QUAERITUR: Promoting use of the Communion rail

From a priest reader:

I am pastor of ___ in ___.  I have a weekly EF Mass that draws 50-100 people, a nice group of diocesan seminarian servers, and a good little schola.

I am considering returning the distribution of Holy Communion at our 4 OF Masses to the altar rail, whether kneeling (what I would prefer) or standing (it’s an older parish, and I have several folks with bad knees!).

What are my canonical rights and choices?

I seem to recall a statement from USCCB that the norm for receiving Holy Communion at Mass in the US was standing. But if the Pope is doing it, can’t we? I’m not trying to be more Catholic than the Pope, but I do know it is more reverent to receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament kneeling, and I already encourage people to receive on the tongue rather than on the hands (I don’t forbid them that option, though). Hope I’m not asking you something I’ve missed on posts already, but you’re a good man to ask!

I wanted to consult a canonist about this one.

The wording in the GIRM adaptations for the USA is odd.

Article 160 says:

“The norm for the reception of Holy Communion in the United States in standing.”

I am left scratching my head.

That is neither proscriptive nor prescriptive.  It is descriptive, a statement of fact.  It doesn’t sound at all like a law.

“The norm for the reception of Holy Communion in the United States in standing.”  Is that so?  Really?  I will stipulate that a lot of people stand.   It is the “norm” in that sense.  Is there some other “norm” out there?  An actual norm that is something more than a statement of fact?

If this said, “The norm for the reception of Holy Communion in the United States WILL BE standing,” then it would have some force.  Instead, it is a statement of fact that some people assume is a law.  Maybe there is a … what a “spirit” of a law hidden within the statement?

It is hard to forecast canonical repercussions for putting in an altar rail.  It is easy to forecast squeals of gloom from liberals of a certain age in the parish followed by pressure from the chancery.

I think that a steady process of catechesis, along with lots of talk about restoration of elements of the church that were lost, would be a good preliminary to putting in an altar rail.  Frequently explanations of what Pope Benedict has done would be good.  The priest’s own reverence for the Blessed Sacrament should be evident.

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58 Responses to QUAERITUR: Promoting use of the Communion rail

  1. “I think that a steady process of catechesis, along with lots of talk about restoration of elements of the church that were lost, would be a good preliminary to putting in an altar rail. Frequently explanations of what Pope Benedict has done would be good. The priest’s own reverence for the Blessed Sacrament should be evident. ”

    If he hasn’t read Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s “Dominus Est,” he should get a copy and quote frequently from it as part of the process.

  2. Federico says:

    Since he is making kneeling optional (he’s allowing standing) at the rail, there won’t be canonical repercussions.

    He must realize, however, that every diocese has a Siberia.

    Federico.

  3. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I think it would be prudent of the good father to find out in a roundabout way whether his bishop would approve. Some bishops take #160 of the General Instruction to mean that at the OF Mass, people should stand for Communion. And where you see the larger context, where there is instruction to speak to those who insist on kneeling, and where the bishops debated this issue in front of cameras, you are left with a clear liturgical norm. [Really?]

    I guess a priest could say, “oh, wow, I didn’t know the bishops had a debate about this in which they explained what #160 is supposed to mean–I missed that on TV.” However, a bishop could then say that was crass ignorance.

    Many bishops will thankfully smile and say nothing when it is brought to their attention that a certain pastor has returned his OF Mass crowd to the rails. Little by little, they see the damage that is done by standing and receiving in the hand.

    But this priest needs to make sure that his bishop is one of those. If not, the Father may be made to eat crow as he brings the OF Mass faithful to the rail and then brings them back to the standing line because his bishop stepped in and slapped him down.

  4. Frank H says:

    At a certain Dominican-run parish in central Ohio the use of the communion rail continues unabated, with the faithful kneeling and receiving (mostly) on the tongue. As far as I know, this particular church never abandoned the communion rail.

  5. hawkeye says:

    There was a letter at one time from Cardinal Arinze that addressed the subject of kneeling/standing/genuflecting when receiving Communion. The norm in the US is standing; [According to what... #160? Read the top entry.] however, that being said, a communicant may not be refused Communion if he genuflects or kneels. People in my parish do all three, with many receiving on the tongue as well. I think an altar rail would encourage kneeling. There was also a question in last week’s Wanderer – March 3, 2011 – (don’t know how to italicize here) that addressed why the Pope prefers the people to kneel and receive on the tongue when he distributes Communion. Very interesting piece.

