a chapel WITH Communion rails. Our kids LOVED the reverence and awe of that Holy Mass. (in our diocese — most churches with Communion rails have been designated as a state historical site, thus any wreckovations cannot happen! TBTG — though there are a few exceptions)

    Yes! More kneeling now!

    “It’s either Jesus, or it’s not!” Fr. John Corapi, SOLT

  2. Christabel says:

    Rant on, Father, please.

    A few years ago the architectural salvage yards were full of communion rails from Catholic churches, and occasionally they can still be found. Interior decorators just love them. I’ve seen them used as staircase bannisters, radiator covers, and even once in a trendy pub as the fascia on the public bar.

    It is vandalism and it is heartbreaking.

  3. I know that this is off subject, but in your charity please keep a friend of mine in your prayers. His name is Fr. Gregory Wolfenden, an Orthodox theologian who is in Rome for a conference. I was informed that he became seriously ill and is in a Rome hospital, ( I don’t know which one), and very recently underwent exploratory surgery. If any reader is currently in Rome, and you have the time to check things out I would appreciate getting news of his condition. I can be reached at svducha@comcast.net. I am heading to the altar shortly to celebrate Mass for his recovery. God bless you for your kindness.

  4. Paul Cavendish says:

    Hieromonk Gregory,

    That is very concerning news. Fr. Gregory is immensely knowledgeable about Eastern rites and the Liturgy of the Hours. In addition he is excellent company at the dinner table and a friend of mine too. I will certainly add my prayers for his full recovery.

  5. Actually the communion rail is all that was left after the last round of wreckovations–that after Trent, when they ripped out the choir and rood screens …

  6. Sean says:

    A professor at the “famously orthodox” Catholic college that I attend was recently ranting that communion rails were an “encrustation” of the 15th century and he was glad to see them go. Yet this same college has perpetual adoration, which is also a medieval accretion–should that go too?

  7. Christabel says:

    Here we go ladies and gents, get yer communion rails here, they’re luvverly, only one careful previous owner …

    http://www.arcsal.com/items/2077.aspx

  8. J says:

    On the Sunday before our TLM chapel had new Communion Rails installed (made by a devoted parishoner), I saw an old man, steadied by his son, walk with some difficulty to the sanctuary step where we had been kneeling to receive without any rails. I was able to see his face as he dropped to his knees, and it was contorted with pain. His children had to help him rise. It was an incredible witness to the faith for me, and I thanked him outside the church. His son and daughter said they had begged him not to kneel because he was too old and unsteady. Faith of our fathers, living still.

  9. Copernicus says:

    wacko liturgists and those who have been duped by them

    A shame you have to insult people because you disagree with them.

  10. EDG says:

    We have a beautiful malachite and marble communion rail still in place in my church (the Cathedral of St. Augustine, of all places!), probably because we were lucky enough to have a renovation done just before the wreckovation period began and they couldn’t justify doing another more drastic one so soon after the first. We did have our crucifix taken away and get a spectral-looking “floating Jesus” in its stead, alas.

    In any case, as soon as tourists see the communion rail, they tell me how happy they are to see it, how glad they are that people still kneel for communion, etc. I always hate to tell them that we actually don’t use it, we don’t kneel for Communion, and it’s just lucky that it’s still in place. But my informal survey does show me how much people – yes, the same people who are, according to our bishop, too dumb to comprehend the new mass translation and its piety – really understand the significance of communion rails and kneeling, and how much they have missed this over the years. Bring it back!

  11. TMG says:

    Oh, how it gladdened my heart to read Father Z’s words first thing this morning! Yes, kneel before the Lord…yes, give our priests back their special and ancient sacred roles. We desperately need more priests. Misguided laity need to be educated to understand that there is a correlation between the laity infringing, and maybe usurping, that domain which should belong to priests alone. Without priests to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass what will happen to the Catholic Faith? Why would a man want to become a priest if there is very little left for him to do? Or if the trend toward married deacons continues – a disaster in the making when we should, instead be encouraging, supporting, and honoring celibate priesthood.

  12. SER TEG Port of Spain says:

    Fr. Z,

    I didn’t read all the comments, but another plus of communion rails is that they encourage people who are making private visits to the Blessed Sacrament to come up front and kneel. The rail is not a boundary but a point of contact with the Altar and with Our Lord in the Tabernacle.

  13. Ben Trovato says:

    I remember a facile school master (a Benedictine monk, to his shame) explaining that we no longer knelt before the queen (here in the UK) as the culture had shifted. Therefore we should no longer kneel for communion. When I pointed out that we no longer knelt before the queen as we no longer believed in the divine right of kings, and asked if we still believed in the divine right of God, he went rather quiet. (He has since abandoned his vocation, so please remember him in your prayers).

  14. wacko liturgists and those who have been duped by them

    A shame you have to insult people because you disagree with them.

    I believe those “wacko liturgists” referred to have inflicted deep pain and great heartache on untold numbers of faithful Catholics in recent decades, and that their actions have led to loss of faith by further untold numbers. If so, then perhaps such a mild insult is the very least they deserve.

  15. Copernicus: I call ‘em as I see ‘em.

  16. RichR says:

    I think, for a start, one thing we could do is start re-using traditional terminology as applied to liturgical space.

    sanctuary: The area up by the altar where the priest is

    nave: The area where the people sit

    Nowadays, in order to be politically correct and egalitarian, people use “sanctuary” to mean both the sanctuary-proper and the nave. They don’t want people in the pews to feel left out.

    However, if we start using verbal distinctions again, we may start to see a natural progression to architectural distinctions.

  17. Lisa says:

    “Also, there is a practical use of the Communion rail. It helps those who are old or injured to kneel and rise again.”

    And those who are pregnant and carrying a small child. I can’t wait for the day when I can kneel again without having to “hold up the line” any more than necessary, or have my husband help haul me up from the ground. Thankfully for me, that will be in just a few short months. Not so for people with chronic pain or disabilities. Yes, a Communion rail would be very practical.

  18. dcs says:

    Nowadays, in order to be politically correct and egalitarian, people use “sanctuary” to mean both the sanctuary-proper and the nave. They don’t want people in the pews to feel left out.

    I’m not sure it’s political correctness and egalitarianism so much as an attempt to ape Protestants. Then again, maybe it’s both — aping Protestant-style political correctness and egalitarianism, blurring the line between the ordained and non-ordained.

  19. Marcin says:

    SER TEG: same is said about iconostasis. Very insightful.

  20. RichR says:

    dcs,

    I agree. One of Protestantism’s key distinctions is a rejection of a sacramental, ministerial priesthood. However, to be fair, many High Anglican churches retain the classical language of “sanctuary” and “nave”.

  21. Brian Mershon says:

    I agree wholeheartedly we must kneel. It should have been obvious for the past 40 years.

    But how do we answer well-meaning Catholics without traditional bents who say the Church and the entire USSC, with Rome’s approval, allowed Communion standing and in the hand for the past 40 years?

    There question is legitimate.

    Traditionalists have made this argument for years–one of the other reasons for attending ONLY the TLM.

    Another question might be, is this posture going to change every time there is a new Pope? What about when Archbishop Ranjith is no longer around to give direction–which of course undoes EVERYTHING the Bernardin-led USCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCB has tried to do to the liturgy for the past 40 years.

  22. Dan says:

    wacko liturgists and those who have been duped by them

    A shame you have to insult people because you disagree with them.

    Comment by Copernicus —

    Copernicus: Father Zuhlsdorf is just stating a fact.
    He disagrees with wacko liturgists and those who have been duped by them because they are objectively wrong in pushing the destruction of the Throne of the King.
    There is absolutely no insult here just the cold hard truth.

    God bless you.

  23. dcs says:

    However, to be fair, many High Anglican churches retain the classical language of “sanctuary” and “nave”.

    They do, but they are scarcely a blip on the Protestant radar. Plus they are high church and so not relevant to Catholic liturgical wreckovators.