  6. JulieC says:

    Since we’re in the age of liturgical options, the pastor might offer the option of kneeling for Communion to his parishioners in a designated area. There is a parish here where for many years the people have had the option at the OF Mass to receive Holy Communion either standing or kneeling. Everyone knows if they want to receive kneeling, they must approach the rail “near St. Joseph’s statue” in the church at Communion time. From what I understand, there is a priest or EM designated at every Mass in that spot to serve the people who wish to receive Communion kneeling.

    Every successive pastor has honored that custom and it works out very smoothly. That may be a way to ease in to the practice on a small scale initially and test the waters. If the pastor doesn’t want to put in the Communion rail yet, perhaps he could use a prie-dieu on one of the Communion lines instead.

  7. br.david says:

    The Mercedarian parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Philadelphia, beginning this Ash Wednesday, has returned to the use of the altar rail at ALL Masses offered in the parish. The reason given by the pastor was that so all could have the opportunity exercise the options afforded by the Church (namely, the option of kneeling to receive communion). The parish had implemented its use during the weekly EF and the Solemn Latin OF on Sundays. However, the pastor has extended its use to be done at all the Masses

  8. Ralph says:

    An older church in our diocese was remodeled. The alter rail was removed. Our pastor slyly “recoverd” said rail from the rubbish. We now have an alter rail.

    In the early morning, most traditional Mass, it is used as it was origionally. The lay people come up and kneel in a line along the rail. The priest walks down the rail distributing. When the full group has received, they rise and exit. A new group kneels down.
    At our later day, a bit less traditional Mass, the rail is available for those who would like to use it to support their kneeling. The priest always distributed from behind the rail.
    To tell the truth, I have never herd any negative reactions about the rail. At the mid morning Mass, people use it or don’t and don’t seem to feel pressure either way. In the early Mass, most folks use it. But, those who don’t (mostly the very elderly who can not kneel) seem to be happily accomidated without any fuss.

  9. Philangelus says:

    The only times in my life I’ve been able to receive Communion while kneeling were in a Los Angeles parish where the Communion rail was used by one of the EMHCs and there were three lines for those who desired to receive standing. (It only took me one Mass to realize which part of the church I wanted to sit in thereafter!)

    If it’s presented as an option, rather than a parish-wide mandate, I’d suggest citing the ambiguous wording of the regulation and go with that. (The surprise might be that more people want to receive kneeling than standing.)

  10. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Frank H, I know the place well.
    Father, I remember distinctly reading a document online which said that if a person in the US insisted on kneeling for Communion they were to be “counseled” by the pastor later not to do that. However, I don’t remember what the document was and can’t figure out how to find it again. Perhaps others know of it.

  11. Mickey says:

    I have been moved to kneel to receive communion in the OF, it just seems more….well, appropriate. I’m careful not to get in anyone’s way, and young enough to be able to spring down and up promptly.

    Am I violating the law?

    After 40 years of rebellion, I really have no stomach for any more of it, and it would pain me to think I’m violating the law.

  12. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I found it: it is the continuance of GIRM 160: “160. The priest then takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a procession.

    The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Here it is–>Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.

    So according to this a “norm” is a rule.

  13. Tina in Ashburn says:

    I figure if this priest wrote you, he is looking for backup as he expects a kerfuffle from the bishop.

    Agree that the ‘norm’ language is confusing. Using the liberal’s stance on ambiguity, where they look for loopholes to get away with stuff, we could say that ‘norm’ doesn’t mean you have to stand. “Norm” just describes one method that happens to be practiced by the majority – so…we will choose to do it this other way – kneeling!

    How ’bout if this good priest allows other methods of receiving by having prie-dieus available? Communicants could line up as at an altar rail to receive either way while the priest does the walking to and fro. And see how it goes with the parish and the bishop? I dunno, just a thought…

    The GIRM confuses me, there is a lot of good in it, but there’s some bad stuff too. We can respect the USCCB Girm as a method to standardize practices, however because it is a product of the American-only conference, the GIRM can never replace laws for the whole Church, right? We do not have an “American church” – we are Roman Catholics. Unfortunately, it would be counter-productive for this good priest to argue against the GIRM with his bishop LOL. Might want to get Vatican reinforcements first if it comes to that!

    I hope this good priest prevails – of COURSE communicants should be encouraged to kneel and receive on the tongue. That a priest should be made afraid to encourage piety is scandalous. Courage!! I pray for priests every day.

  14. Tantum Ergo says:

    “Maybe there is a … what a “spirit” of a law hidden within the statement?”
    I believe what we have here is clearly an emanation of a penumbra.

  15. inIpso says:

    The first time I saw a Communion rail was when I went down to our Diocese’s mission parish in the Dominican Republic. Funny how those we came to “minister to” showed a greater reverence for our Lord then we do back home.

    Many could not read/write… but they did a lot more with the basic tenants of the faith then what we do with years and years of catechesis. Just saying. :D

  16. Tantum Ergo says:

    “Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Here it is–>Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.”

    Now, what a hoot to listen to “proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.” Something like this:
    Once upon a time, there were a bunch of backward people who did everything backward. They wanted to turn the clock back, and they even wanted the priest to turn his back to the congregation. Since they couldn’t receice Communion backward, they did the next most “backward” thing they could, which was to receive kneeling. This was a very backward thing indeed, because everybody knows that that the spirit of Vatican II has freeeed us from all that dopey reverence stuff. Those knuckle-dragging backward people act like Communion is God or somethin’. Can you believe it? Sheeesh!

  17. Childermass says:

    What is this, Soviet Russia? Bishops need to start worrying about ACTUAL abuses (of which there are many!). It’s disheartening that priests live in fear of smackdown from their bishops if they introduce more traditional practices, practices which encourage more reverence to the Eucharist! I remember Fr. Ray Blake saying recently that if he dared to celebrate the NO ad orientem (as he wishes), his bishop would come down hard on him really quick. That is why ad orientem is *almost nonexistent* in the Novus Ordo—the Politburo won’t allow it!

    Is this nothing other than diabolical disorientation?

  18. Andrew Mason says:

    My parish has two church buildings within it. The one where I grew up (which was a separate parish until a few years ago) has part of its altar rail still intact, two pieces one on each side of the altar in the vicinity of the Mary altar on the one side and the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue on the other. Because of their position they are usually only used by those who desire to kneel and pray before the statues (and for holding processional candles in the rare case when we have more than two altar servers), and I have never seen them used for their original purpose. I often wonder what it would look like if the whole rail was still intact, it’s made of pink marble and fairly nice looking even though it has been fairly well ignored for years and shows the fact.

    I think that utilizing a movable kneeler to receive at my parish might be difficult, there’s not a lot of room between the edge of the altar and the first pew and I can imagine people tripping over the feet of the person who is kneeling to receive. One thing I’ve done myself (and I don’t know whether this is allowable or not, perhaps it’s another question for another day) is kneel in the first pew and receive in that position when Father comes down to distribute the Eucharist. In my parish there is an allowance that those who are unable to go up and receive sit in the first pew and Father comes over to give them the Eucharist before he starts distributing to those who come up to receive. My mom is in this position and I am in the pew anyway because I sit with her. The pastor at my parish is by no means a traditionalist, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with it and hasn’t counseled me against it (actually, he hasn’t spoken about it at all that I’m aware). I’m the only person who does this, and as I said before I’m not even sure if what I’m doing is allowable under the rules, but if it’s okay to do so it might be a compromise position between not allowing kneeling at all and having some sort of kneeler sitting right before the step up into the sanctuary.

  19. r7blue1pink says:

    Just a thought.. But in Some parishes in Chicago which have altar rails in place.. people form TWO lines— one to recv standing and then one to recv at the Altar rail. Usually there are either 2 priests- one at each location or a deacon and a priest OR if a single priest pnly he distributes to the people standing first and then to those waiting at the Altar rail. A paten is ALWAYS used for BOTH lines..

    Generally, the lines to rec’v standing become shorter and shorter and most now prefer to recv at the rail…

  20. Henry Edwards says:

    It seems to me that the “proper catechesis” part of GIRM 160 has been essentially negated by the following paragraph of a letter from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship dated February 26, 2003 (http://www.adoremus.org/0403HolySeeResponds.html):

    To this end, it is perhaps useful to respond to your inquiry by repeating the content of a letter that the Congregation recently addressed to a Bishop in the United States of America from whose Diocese a number of pertinent letters had been received. The letter states: “…while this Congregation gave the recognitio to the norm desired by the Bishops’ Conference of your country that people stand for Holy Communion, this was done on the condition that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds. Indeed, the faithful should not be imposed upon nor accused of disobedience and of acting illicitly when they kneel to receive Holy Communion”.

    The USCCB discussion of this “American adaptation” to the universal Church practice of kneeling for Holy Communion was broadcast on EWTN. My recollection is that, prior to the vote, a bishop asked from the floor for clarification as to what force this “norm” would have. I believe Archbishop Walter Lipscomb (Mobile), then chairman of the bishops liturgy committee explained that it was “descriptive rather than prescriptive”. Thus, not having the prescriptive effect of liturgical law. Perhaps someone can find the minutes of this meeting (probably in 2002).