  24. Jimbo says:

    Copernicus: I call ‘em as I see ‘em.
    Comment by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf — 25 September 2008 @ 8:32 am

    Fr. Z: You call’s ‘em better’n most I’ve seem. Anyone who would disagree is a wacko in my book. :)

  25. pelerin says:

    The poster who mentioned that we should bring back the distinction between the Sanctuary and the Nave is so right. I am always saddened when I see people with cameras walk onto the Sanctuary in order to get a better view of the altar behind the table altar in some ancient churches. Some Church and Cathedral authorities are now having to put up new ‘barriers’ (having got rid of the original altar rails) after Mass to prevent this ‘invasion.’ These barriers are similar to those used in banks or cinemas – ie retracting ribbons on stainless steel posts. In cathedrals like Notre-Dame in Paris they seem so secular but at least they keep the public off the sanctuary. I bet those who got rid of our beautiful, often marble ,altar rails never envisaged that as a result one day the sacredness of the sanctuary would no longer be recognised by so many people.

  26. Fr Martin Wallace OP says:

    Regarding altar rails as a “medieval accretion”: in the “Dolbeau sermons” of St Augustine – sermons re-discovered in 1990 – there is, I am pretty sure (I am relying on memory) a reference to a rail around the altar in the cathedral in Carthage. This is a sermon – “On Obedience” – preached on January 23, 404 AD! Augustine is explaining his refusal to preach the previous day, due to a disturbance in the church. If my memory serves me correctly, he refers to some young men “lounging against the rail around the altar” who heckled him to come down from the pulpit and preach to them at the altar rails. Of course, the altar was not in the apse, but in the middle of the church – but I believe that even in the “golden age” of classic Roman liturgy, the 4th – 5th century, at least some altars had rails of some sort around them. This was not to kneel at for communion, but simply to delineate the sanctuary from the rest of the church. Someone with access to the texts – there is an English translation by Fr Edmund Hill in the “Augustine: a translation for the 21st Century” series – may be able to confirm this recollection of mine, or correct it if need be.

  27. Limbo says:

    A comment made by a ‘liturgist’ during a recent battle to save the altar rails in our Cathedral in Australia,

    “Altar rails were originally installed to keep animals such as sheep from the sanctuary ! ”

    My fear at kneeling for Holy Communion is that it is far more difficult to avoid the EMs – at least by standing one can cross aisles !

  28. Fr Martin Wallace OP says:

    Another ancient reference to altar rails occurs in the Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret (c.393-466), V.18. St Ambrose had excommunicated the Emperor Theodosius for his part in a massacre of citizens of Thessalonika. He reconciled him after the Emperor’s repentance (evidenced by a law forbidding executions until they were reviewed by him personally), but Theodoret goes on : “Ambrose restored him to favour, but forbade him to come inside the altar rail, ordering his deacon to say, ‘The priests alone, O Emperor, are permitted to enter within the barriers by the altar. Retire then, and remain with the rest of the laity. A purple robe makes Emperors, but not priests…’ Theodosius meekly obeyed, praising Ambrose for his spirit, and saying “Ambrose alone deserves the title of “bishop.” Interesting, no?

  29. Jason Petty says:

    I suppose a priest could say that he must put the rails in to help keep his insurance costs down.

    Maybe he could put up some signs? My last comment got flagged as spam because I had a few image links in response to this suggestion, so I’ll just post this one.

  30. Eric says:

    I asked an 80+ year old friend of mine what it was like for him during the “reform” after VII. He said, “When they tore out the communion rails, they tore out my heart.”

  31. Manuel says:

    A new motto to add to the other 2 : More Kneeling Now!

  32. RichR says:

    Fr. Wallace,

    Very interesting references. Thank you for sharing!

  33. pjsandstrom says:

    Not all ‘liturgist’ and/or ‘liturgical scholars’ are wacko — some even write on this blogg.

  34. Maynardus says:

    There is one small church in my state (actually a mission chapel of a large parish) which was built in the late 1950′s and wreckovated per the USCCB Standard Demolition Manual sometime in the early 1970s.

    In the narthex there still hangs a large board with numerous smaller plaques bearing the names of donors whose generosity helped to build the chapel.

    Some of the original donors aparently endowed specific items, and so there is a section listing particular objects and furnishings, among them: High Altar, Crucifix, Candlesticks, Communion Rail, etc. Not one of those items is to be seen in the chapel today.