  21. Tim Ferguson says:

    banjo picking girl – I guess I don’t see where the US adaptation on article 160 is a rule.
    the “mandates” in article 160 are 3:
    1. “The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another.”
    “The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing.”
    2. “Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel.”
    Rather, 3. “such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm. ”

    Those three things actually mandate an action. The italicized line, simply is a statement of putative fact. I think a priest would be perfectly obedient to the law by pastorally addressing those who opt to kneel, giving them proper catechesis on the reasons that standing has become “the norm” in the U.S. E.g., “the reason that standing has become the common practice in the U.S. is due to a mistaken historical revisionist archaism that was prevalent in the 60′s and 70′s that deemed the legitimate developments in understanding the awesome mystery of the Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist and our humble responses to the same were mere accretions that should be wiped away in a misguided attempt to recapture some mythical “pure” practice of the early Church.”

    Also, Fr. Sotelo points out the fact that this issue was debated, and the debate televised by the bishops, which therefore, somehow, leaves us with “a clear liturgical norm.” Respectfully, no, it doesn’t. The televised debate was not enacted into law – the GIRM and its adaptations were. We are left with the text, and c. 17 says that law “must be understood in accord with the proper meaning of the words considered in their text and context.” The bishops clearly had the option of mandating “the norm for receiving Holy Communion will be standing,” as Fr. Z points out, but they did not, they simply stated, “the norm…is standing.” That’s not a mandate. It’s a statement of fact, and, regardless of the debate the bishops had, we are left with the law they proposed, which the Holy Father promulgated.

  22. sacerdosinaeternum says:

    This is a much needed post. I am one Pastor who has an altar rail in my church. I firmly believe that Holy Communion should be received kneeling for the OF, but with the current USCCB norm, can’t see how I could encourage people to use the rail. In light of Pope Benedict’s clear vision and practice, a dubium needs to be submitted to the Holy See regarding the weight of this unjust norm and if Catholics in the US could follow the example of the Holy Father.

  23. yatzer says:

    At our parish we use the altar rail and people stand or kneel (mostly kneel), receive in the hand or tongue (mostly tongue) and everyone is accommodated. It works exceedingly well.

  24. Since the altar rails are gone, a priest could bring out a kneeler and stand in front of it. Those who want to stand would still be close enough to receive. The ‘athletes’ who like to kneel and bounce back up again to receive might be aided by the kneeler. (at least they wouldn’t have to genuflect to the person in from of them’s posterior). I think Henry Edwards is right. The pope has blasted away that odious little GIRM 160 rule about ‘proper catechesis’. Ignore it! as it deserves to be.

    A pastor could begin by stating the fact that ever since the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2008, -shortly after the publication of Bishop Schneider’s little book-the pope has required kneeling. Any speculation about why he has done that will lead quite naturally to the conclusion that he invites us all to do likewise — voluntarily– out of love for Jesus Christ, our true King.

    Is it a spectacle to kneel when no one else does? Most certainly, but was it not also a spectacle for so many martyrs who remained true to Jesus in inopportune times when no one else was? Please! Let us get this one thing right! Fathers, I urge you to at least point to the Holy Father’s example your parishes. Sometimes you just have to let consequences be damned. Even Siberia has it’s attactions. Bishop Schneider says you should expect to be marginalized by the people-that-run-things. That’s just the way things are, and often it is proof you are doing something right.

    I’m reminded of the title of a book by Irina Osipova about Stalin’s persecution of Catholics in Bishop Schneider’s homeland: ‘Wenn die Welt Euch Hasst’ ‘When the World Hates You’.

  25. Jack007 says:

    There is a well attended parish in the diocese of Wichita where a certain priest, who is now a bishop, had a rail made and installed a few years back.
    People there have the option to kneel, stand, and or receive in the hand. All three options are utilized and to my knowledge, even under the new pastors since, there have been no problems.
    It should be stated that the priest who installed it made a point of instructing the faithful quite a bit BEFORE it was put in.
    Yes, with proper catechesis…

    Jack in KC

  26. isnowhere says:

    When this whole “norm” term hit our diocese for topic a few years back, our pastor removed the kneelers from the Altar rail, and positioned Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers outside of the rail. There was then a number of sermons on how kneeling was not the “norm” and how we should all stand to when we were to receive the Eucharist. “Norm” was poorly explained as a term of “legal obligation.” At first many for refused the Eucharist when they knelt. (It is slowly changing back to the way it was… many of those who used to kneel still feel that they are doing something wrong if they choose to kneel.)

    I have read (I was not actually there ;-p ) that when voting on 160. that Archbishop Lipscomb specifically said that norm was NOT a legal term, but a word meaning standard practice.

    adoremus.org/0303Q&A.html

  27. WGS says:

    Norm is defined as the average or the mean. A normal distribution is plotted as the familiar bell shaped curve. I think we can agree that in the U.S. whether anyone likes it or not, the normal position for receiving communion is standing.

  28. ErnieNYC says:

    WGS, don’t you think your definition is a bit incomplete? For example, Merriam-Webster defines “norm” as:

    1
    : an authoritative standard : model
    2
    : a principle of right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior
    and only then, 3
    : average: as
    a : a set standard of development or achievement usually derived from the average or median achievement of a large group
    b : a pattern or trait taken to be typical in the behavior of a social group
    c : a widespread or usual practice, procedure, or custom

  29. smad0142 says:

    @Jack007
    That parish wouldn’t have been ran by a certain Bp. James _______ would it?

  30. This whole thing about the “norm” being standing followed by the clarification that no one is to be denied Communion for kneeling is one big bungle. All it did was give both sides enough ammunition to keep sniping at one another and settled nothing. After all the smoke cleared, everyone just kept doing what was being done before. We need a far more definitive and authoritative statement of law (not a descriptive observation) than what we now have. Rome should not have allowed Article 160 to be promulgated if it did not intend that standing was to be the law and all else was excluded– instead, the article should have been sent back to the bishops for modification and clarification.

    While I would much prefer the return of the altar rail at this point, it must be done clearly and precisely, not in this confused manner, and I would prefer a clear, concise, and consistent law that standing is the rule and that any practice to the contrary is abrogated than the wishy-washy situation we have today where everyone can claim to be right.

  31. frdanbecker says:

    You’re at a great advantage because the altar rails are still there.

    What worked for me was to simply announce that to receive Holy Communion, you may stand or kneel along the altar rails. No preparation, no explanation. About 80% to 90% kneel.

    If you stay under the radar long enough (for me it was about two years), by the time the diocesan liturgiste tells you to stop using the altar rails, you may either ignore it or answer, “But monsignor, it’s an accepted custom in our parish. Certainly the Holy Father would not want us to disturb our reverent tradition.”

  32. Alice says:

    For several years I was the organist for a couple of parishes that use the OF. At one of them, we knelt for Communion at the Communion rail and the altar servers held a paten under our tongues or our hands. We didn’t have extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion either. Then we got a new pastor and everything reverted to the “norm.” *sigh*

  33. muckemdanno says:

    “Descriptive” This is a good point, Father.

    It is much like the Holy Father’s description of the Mass of Paul VI…it is the ordinary form of the Latin Rite. It is neither prescriptive nor proscriptive, meaning that it is no more legal than the extraordinary forms (plural). It is simply a description of the facts.

    Not a proper name, “Ordinary Form.”

  34. kolbe1019 says:

    Mickey,
    You are free to kneel.

    Prot. N. 47/03/L
    As the authority by virtue of whose recognitio the norm in question has attained the force of law, this Dicastery is competent to specify the manner in which the norm is to be understood for the sake of a proper application. Having received more than a few letters regarding this matter from different locations in the United States of America, the Congregation wishes to ensure that its position on the matter is clear.

    To this end, it is perhaps useful to respond to your inquiry by repeating the content of a letter that the Congregation recently addressed to a Bishop in the United States of America from whose Diocese a number of pertinent letters had been received. The letter states: “…while this Congregation gave the recognitio to the norm desired by the Bishops’ Conference of your country that people stand for Holy Communion, this was done on the condition that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds. Indeed, the faithful should not be imposed upon nor accused of disobedience and of acting illicitly when they kneel to receive Holy Communion.”

    Priests and Catechists… You are free to promote

    Cardinal Canizares

    “If the papal liturgy is a sign, an indication for all the Church, we should promote Communion kneeling and in the mouth. But, this does not mean not permitting or forbidding Communion in the hand…”

  35. If the option is provided, people will come. Just have people co0me to the rail, they can kneel or stand, natural tendency will be to kneel. Wherever there’s a parish with a Communion rail I usually try to use it.

  36. hawkeye says:

    Reemptionis Sacramentum says in #90, “The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing, as the Conference of Bishops will have determined,” with its acts having received the recognito of the Apostolic See. Trust me, I would much prefer kneeling to receive, but without an altar rail or something to hold on to, I’m physically unable to do so. These are the Pope’s words from The Wanderer, “I am not opposed in principle to Communion in the hand. I have both administered and received Communion in this way myself. The idea behind my current practice of having people kneel to receive Communion on the tongue was to send a signal and to underscore the Real Presence with an exclamation point. One very important reason is that there is a great danger of superficiality precisely in the kinds of mass events we hold at St. Peter’s, both in the Basilica and in the Square. I have heard of people who, after receiving Communion, stick the Host in their wallet to take home as a kind of souvenir.” And as I stated in my in my earlier post, Cardinal Arinze has stated unequivocally that Communicants may not denied Communion if they genuflect of kneel before receiving the Eucharist. Here is the definition of “Norm” according to Merriam Webster, “1. an authoritative standard : model; 2. a principle of right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior .” It boils down to obedience. There are so many other grave abuses involving the Eucharist that as long as the people receive reverently, it doesn’t really matter whether they receive standing, kneeling, genuflecting, on the tongue, or in the hand. Reverence is the key. I’m fortunate to have a Pastor who respects the manner in which the people want to receive. Other parishes in my diocese are not so fortunate, and that is why I drive 25 miles to go to Mass.