    We’ve all heard stories about how this altar rail or that statue was saved from the iconoclasts because some member of the donor’s family came forward and raised unholy Hell in the face of the wreckers. But when I think of this case I simply cannot imagine the arrogance – perhaps hubris is even a better term – of those who first dared to rip out altars, statues, Crucifixes, rails – in plain view of those who’d paid for them – and then proceeded to practically mock them by leaving their names and (vanished)gift designations posted for future generations to see and ponder!

    I think Fr. Z. (and others) are right – Communion kneeling and on the tongue are coming back, and sooner rather than later. Along with them will certainly come the rails, perhaps more slowly. Perhaps we will see it as a vindication or a triumph but knowing what was lost, how many years were wasted, how many souls were allowed to become lukewarm and even cold, it will be a bitter victory.

  35. Midwest St. Michael says:

    pjsanstrom,

    Please show where it is stated on this thread that “…all ‘liturgist’ and/or ‘liturgical scholars’ are wacko…”

    Christ’s peace to you.

    Brian Mershon states: ” But how do we answer well-meaning Catholics without traditional bents who say the Church and the entire USSC, with Rome’s approval, allowed Communion standing and in the hand for the past 40 years?”

    Uh, as I understand it, communion in the hand was not petitioned for (then unfortunately granted by the Holy See) until 1977 (am I wrong on that folks?). Thus, it has only been for the last 31 years that this has been allowed — but your point is still well taken, Brian.

  36. I’m 32 and have OA. I’m greatful for the Rails. Not for the least of which so that I can kneel in ease. I once had Father ask me not to kneel for the sake of my knees seeing as how it caused me great pain, and I was very slow to both kneel and get back up. But, I’ve not taken his advice on the grounds that I made a promise on my first communion when I first knelt, NEVER to receive while standing. Even if it means having to crawl across the floor. I know very well Who it is that waits for me in the hands of the priest. And knowing this my soul out of love constrains me to do no less.

  37. The rails make receiving Communion much easier. (There are times when I’m in the sanctuary serving the TLM that I wish we had some)…I’m merely 22, and I was witness to one of the last Churches in Orange County to have their altar rails ripped out Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra, it brought me to tears to see the rails go :()

  38. Supertradmom says:

    There are many churches in the Los Angeles Diocese which still have Communion Rails. Can someone explain why these were spared?

  39. Geoffrey says:

    If kneeling for Holy Communion would spread quickly, which we all hope for, kneeling benches or prie-dieu’s would work in a pinch!

    Would it be “weird” to kneel when receiving from an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist? I suppose it shouldn’t matter…

  40. mbd says:

    “Altar rails were originally installed to keep animals such as sheep from the sanctuary”

    This was actually the rationale given by the Laudian reformers in the 1630′s to support the Archbishop’s prescription that Anglican churches install altar rails. Since Laud’s liturgical reforms tended to be viewed by Puritans as “popish practices”, he and his supporters sought to justify the installation of altar rails on this basis to avoid the charge that they were simply immitating Roman Catholic forms. By the early 1640′s, with the encouragement of Parliament, most of the Laudian altar rails were torn out of the churches in England by the Puritans – in some instances through outside mob action where the parishoners still favored them.
    To some extent, perhaps the spirit continues today.

  41. mbd says:

    The Archbishop, of course, lost his head via a bill of attainder.

  42. Patrick T says:

    “Altar rails were originally installed to keep animals such as sheep from the sanctuary”

    I always thought the altar rails were installed to keep the liturgists out of the sanctuary.

  43. James says:

    Our local Mass is offered in the Methodist Church and, from time to time, I play the organ for their services. The irony of the Catholic community receiving Our Lord standing, whilst the Methodists kneel at the altar rail to receive communion is not lost on me.

  44. As to medieval encrustations, I rather like them, but communion rails are even older than
    that! They are actually a much-cut-down version of the early Christian “cancelli” or
    chancel-screens from which came the medieval rood screen, the Orthodox iconostasis, and the
    (comparatively modern, and much lower) communion rail. (Rood screens and other local
    equivalents were in use well into the Renaissance.) They were often fairly high.
    I believe similar screens have been found in one of the first purpose-built Christian churches,
    recently discovered in the near east and dating to around the 290s.

    As to sheep, Charles Borromeo says rails also keep dogs out of the sanctuary, which
    is entirely possible; though presently there is only one church in Rome where dogs may be brought in,
    San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. It is clear the earlier cancelli had other symbolic functions as well.