  37. RJHighland says:

    1. Fr. Z it was actually your website that guided me in defending the position of kneeling to receive communion. I actually found your site when Googling for information to defend the option of receiving communion kneeling and on the tongue. My wife felt called to receive our Lord kneeling and on the tongue about six years ago. We where the only family (of 8) to receive communion in our parish kneeling and on the tongue. A new priest came to our parish and started implementing postures requested by our local Bishop who wanted everyone to receive standing and preferably receive in the hand, standing after reception until all have received, more contemporary music and such. Soon the afore mentioned letter by the USCCB is posted in the bulletin and at the information cases. One priest denied communion to my daughter when she was kneeling. That’s when I found the letter from the CDW and brought that in to the parish priest, he actually told us he didn’t have a problem with us kneeling to receive. Shortly there after Pope Benedict XVI came to the United States and when he returned to Rome at the mass of Corpus Cristi he only distributed communion to the communicants kneeling and on the tongue. I took this as a sign. Shortly there after I was at the Cathedral and decided to pray before the tabernacle. As I was kneeling before the tabernacle I asked God how I should teach my children to receive communion. My Bishop is telling us to stand our Holy Father in Rome is showing us we should kneel. How do you want us to do it? This is where it gets wild. I literally heard a voice say “What are you doing now?” Stunned I looked around; there was no one else in the chapel. I looked up and responded rather sheepishly “You answer me with a question?” Again I heard “What are you doing now?” I realized He wanted me to think about what I was doing. I was kneeling before the tabernacle which holds the body, blood, soul and divinity of my Lord, the same that I receive during communion. If I kneel here I should kneel during communion. A peace as I have never felt come over me and I looked up and said “thank you Lord” and almost skipped out of the Cathedral. From that moment on my family and I have only received our Lord kneeling and on the tongue and 99% of the time from the consecrated hands of a priest. I know it is valid to receive from an EMC but it just doesn’t feel right anymore. The two or three times I have received from an EMC in the last three years they get rather nervous when you kneel and receive on the tongue. Personally it brings much more clarity in my heart and soul as to what I am actually experiencing at communion. It also has helped my children to comprehend the majesty of the Eucharist. It’s not a McDonald’s drive through; it is the coming together of Heaven and Earth, the perfect sacrifice. So I pray that the tabernacles are put back to center high altar and kneelers are placed back in every church, confessionals are busier than Wal-Mart and once reverence is brought back to the mass may our seminaries be filled with good, orthodox men seeking to serve our Lord and teach the truths of our faith. But most of all that no one fears to kneel and receive our Lord in any mass anywhere in world. I sense the ship has started to turn back on track and blogs like yours Fr. Z are giving voice and encouragement to those fighting the good fight. The ship that was taking on water and listing badly has come about and repairs are being made. Apologize for the length, 1st post.

  38. Navarricano says:

    In the hospital oratory where I usually attend Mass, the prie-dieu option works very well (I live in Spain). There are two of them placed side-by-side right against the bottom step of the entrance to the sanctuary, and the priest and the server stand in front of them when distributing Holy Communion. Those who wish to receive kneeling and on the tongue are able to do so, while those who wish to stand and receive on the tongue or in the hand are also free to do so.

    The use of the prie-dieus does not create an obstacle for the priest at all, who doesn’t have to stretch to reach the mouths or hands of those who choose to remain standing. I should add that the practices here in Spain at the time of Communion are identical to those in the U.S.; in all of the parishes here the faithful generally remain standing while receivng Holy Communion. The big difference is that there was a lot less destruction in the sanctuaries following the Second Vatican Council and nearly all the churches still have their altar rails, unless they are one of the contemporary ones built in the past 35-40 years, so as the pendulum swings back it will be a lot easier here to recover the practice of receiving while kneeling at the altar rail.

  39. Traductora says:

    I agree with the poster above who thought he saw the “emanation of a penumbra” in this supposed law. The anti-kneeling faction is still in power and they are simply using this vague reference to make it sound as if they have the full force of the law behind them.

    But be that as it may, no matter how shaky their foundation, they are in power, and for this reason it’s going to be hard for many priests to use the communion rail without risking a pitched battle. But I think that there may be more support from the laity than they imagine.

    I give tours in a cathedral that still has its communion rail, and people always want to know if we still use it (we don’t, alas, unless there is the occasional EF wedding, since we are not permitted by our bishop to celebrate the EF in the cathedral) or they will tell me that they wish their church had one and that Catholics could go back to using it again. Furthermore, a not too distant parish in a neighboring diocese that has had a regular EF for the last couple of years church is now installing a communion rail for the first time in their very modern church, and it is expected that this will be well received by attendees of the OF as well. There’s more support for this among the laity than one thinks, but I guess the problem is usually the bishop.

  40. Jack007 says:

    smad0142

    Yes, that would be correct.
    In all fairness, it is my understanding that the rail has the FULL approval of the current bishop of Wichita. Its not going anywhere anytime soon.
    I might also add…it sure doesn’t hurt that the parish grade school students are properly instructed in kneeling and receiving at the rail. They also look forward to an annual field trip to an EF Mass at a local parish. Talk about Fr. Z’s “brick by brick”.

    Jack in KC

  41. ncstevem says:

    The pastor at the parish where I go recently built a new church building and had altar rails included in the construction. After a couple of years of distributing Holy Communion w/o using the altar rail, he instructed parishoners that starting at the Ash Wednesday Mass all would now receive at the altar rail with the chioce of kneeling or standing. I’ve yet to see someone stand at the altar rail to receive.

    The bad part is that he still has a busybody layman distribute Holy Communion on the left side of the communion rail while he distributes Holy Communion on the right side of the communion rail. It always amazes me at the level of pride these busybodies have in trying to play the part of a priest. I’d never receive from a layman.

  42. MissOH says:

    At a certain Dominican-run parish in central Ohio the use of the communion rail continues unabated, with the faithful kneeling and receiving (mostly) on the tongue. As far as I know, this particular church never abandoned the communion rail.

    Frank H, I so miss our old parish (we belonged to above mentioned parish) and you are correct, the altar rail was never removed. I think about it often when I go to the closest parish to where we live that has a really ugly bas relief mural and no high altar or communion rail even thought of as being part of this church, sigh. When some friends from this area came to our wedding they commented they understood why I had been underwhelmed with the churches in this area.

    That being said I have seen situations where re-installing an altar rail did happen and it was a slow and steady multi-pronged approach of catechesis and updates to the sanctuary.

    I have hopes at our current parish, which does have an EF mass by pushing back the chair kneelers in the first few rows and we use the wooden kneeler barrier that is in place in the front row of chairs.

  43. Brooklyn says:

    I was gone from the Church from 1969 to 2007. When I left the Church in 1969 people were stll receiving on the tongue while kneeling at the altar rails. This had been the “norm” for the the church for most of her history. When I came back to the Church after 38 years, I barely recognized the Mass and standing and receiving on the hand was a bit shocking to say the least. Could someone explain to me how this radical change came about and how people came to accept it so easily?

  44. Jack007 says:

    “Could someone explain to me how this radical change came about and how people came to accept it so easily?”

    WOW!
    I think Fr.Z could make a lengthy post and discussion with that question alone!
    A year’s supply of Mystic Monk on hand too.
    Personally I would love to hear Father’s take on that one. I don’t know if there’s one answer that fits all there?
    All I can offer, if you’ll pardon my paraphrase…The Devil works in mysterious ways!

    Jack in KC

  45. StellaMaris says:

    The arguments for keeping out the communion rail are just dumb. Does it really matter what the “law” is? If Jesus were standing in the Post Office today when I drop off my package, I am going straight down on my knees–regardless of the law that might exist declaring “no kneeling in government buildings.” They could arrest me, fine me, or beat me but I’m STILL gonna fall on my knees in the Presence of Our LORD. Period. Appealing to common practice or norms is a fallacious argument–it does not hold water. It’s been proven over and over that removing the communion rails has led to a general lack of reverence among the faithful. Denying the use of communion rails is just plain pigheaded.

  46. Centristian says:

    “What is this, Soviet Russia? Bishops need to start worrying about ACTUAL abuses (of which there are many!). It’s disheartening that priests live in fear of smackdown from their bishops if they introduce more traditional practices, practices which encourage more reverence to the Eucharist!”

    Well, if there actually exists a bishop that would find himself vexed about a priest using his Communion rail for Communion, then I would say that bishop really needs to get a life. Bishops punishing priests for using the Communion rail for Communion? Imagine how ridiculous this whole thing must sound to non-Catholics.