    The altar, which one of the previous commenter placed in the middle of the church, surrounded
    by rails, may have been placed there according to some sources but some other early examples have it a little in front of the apse, but also surrounded by high rails or screens.

  45. Maynardus: But when I think of this case I simply cannot imagine the arrogance – perhaps hubris is even a better term – of those who first dared to rip out altars, statues, Crucifixes, rails – in plain view of those who’d paid for them

    Having actually seen priests and nuns so engaged, I’m not sure that mere arrogance or hubris suffices to explain their really scary eyes and faces while busting up altars and statues. Suffice it to say that the virtually maniacal glee they exhibited seemed to go well beyond anything resembling good clean fun.

  46. James 2 says:

    James – I agree – a couple of Sundays ago I attended an standard Anglican Communion Service (in England)- and ironically the Church of England still uses its communion rails and people still kneel to receive communion (in the hand) while we Catholics have gone for the option of queuing as though in a fast food take away

  47. Chironomo says:

    While not all Liturgists are “wack-o”, it is certain that all “Wack-o Liturgists” are whacko… this may seem obvious, but it would be like calling someone a “wacko church musician”… this wouldn’t be implying that all Church musicians are wacko’s, but there is no denying that there certainly is a sub-group that is!

    As for this being “name calling”… they had a choice between being rational and wacky and they chose wacky, so this is something they are obviously proud of. Don’t think for a moment that they think they are simply misguided… they know that they are being disobedient and are happy about it.

  48. Bp. Basil says:

    **Furthermore, mark my words that kneeling for Communion will make a come back. It remains, after all, the norm.**

    Kneeling at communion remais the naorm IN THE LATIN RITE, but not in the Eastern Churches.

    The Latin Rite is not the whole Church, nor even the standard by which the other Catholic Churches are judged.

  49. Chris says:

    The Holy Father now only gives Communion on the tongue to those kneeling.
    Actually this isn’t the case. If you looked at him giving communion in Lourdes people were standing to recieve. Pope Benedict was perhaps respecting legitimate local custom.

  50. Mark S. says:

    The Church of the Holy Name, on Oxford Road, Manchester, UK, also has the Communion Rail more or less intact. I say “more or less” because the “gap” in the middle is unusually wide with no gates, which makes me wonder whether this is the original arrangement. However in all other respects the Church is completely un-reordered. It is an eighteenth century church with a magnificent east-facing high altar still in place, with no attempt made to introduce people-facing altars. The church is serviced by Oratorians and has an Extraordinary Form Mass at 4pm every Sunday. THere are also side altars on either side of the high altars, and weekday Masses are regularly offered at one of these rather than the high altar. The church has their own website: http://www.holyname.org.uk (I think) where there are photos.

  51. Mark S. says:

    Sorry, I should have said a nineteenth-century church.

  52. Andrew says:

    Reception of Holy Communion at an altar rail, which was never removed, still takes place at St Patrick’s Basilica in Ottawa.

    Also check out the recent entry on the St Birinus rood screen RE-INSTALLED (!) at New Liturgical Movement on Fr’s list of blogs to the left.

  53. pelerin says:

    Chris comments that the Holy Father ‘gave Communion to people standing at the Masses in Lourdes.’ This is incorrect. I was present at both Papal Masses there and those who received from the Pope received kneeling.

  54. RichR says:

    Another thing to consider:

    If altar rails and rood screens are used to wall off the sanctuary, and the only people in there are vested priests, deacons, and altar servers, doesn’t it destroy the whole “separate-ness” to have a layman come from the pews in a polo shirt and slacks and read the readings? Doesn’t it destroy the whole ethos you’ve tried to create architecturally when the local hairdresser comes up to help pass out Communion as an EMHC? IOW, if you are going to try to re-instate the idea of a “holy space”, then you are talking about a whole package.

    Just thoughts……..

  55. Dear Fr. Zulsdorf (Father, Bless!):

    Thank you for this cogent entry.

    If I may be of any assistance, I would like to disabuse some people writing here of the notion that the communion rail was a late-mediaeval accretion to liturgical architecture. Its use was in fact a common one from East to West ever since at least the 4th century A.D.

    In fact, the understanding I have from my Orthodox brethren is that the origin of the “communion rail” was that in the early Roman Empire, the Emperor and the Imperial Family were separated from the people at any gathering by a set of pillars and posts. Soon after Constantine I made Christianity the official religion of the state, the people building churches would separate the sanctuary from the nave by those same pillars and posts used by the Royal Family, as a means of making mute testimony to the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is King; He is robed in majesty” (Ps 93.1).

    This was also done because it was an ancient tradition, thought to go back to the time of the Apostles, that some of the Sacred Body and Blood was to be reserved at the place of Its confection in case of need by the sick or the dying. Another honor to the holy presence of Our Lord and King in churches is the Communion Light. All true Churches, whether Orthodox or Catholic, retain it.

    In the East, and especially after the triumph of Orthodoxy and the return of icons to the Church, it became the practice to line the places between pillars and post with icons, and gradually to turn the “rail” into a wall of icons, or iconostasis, separating sanctuary from nave.

    In the West, the royal barrier retained its original form, but about the 5th or 6th century or so, Western Europeans began the practice of having the people come to the rail and receive the Eucharist there. As it was a Western custom to kneel before royalty, they received the Eucharist kneeling. It is important to note that in the East, especially in the Byzantine Empire, one stood before the Emperor, which was why the Orthodox practice of standing while receiving the Eucharist was retained in the East (and perhaps why some well-intentioned priests in the West appear to wish to adopt the Eastern custom).

    One can find much of the above information by reading Hugh Wybrew’s excellent work, The Orthodox Liturgy, published by Oxford University Press.

    Perhaps the most important thing to note here is that the different customs of East and West have at their root the desire to pay homage to our Lord as our King and our God. I am terribly sorry to learn that some misguided (and I think “wacko” is a reasonable synonym here) souls in your Church have sought to remove the Communion rail and to attempt to dethrone God. I am happy to learn that some more pious and reasonable priests and people are seeking to remedy those errors.

  56. S Carda says:

    I was an archaeologist specializing in Early Christian churches, and I excavated some of the earliest Christian churches in the world, in Jordan. The buildings dated from the AD 300s to 750, and there were chancel screens, AKA altar rails, separating the chancel and altar from the nave in churches of even the 300s. This was the norm. In addition, the wear patterns on the floors show that the Mass was celebrated facing the east with the priest’s back to the congregation. There is a great deal of accurate information regarding early church architecture available in various reports and annuals from any number of reputable excavations, and there is no excuse for the misinformation circulated about early church architecture. The priest did not celebrate facing the people, and the sacred space was screened off from the laity.

  57. q sugon says:

    Moses said to the Lord, “The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy.’” (Ex 19:23)

  58. Jayna says:

    The church I currently attend was built in the 70s, so I’m sure you can all imagine what it looks like. I have noticed, however, that there are kneelers in the sacristy. I’ve always wanted to ask if it would be possible to put one out for Sunday Masses in case anyone wanted to kneel. It would be reasonable to place it in between the priest and the EMHC, so that the priest can simply step to one side and give communion to those who wish to kneel. That way I couldn’t be accused of trying to persuade people to kneel to receive (God forbid!).

    The only time I’ve received at an altar railing was at the Brompton Oratory. That was also my first experience doing it and wow, I cannot get over the reverence it evokes.

  59. isabella says:

    I hope communion rails return soon; it isn’t only elderly people who have trouble kneeling. Anybody can be injured at any age, and need help rising without disruption.

    Holy Communion isn’t meant to be an exercise in logistics, but perhaps the foot-dragging priests could look at the time involved in communicating the usual 10 “extraordinary” ministers (for a church that isn’t even full) vs using a communion rail. It would not only be more reverent to receive our Lord kneeling, it would be more efficient.

  60. Matthew says:

    Mark S. (and all): I am pretty certain the Church of the Holy Name in Manchester has its rails exactly as originally built. It is a blessed place, which has survived the Jesuits! They made an attempt at a nave altar when they were there, which was outside the sanctuary: fortunately, the floor is so weak in the sanctuary that it would have been unsafe to rip out the present High Altar! But when they left, the present priest removed this elephant, and thus the Masses are all said facing east.