    That having been said, I just can’t see a bishop concerning himself with such a matter. I certainly can’t see a bishop becoming upset over it, to the point where he would wish to transfer or otherwise punish a celebrant who allowed Communion at his Communion rail. I’ve known a number of bishops, and none of them seem to be the sort of men who would care to be bothered with a complaint about that, of all things.

    I suspect that if a trend began to develop toward the use of the Communion rail, the US bishops would be mostly indifferent and wouldn’t do anything to put a stop to the trend. In fact, I suspect a number of them would welcome such a trend.

  47. gmk says:

    We installed an altar rail going on three years, If you wish to stand or kneel it is your option, (most kneel) works very well.

  48. theckel@yahoo.com says:

    After reading all these comments I have just thanked God, Deo Gratias, for the blessings He has bestowed on me and all my fellow parishioners at St Mary Norwalk, Ct. In the past couple years our pastor has restored the altar rail, the pulpit, the confessional, the marble in the sanctuary, and is ready to repaint the reredo behind the high altar that had been whitewashed. A parishioner recently repainted, beautifully, the previous whitewashed stations of the cross. Our EF community exists peaceably, side by side our OF community, and there is considerable cross pollination. All is good. Communicants kneel to their hearts content, living without fear, reverencing Our Lord. I wish we could clone our pastor and parish.

  49. Ellen says:

    The Fathers of Mercy have an altar rail at their chapel and everyone receives kneeling (except for a few people with knee problems who simply stand at the rail). I’d love to kneel at my parish church, but that’s not going to happen. I do receive on the tongue though.

  50. Bryan Boyle says:

    @Ellen….just do it. Practice doing it gracefully so you don’t stumble about (since there is no support like the rail to help you. Or go down on one knee if that helps stabilize you.

    I see people do it all the time. And my notationally ‘pastoral’ pastor doesn’t even bat an eyelash.

    Don’t let the perfect (as in setting, presence of a rail, or whatnot) become the enemy of the good (receiving our Lord kneeling, on the tongue…)

  51. MichaelJ says:

    The return of the Altar Rail would be a death blow to the “priesthood of the laity”. If you think only of the practical implications (completely ignoring the symbolism), it becomes apparent (to me at least) that EMHC’s are completely unnecessary.

    Using an Altar Rail, a single Priest can efficiently and relatively quickly distribute communion to a large number of the faithful. There goes the argument that “We need EMHCs because communion would take too long otherwise”

  52. Mickey says:

    Thank you, all for your thoughtful responses!

    Irony: For three years I was an Anglican…in San Antonio, no less. Want to guess how we received communion? If you guessed kneeling at the altar rail on the tongue, you’d be correct.

    The idea that I would approach my King in anything other than a posture of humility scandalizes me. I can’t (and won’t) speak for anyone else, but I *need* to humble myself before God, lest I start believing I am worthy. Or something (cf Luke 7:10).

  53. B Knotts says:

    I belong to a Dominican Priory, and the norm in our church, for all Masses, is kneeling at the altar rail.

    There are a couple of people who are disabled, and the priest first goes down to them. It’s not that difficult.

  54. ajf1984 says:

    This comment may be quickly consigned to the “rabbit-hole” category, but as an observation, I noticed par. 43 of the 2002 US Adaptations to the GIRM speaks of maintaining the long-standing (no pun intended) practice of kneeling for longer periods of time during the Mass than is the universal norm (the entire Canon, following the Agnus Dei up to Communion, and the possibility of returning to a kneeling position following Communion). The observation is this: isn’t it odd for a culture to want to keep kneeling so much during the Liturgy, except at the precise moment when each person receives his/her Eucharistic Lord? For full disclosure, I do not regularly kneel for Communion but do receive on the tongue.

  55. Mitchell NY says:

    The Altar Rail just feels more appropriate for receiving Communion. Standing in lines that move at a snails pace trying to avoid the line with the EMHC’s is like trying to dodge the angry looking person at the counter at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

  56. RJHighland says:

    MitchellNY,

    LOL, the line about avoiding the EMHC is hysterical, I have literly prayed for the priest to position himself at the head of my reception line so I could recieve.

  57. Jenelle says:

    I registered especially to comment on this post. At our former parish in Manhattan (you once conducted Mass there for us Father Z!) we had a communion rail and it was one of the most wonderful experiences to receive communion kneeling.

    At our current parish in Brooklyn, we do not have a communion rail but are blessed with a wonderful priest and community but I still yearn to kneel at the rail for communion. I would love it to come back!

  58. FarNorthPriest says:

    There is no Communion Rail left at my Parish Church; but for the EF Mass, we have the communicants kneel at the kneeler that runs along the front pews of the church. This works out quite well.

    Fr. Timothy Johnson