    Please pray for Bro. Richard who is there and training for the priesthood. And the community, which wishes to be officially formated as an Oratory as soon as possible.

  61. Brian Mershon says:

    Midwest St. Michael,

    Similar to communion in the hand being given out in the U.S., thanks to the late Cardinal Bernardin’s urging, in many dioceses for up to 8 years prior to it being allowed by the Vatican, I’m quite certain that communion standing was done many years in many U.S. dioceses prior to it being “officially sanctioned” by the Holy See.

    God’s peace!
    Brian

  62. Frank H says:

    “I have noticed, however, that there are kneelers in the sacristy. I’ve always wanted to ask if it would be possible to put one out for Sunday Masses in case anyone wanted to kneel. It would be reasonable to place it in between the priest and the EMHC, so that the priest can simply step to one side and give communion to those who wish to kneel.” Comment by Jayna

    I recently made this same suggestion to my pastor, citing the Holy Father’s preference, and he reiterated the US Bishops’ stance on the recommended posture of standing to receive. At least I give him credit for obedience.

  63. Mark S. says:

    Matthew: Thanks for the information. I had noticed what I thought was a slightly unusual arrangement of the front few pews in Holy Name, the existence of a people-facing altar explains it. I had thought the Communion rails were as originally built but was thrown by the large central gap with no gates. I go into Holy Name regularly, usually for the Saturday morning Mass. Out of curiousity, do you know why the Saturday Masses are at one of the side-altars rather than thw High altar?

  64. MargaretC says:

    What, pray tell, makes communion while kneeling such a sore point? I knelt for communion for 30 years as an Episcopalian. I find it interesting that many Episcopalians in the US have lovingly preserved the externals — high altars, rails, traditional music, etc. — that Catholics blithely threw out after Vatican II.

    Of course, the Episcopalians kept the furniture and threw the theology away…

  65. SimeonS says:

    “Of course, the Episcopalians kept the furniture and threw the theology away…”

    Yes, it’s weird. Your average Episcopal church, even with a woman priest, often looks and sounds a lot more traditional than the average Catholic parish…

    Lex orandi, lex credendi?

  66. Jayna says:

    Frank: I spoke about it with someone in my parish who would be in the know on the issue, and I was told that since the church I attend is a “vision of growth and moving forward”, it’s simply not “what the parish is about”. I’m still trying to digest how anyone could take offense to putting out a kneeler for those who wish to kneel, which is what she’s making it sound like the congregation would do. It drives me crazy that these progressives are all for equality in the Church, but heaven forbid a traditionalist request a concession. This forced segregation really annoys me.

    I’m not entirely sure what my pastor would say on the issue (and given past experience, I’m not really sure it matters what he says), but since he hates Latin and makes fun of priests who wear cassocks anywhere but Rome, I’m thinking my chances are not very good.

  67. Matthew says:

    Mark S.: yes, you can imagine the Jesuit nave-altar / table / ironing board / elephant in front of the sanctuary, with the pews surrounding, although I remember Fr Matus telling me that the pews were always like this, i.e. from the beginning. Note to self: check on this.

    There is a wonderful water colour of the church shortly after completion without any pews at all – the space looks vast! It was used on a Holy Name Christmas card a few years ago…

    As for the use of the altars, Bro. Richard has explained to me which altars are used for which masses and why, but I forget the “logic” (!). As for why a low altar is used on a Saturday – why not?! I hate going into churches furnished with many altars and seeing them undressed, unused, dusty, no candles, no cross, forgotten about. (Vide St James, Spanish Place.) At least at the Holy Name they are all dressed and used regularly.

  68. Mark S. says:

    Matthew: The one thing that did make me think the pews might be “original” was they way they “fit around” the pulpit, without any evidence of having been changed from their original format. I take it you go to Holy Name regularly – I only usually go on Saturdays for morning Mass – perhaps we’ve bumped into each other without realising!

  69. Matthew says:

    Mark: is this your real name / are you on Facebook? Would be good to correspond further… I live in SW London but used to live in Manchester…

  70. Margaret B. says:

    The Methodist church I attend has alter rails and kneelers, and I find them very inviting. It is so unusual to kneel in this denomination that it helps focus the mind on the importance of the eucharist.